‘Hands-on’ draws students to animal, dairy science

By for CAES News

By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

Brutus stood patiently as yet another student pulled on a glove up to her shoulder. The steer has gotten used to people sticking their hands through the fistula, or tube, in his side, reaching into his stomach and squeezing a handful of his lunch.

The steer is doing his part to help attract students into animal and dairy sciences at the University of Georgia.

Recently, 54 high school students gloved up and reached through Brutus' side as a part of the two-day Animal Science in Action program designed to spark students' interests in agriculture.

"The best way to get kids is to recruit early," said Steve Nickerson, ADS department head in the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

ADS is already one of the UGA college's largest departments, with 165 undergraduates on the CAES Athens and Tifton campuses. Nickerson said their short-term goal is to enroll 200 students.

"One percent of the whole U.S. population feeds the rest of the country," Nickerson said. "What's going to happen in 10 to 20 years? We've got to recruit more kids into production agriculture in order to feed the growing population in the future."

The job demand is high for animal and dairy science students who don't become veterinarians. Four to five jobs are waiting for each of them at graduation, Nickerson said.

Nickerson estimates that 20 percent of the Animal Science in Action students eventually enroll at UGA under his department. Another 20 percent ends up elsewhere in the CAES.

The program is open to high school rising juniors and seniors and mostly draws students from Georgia. This year, however, one girl flew from New York, and another drove up from Florida to attend.

With more jobs than applicants, the outlook is good for students with ADS degrees. "There is a need now in the animal and dairy industry for all the graduates they can get," said ADS professor William Graves.

But what really attracts students to the increasingly popular recruiting program is its hands-on approach, Graves said. And vaccinating a piglet and sticking an arm into a fistulated cow is about as hands-on as it gets.

Good news for the industry and the department is that enrollment in the two-day Animal Science in Action camp was up in 2006. In fact, for the first time ever, Graves had to coordinate two buses full of students.

Even better is that the department "has been advising a lot of freshmen this summer," Graves said. "We're very excited about that.

"The hands-on part of the department helps attract students to our programs," he said. So does the veterinary college, which pulls many of its students from the CAES animal and dairy science program.

"We seem to place our kids very well within the industry," Graves said. "A lot of them end up in the vet school or in graduate school."

The department is also dealing with the fact that "so many people nowadays don't know where milk comes from," Nickerson said. From tours for the Georgia Governor's Honors Program high school applicants to Animal Science in Action, the department is educating people on knowledge that was commonplace 100 years ago.

Recently, ADS had a Beef 101 class for 26 chefs and others who work in the restaurant industry to educate them on where the beef they serve comes from.

"Many of them had never touched a cow," Nickerson said. "It gave them an appreciation of where a cut comes from."

(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.