By Whitney Baxter
Gaining hands-on experience, receiving academic credit and getting paid for it? Those are just some of the benefits the Science with Practice program offers students in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Science with Practice, offered through the Department of Agricultural Education and Studies, aims to provide undergraduate students with experiential learning opportunities. Throughout the program, students work alongside faculty mentors on projects related to their area of study or future career.
To join the program, students must identify their faculty mentor, complete a registration form and enroll in AGEDS 312. Early in the semester, the students meet with their faculty mentors to plan out their research projects and identify goals and expectations. They also complete bi-weekly journal entries throughout the semester to reflect on their projects.
Katie Hartmann, adjunct assistant professor in agricultural education and studies and Science with Practice coordinator, said a unique aspect of the program is it combines three things in which college students are often involved.
“Students can get a job on campus, they can have an undergraduate research experience and they can take classes. This program combines all those into one program,” she said.
Science with Practice was first offered in 2005, and after taking a year off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 10 students enrolled during the fall 2021 semester.
Kara Fenske, senior in animal science, was one of the students who participated last semester. She said she joined the program to continue her work in professor of animal science Lance Baumgard’s lab.
“I loved going to work because not only was I learning something new each day, I was surrounded by a wonderful group of graduate students who were there to help enrich my learning experience at Iowa State,” Fenske said.
The diversity of research projects students take on reflects the diversity of majors within the college. The fall semester’s projects included research related to fat and moisture content in fresh pork loins, marketing strategies to communicate and connect with Iowa pork producers and studying management of tabletop tree poinsettias for optimal growth.
Having previously worked as a science teacher and a researcher, Hartmann can relate to students enrolled in the program. With her first semester of leading the program under her belt, Hartmann said she is pleased with how well the program has gone, and she appreciates the range of research projects the program has been able to support.
“I love watching students get more confident about their futures as they move through the program,” Hartmann said.
For some students, that means solidifying their plans to attend graduate school. For others, it may mean entering the workforce to gain experience before pursuing a higher level of education.
Fenske falls into the former category. She spent last semester looking at the effects of rumen acidosis on dairy cows.
“I have always taken interest in extending my academic studies and applying to graduate school,” Fenske said. “Since taking Science with Practice, I can confidently say this is a path I would like to pursue. The graduate students I worked alongside showed me what life is really like when you choose to specify your education even further.”