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Using webinars to create resilient communities

New approach to outreach becomes award-winning solution for Warnell faculty member

As the world began its pandemic lockdown, Jason Gordon began connecting with more people than ever before.

But rather than crisscrossing the state to speak with Extension agents or professional organizations about tree care, Gordon stayed close to home and conducted webinars. As 2020 unfolded and people began to tune in to virtual events, Gordon found he had lunchtime audiences and new followers interested in what he had to say.

“It was kind of a positive thing for me, because I jumped on the webinar thing pretty fast,” said Gordon, assistant professor of community forestry. “You can go on your lunch hour, turn on your computer and get some information. Particularly, I do a lot of programs for a professional audience—at least 50% or more.”

In 2021, Gordon received the Warnell Alumni Association Faculty Award for Outreach in recognition of his efforts, More recently, he received the 2021 outreach and technology transfer award from the Southeast Society of American Foresters.

Many of Gordon’s webinars are offered on, a service hosted by the Southern Region Extension Forestry that provides learning opportunities in all areas of forestry and natural resources. Webinars on the platform often come with continuing education credits, a perk for companies and organizations looking to expand their members’ knowledge base. Typically, these webinars are created from an individual request.

“You definitely want to tailor the information to the stakeholder group—but not only information, but how they can digest it,” he added. “Ultimately, they’re going to do something with it, and we’re looking for behavior change.”

Gordon has tried to take his webinars a step further, though. He was forced to reach outside his traditional comfort zone early on, when a series of in-person talks planned for members of Trees Atlanta was forced to go online last year. The original plan was to take participants on field trips to show examples of how environmental systems affect urban and suburban landscapes, but as a global pandemic raged, a new plan was necessary.

Gordon began to think more deeply about his overall philosophy to outreach. It’s one thing to put together a presentation and deliver it; he wanted to provide a more holistic experience that digs deeper than the proposed topic.

If everyone created a product based on demand for that product, we’d be missing a lot of innovations in our world, he said. In the same vein, Gordon delivers the requested content—but then takes the knowledge a step further.

“A lot of times, you design and implement your program based off stakeholder need, then you do your needs assessment and a survey. And that’s all well and good, and we should do that to a large extent,” he said. “But I guess my approach is that you also need to leave a certain amount of room for what stakeholders are, as of now, unable to articulate.”

For example, for the Trees Atlanta program, he wanted a program that went beyond tree care. So, he created a series of talks that delve into ecology and how features on the landscape affect others down the line. Too often property owners just think about the trees and grass in their own backyard, he said. By presenting a program that introduces these concepts and puts participants on a larger landscape, it opens their eyes to the bigger picture of sustainability in an urban environment.

“That’s one of the fun things we’ve been working on, is this idea that we need to be looking beyond just a plant or a tree and prune and spray the weeds—we need to look at this as more of a systems kind of approach, or an ecological type of approach, that takes into account the multiple scales of impact,” he said.

This isn’t the type of program that people ask for, but once they realize what’s being taught, it all makes sense. For Gordon, who teaches in Warnell’s community forestry and arboriculture program, the ultimate goal is to make more people aware of the benefits trees bring to their communities.

And when communities are better prepared for trees, everyone wins.

“We don’t get people coming up to us and asking for this kind of program, but we’re hoping to provide it and then work it into other aspects, whether it’s in somebody’s yard or on a larger landscape,” he added. “We try to be pre-emptive, because we know this is what’s needed in order to create more resilient urban communities.”

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