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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU Goes Online with Crisis Response Communications Network

LAS CRUCES - One month into a new world plagued by terrorism, New Mexico State University agricultural officials unveiled a new Internet-based crisis response communications network aimed at better informing the public.

"We're optimistic about the possibilities for using this technology," said Billy Dictson, Extension director and associate dean with NMSU's College of Agriculture and Home Economics. "Being able to offer and receive information and training online will save a lot of travel time and money."

Built on Extension's existing long-distance learning platform, the crisis network offers statewide outreach using standard Internet connections. In addition to enabling secure, password-protected access, the program has quick response capabilities such as a telephone bridge with virtually an unlimited number of participants, he said.

"Extension has the technology network, personnel assistance and financial resources to help respond quickly," Dictson said. Potential uses include sessions on emergency preparedness, security and procedures, as well as regulations, expert contacts and tips for local citizens.

NMSU launched the crisis network last Friday with a statewide presentation on the agricultural issues related to anthrax. A strain of the anthrax bacteria has been sent through the U.S. mail, killing four Americans and sickening 14.

The state's 52 county Cooperative Extension Service offices and agricultural science centers can receive live online presentations, almost half on the Internet's highest-speed lines, Dictson said. Twenty-four offices across New Mexico now have broadband Internet connections, such as T-1, DSL, satellite and ISDN. Where speedy lines aren't available, the learning centers use standard, lower-speed telephone modems to receive information.

Aimed at rural communities across the state, the distance education program was designed to enable rural residents to take online courses from instructors hundreds of miles away. "It's an opportunity to work with students who have an interest, but can't necessarily be here on campus," said Tom Dormody, a professor and head of NMSU's agricultural and extension education department in Las Cruces.

Akin to the old rural electrification dictum that no rural community is so isolated that it cannot be served, the 87-year-old Extension Service is on a mission to become a key conduit for teleliteracy education in rural areas. With $150,000 in private funding, NMSU launched a distance learning initiative in April, opening its first Extension Learning Center in Clayton, some 400 miles northeast of the main campus in Las Cruces.

NMSU President Jay Gogue has requested development of new undergraduate and graduate degree programs through online courses. The goal: offer nearly a dozen accredited undergraduate and master's level degree programs, as well as noncredit courses for rural residents.

Historically, the university entered distance learning in a 1999 partnership with USWest, and followed that effort in 2000 with a $250,000 teleliteracy grant from Qwest. Later that year, the Extension Service formed a partnership with Albuquerque-based New Mexico Technet to obtain free computers for Extension learning centers, and with New York-based HorizonLive to test streaming audio and video service to rural communities. For more information, contact Dictson at (505) 646-3015 or adean@nmsu.edu.