New course gives students hands-on animal, research experiences

By Courtney Coufal

Working newborn pigs, ultrasounding goats and measuring sarcomere lengths are typically skills an agriculture student does not learn until their third or fourth year in college, but for a group of Animal Science freshman and sophomores these experiences came early.

A new course offered by the Department of Animal Science called Basic Animal and Research Experiences aims to bridge the gap between introductory animal science courses and upper-level specialized courses as well as basic science to applied science. Mainly designed for students with little agricultural background, this course provides students with hands-on experiences of domestic farm animals and laboratory work.

The course, taught by Dr. Kathrin Dunlap, research assistant professor, and Dr. Shawn Ramsey, associate professor, was offered for the first time this spring to students who have already completed their first semester of animal science introductory courses.

“We have an increasing number of students who come from non-agricultural backgrounds, yet they still have a genuine interest in pursuing careers in Animal Science. This course was designed to foster their interest in Animal Science by exposing them to opportunities available through the department as well as providing hands-on laboratory and animal experience that they would not receive otherwise,” Dunlap said. “Dr. Ramsey and I were also hopeful that via completion of this course students would have developed skills in critical thinking, communication and self-awareness that will be necessary for their future success, regardless of discipline.”

The students were taught a broad range of topics and activities. During classroom lectures, the group discussed the scientific method, formulation of a hypothesis, data collection, data analysis and interpretation, reading a scientific manuscript, writing a non-technical scientific article, ethics in science, reproductive technologies, perceptions of science by scientists, stakeholders and the public, and assessing validity and recognizing bias of information sources. Information learned during these discussions was then applied during laboratory exercises relating to such topics as flight zone, palpating cows, freezing semen samples, clicker dog training, haltering and grooming horses, applying the scientific method, designing an experiment, and staining and analyzing slides under the microscope.

During one lab, the students conducted a series of tests on beef products while working with two graduate students, Adria Grayson and Pilar Orozco, from Dr. Rhonda Miller’s meat science lab.

“While the experiments were very simple, for many of these students, this was their first time working in a research lab and provided them a window into that environment,” Dunlap said.

Similarly, the students spent time at the Sheep and Goat Center and had a chance to ultrasound a pregnant doe, give injections to newborn lambs and take jugular blood samples from adult animals.

“As this class is comprised of mainly freshmen and sophomore students, these are experiences that they would not otherwise have had a chance to receive until they were upperclassmen and then only if they elected to take a specialized course such as Sheep and Goat Production,” Dunlap said. “This course is giving students the experiences that will hopefully help them to discover their individual interest area or at least reinforce the breadth of opportunities available within the discipline of animal science.”

Gracie Valdez, a freshman animal science major from San Antonio, said taking this class has reassured her decision to major in Animal Science and has broadened her knowledge of careers available in this field.

“In this class, we were able to gain the practical knowledge we had only read about in books in our prior semester, and it helped give us an idea of what species of animals we would like to work with in our future careers,” Valdez said. “After graduation, my plans were to go to graduate school and pursue a career as a food inspector. Having taken this class, I now want to explore more career options, such as nutrition of large livestock animals.

“I am very appreciative of the opportunity Dr. Dunlap and Dr. Ramsey have given me to broaden my skills with livestock animals and for having convinced me through this class that Texas A&M is the school where I am meant to be.”


For more information regarding news from the Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Texas A&M University, contact Courtney Coufal at or (979) 845.542.

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