Animal, food science department at UWRF receives top teaching honor

Posted April 23, 2017

The annual statewide Regents Award for teaching has been given to the Animal and Food Science Department at UW-River Falls, an honor that recognizes commitment to learning experiences that go beyond the classroom.

“For the department, it’s an honor,” said Dale Gallenberg, dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences. “It’s validation that they’re doing a good job and doing the right things, and doing them well. For the college, for the university, I would say the same thing. It’s an honor to have the department selected.”

The award to the department was one of three presented by the Board of Regents. Two other awards went to individual faculty members at UW-Stevens Point and UW-Waukesha.

The nomination for the award was sent to the Board of Regents early this year. It was written primarily by Gary Onan, chair of department, with letters of support from alumni and the dean’s office. On April 7, the department was presented the award during a Board of Regents meeting at UW-Platteville.

“It’s recognition of a job well done, in essence,” said Onan, “and for the people in the department. Because it takes everybody. It’s not one or two people can do this.”

The Animal and Food science Department is big, particularly because of the animal science program. Animal science had 536 new enrollments in the 2015-2016 academic year (the largest in the university), and a retention rate of 66 percent in incoming freshman that same year, according to campus data reports.

The key to the department’s success, Onan said, has a lot to do with the teaching experiences that students are offered that go beyond presentations and lectures. Labs, for starters, give students more hands-on knowledge on how different aspects of animal and food science work. They can work with animals, go through the steps that they will need to know, and build a foundation of knowledge for when they eventually move on in the industry.

“All this other stuff layers on top of that,” Onan said.

Beyond labs, students are offered a wide variety of out-of-classroom experiences. The campus farms hire students as workers and offer mentorship as they learn the ropes of the industry. Internships get students out into the workforce, where they make connections and learn to make decisions. Undergraduate research, competitive teams and international experiences build on information gained in labs and in the classroom, and increase the students’ depth of knowledge.

Emily Lehmann is an animal science major with a meat science emphasis who will graduate this spring. She has been highly involved with the department ever since coming to UWRF. She is part of the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association, president of the campus horseman’s club, works at the campus dairy pilot plant, and has a minor in food science and chemistry.

Lehmann has also done a summer internship with the Ellsworth Cooperative Creamery, and come June after she graduates, she will be working there full time as a production supervisor. She landed the internship, Lehmann said, in part because of the help of the dairy pilot manager, Michelle Farner.

“She talked to the CEO over at Ellsworth and got me my internship,” Lehmann said. “She knows a lot of people in the industry, so she can help reach out.”

At the dairy pilot plant, Lehmann learned a lot of the skills that would eventually become critical at her internship and eventual job. She was able to take a class that taught and certified her to become a Wisconsin Certified Pasteurizer at a discounted student price, and similarly took a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points food safety course.

In the future, Onan said, the department is planning on restructuring its curriculum in hope of improving the learning experience for students. Planning began in earnest two or three years ago, and the first new classes will be put in place fall 2017 for incoming freshmen. The goal, Onan said, is to get students into a lab environment at an earlier stage of their college career, as well as allowing them to focus on their animal species of interest as soon as possible. A careers course will give students an idea of potential jobs within their major and teach skills like résumé creation and making business connections within the industry.

“I think it’s a very deserving college,” Lehmann said. “I think all the faculty’s really dedicated to sharing their experiences that they had either in the industry or learned from grad school to help prepare students for the animal science field.”