Students from around the country are gaining hands-on experience thanks to a partnership between Davis College and the USDA.
Texas Tech University's Davis College of Agricultural Sciences & Natural Resources and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) teamed up to provide mentorship opportunities and practical experience to students pursuing careers in animal disease research with the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) Laboratorian Training Program (NLTP), which is nearing the conclusion of its first year.
Eleven students were selected from nine universities to join the one-year hybrid program. The students participating in the first cohort of the program started last spring with virtual modules and will continue through the fall semester of 2022. The students recently concluded eight weeks in Lubbock for the on-site portion of the program.
“These students are gaining an understanding of animal research and zoonotic diseases, building their career paths and gaining a valuable network of scientists and friends along the way,” said Christy Bratcher, Davis College's associate dean for research and leader of the NLTP. “I am looking forward to next year and incorporating suggestions from the current students so the next group can have an even better experience.”
The NLTP is funded by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and strives to provide undergraduates with the knowledge and skill set to prepare them for a potential career in animal disease research within the NBAF.
"We consider this program an introduction to the field, exposing students to experiences they can't receive from their degree program alone,” said Kesley Kohl, a Davis College graduate student who is the program's co-coordinator. “It's special because the students not only get experience in research and the laboratory, but they also are being mentored by experts. Being able to make those connections before entering the workforce and furthering their education is unmatched.”
The three-phase program started with online modules focused on animal diseases, animal handling practices, and research sample collection and analysis that students completed weekly. Students then traveled to Texas Tech to work directly with faculty members and USDA Agriculture Research Service (ARS) Livestock Issues Research Unit (LIRU) scientists. The program will conclude in the fall when the students present their work.
"We help the students gain direct experience with the animals we work with in our facility, especially cattle and swine,” said Jeff Carroll, research leader at USDA's LIRU in Lubbock. “Students learn things like how to care for animals and practice simple procedures for sample collection and processing that can give them an advantage early in their education."
The goal of the program is to educate students on how the different parts of an animal investigation tie together, exposing them to many aspects of a potential career path.
“This has been a great year,” Bratcher said. “I have really enjoyed getting to know the students, their backgrounds and career goals. They are an intelligent and eager group that has a bright future ahead. I am so happy they have been patient as we have worked out all of the logistics for the first year.”