Beyond the Classroom

Beyond the Classroom: High-Impact Learning Opportunities Transform Student Experience for ANSC Student

The reputation of the Texas A&M University (TAMU) Department of Animal Science, a desire to live in a new state, and a passion for agriculture instilled at an early age all led Alyson Fontenot to pursue a degree in animal science at TAMU.

Alyson, a 2022 graduate of the department and now an animal science master student, is a native of Ville Platte, Louisiana, where she grew up on her family’s Brahman operation. As a member of the Louisiana 4-H and American Junior Brahman Association, she traveled throughout the Gulf Coast exhibiting cattle, an experience that directly impacted her career and education dreams.

“Growing up with beef cattle, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in this industry,” said Alyson. “At the time, I didn’t know specifically what I wanted to study, but I wanted to combine my interests in livestock and science.”

Alyson is assisting Ph.D. candidate Jodi Cox and faculty member Dr. Tryon Wickersham on a research project studying nitrogen recycling of Bos indicus compared to Bos taurus cattle.

Alyson moved to Texas and began her freshman year at TAMU in August of 2018. She admits that, at first, she was unsure of trying new activities and meeting new people.

“My greatest challenge in college has been learning to put myself out there and leave my comfort zone. When I first got here, I didn’t know anyone and was nervous about meeting people and trying new things. It took almost a year for me to learn how to network, make new connections, and grow from new experiences,” said Alyson.

But she overcame the challenge and soon became involved in numerous clubs, organizations, and programs, which all transformed her educational experience beyond the classroom. Alyson was a member of the 2020 Texas A&M Meat Judging Team, the 2022 Animal Science Academic Quadrathlon Team, and the 2022 Texas A&M Meat Animal Evaluation Team. She also served as an officer for the Meat Science and Technology Association and served with the Animal Science Ambassadors. Her interest in research was sparked as a participant in the LAUNCH Undergraduate Research Scholars program.

Alyson describes her favorite experience in the department was her time spent on the meat judging team.

“This team gave me some of my life-long friendships and favorite memories,” Alyson recalls. “Learning about the meat science industry is also what introduced me to production agriculture and the feedlot industry.”

To further her knowledge in the feedlot industry, Alyson completed an internship with Agri Beef in the summer of 2021. She moved to Moses Lake, Washington, to work as a feedyard management intern for the company, experiencing how the departments work together to provide a protein product for consumers. She continued along this path through a second internship in the summer of 2022 with Cactus Feeders as a beef cattle research intern where her passion for research and the feedlot industry was further solidified.

In August of 2022, Alyson began her master’s studies in the department and currently serves as a graduate teaching assistant. She teaches two lab sections of ANSC 318: Animal Feeds and Feeding led by faculty member Dr. Gordon Carstens. The 46 juniors and seniors enrolled in her lab sections learn how to identify nutrient requirements for specific classes of animals, focusing on the major livestock species, and how to formulate a diet to match those requirements. The course emphasizes the importance of making the most economic choice while mitigating environmental impact and enhancing animal health and welfare.

Above and Below: Alyson reviewing feedstuffs prior to teaching ANSC 318 lab.

This experience has allowed Alyson to connect with students in a meaningful way. Her favorite part about the class is when students can apply what they learn in lab to livestock herds of their own. Alyson also recognizes the valuable skills she’s acquiring as a teaching assistant that will benefit her graduate studies and future career.

“I am learning how to present information in many ways,” said Alyson. “It is pushing me to think outside of the box to make connections with students who may have never heard of these concepts before. I think this will help me in my future career, especially when I am presenting scientific research to the public.”

Alyson teaching students in the ANSC 318 lab.

Upon completing her master’s degree, Alyson plans to pursue a Ph.D. in animal science focusing on ruminant nutrition. She aspires to conduct research for a pharmaceutical company that will help develop different feed supplements to improve the efficiency and sustainability of the cattle feeding industry.

Experiences do not carry much weight if a lesson is not learned through the process. Looking back, Alyson said she would tell her freshman self that it’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them. Knowing this will make Alyson’s future experiences as a student and researcher more valuable.

We wish Alyson the best of luck in her future endeavors and look forward to seeing her passions evolve to impact the field of animal science.

To learn more about the transformational and high-impact learning experiences available to our animal science students, click here.

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