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Virtual learning: a prob-llama for animal science students

By Anel Ceballos-Caldera, March 16, 2021

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of Cal Poly Pomona faculty, staff and students are working from home and learning remotely, and for animal and veterinary science students, online learning without access to the campus’ animals has raised concerns over the quality of their education.

According to the Don. B Huntley College of Agriculture, farm animals are used to “teach students in the Department of Animal and Veterinary Science about the anatomy and physiology of domestic animals, reproduction, animal health and nutrition and companion animal management.” But since March 2020, animal and veterinary science students have been distance learning with limited resources and lab openings.

Second-year animal science student Gabrielle Rodriguez emphasized how important it is in her major to have firsthand experiences with animals.

“Our education and our hands-on experiences go hand in hand, so I can learn from a textbook but it’s not going to be the same as me going out there and really learning how to work with the animals,” Rodriguez said.

A five-day-old Nigerian dwarf goat climbs his mom at the Sheep Unit at Cal Poly Pomona. The young goat was one of 17 babies to CPP goats this year. | Courtesy of  Tom Zasadzinski 

Before the pandemic, numerous laboratories were offered to students, and they also received the opportunity to work in animal units to complete their volunteering requirements.

Students worked with animals by taking care of them, feeding them, bathing them and learning about their anatomy during labs or volunteer hours. But with the majority of animal science students learning virtually, videos have been offered in replacement of in-person lessons, according to Department Chair Shelton Murinda.

“The only thing that we’re doing is watching YouTube videos and it’s been very hard to learn online,” Rodriguez said. “Honestly, my education hasn’t been the same so once school opens up, I’m definitely planning on going.”

Day old piglets take a look at life in the Swine Unit at Cal Poly Pomona | Courtesy of  Tom Zasadzinski 

With the lack of student volunteers and labs, workers at the three animal units — consisting of sheep, swine and beef — are tasked to watch over 278 animals, according to campus animal unit managers. With a total of two managers, seven live-in students and one non-live-in student, the 10 unit workers are responsible for 59 adult cattle and 30 calves in the beef unit and 102 adult sheep, 37 adult goats, 17 newborn Nigerian dwarf goats, 24 pigs, eight piglets and one llama in the sheep and swine unit. Two more litters of piglets are anticipated to be born this weekend.

Sheep and Swine Unit Manager Alicia Seaman shared the impacts of losing over 100 students

assisting with everyday tasks.

“It hasn’t been too drastic for us, but several classes offered known as the AVS 2990 allowed students to come in and volunteer at the unit,” Seaman said. “They would help us with cleaning and simple day-to-day tasks. We noticed the biggest impact is we lost that little bit of additional help with keeping up with some of the day-to-day like cleanings and stuff.”

With the reduction of the animal and veterinary science students, Beef Unit Manager Efrain Loera has been prioritizing the most important tasks before moving on to the next.

“Taking care of the animals hasn’t changed at all, but we are a little bit slow because we don’t have those AVS students,” Loera said. “A lot of stuff has been put on the backburner because we don’t have the manpower to get to it. We had to change up the situation and work on the primary focus, which is keeping the animals healthy, happy and safe.”

With hopes of returning to campus in the fall semester, the animal science department is planning for many changes it expects to implement when welcoming back students.

According to Department Chair Shelton Murinda, the department will reintroduce face-to-face labs in the fall for animal science students while following COVID safety guidelines, including social distancing and sanitation.

There will be fewer students in labs and classrooms with an expected limited capacity of 30% to 50%. Mandated by the university, class times will also be spaced out for at least an hour to clean and disinfect between each session.

Once students are granted permission to return to campus, the department will offer four labs and reintroduce the first-year experience lecture class, AHS 1104, for animal health science students. Similarly, animal science students will be offered seven face-to-face labs and a first-year experience lecture class, AVS 1000.

Murinda hopes the return of animal and veterinary science students on campus will help them get back on track with their studies.

“It is necessary to have first-hand experience with animals. In Cal Poly Pomona, we are unique in the sense that we emphasize on lead by doing so instead of just learning theoretical materials from textbooks and following simulations like observational instructions,” Murinda said. “Without direct interaction with these animals, it doesn’t really provide you the three dimensions that are required when you are working directly with these animals, so hopefully, we will be getting back to those face-to-face labs following COVID guidelines.”


Feature image courtesy of  Tom Zasadzinski.

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