Students Earn While They Learn with Science With Practice

By Summer Bontrager, CALS Communications Service

“Science with Practice” has been on the university seal for decades. Not only is it a saying, students are applying their education to real-life practices through the Science With Practice (SWP) program.

SWP is a planned work and learning experience that the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences offers its undergraduate students. Through SWP, students work with faculty and staff to complete projects and tasks.

Established in 2005, Mike Retallick, professor and chair of the department of agricultural education and studies, started SWP for a hands-on learning experience. With 25 to 30 students enrolled each semester, SWP has provided an untraditional learning experience for students. 

Science With Practice is a three-credit class that is offered fall and spring semesters. To receive academic credit students must conduct up to 20 hours of experiential learning and work experience each week, submit biweekly journal entries to share their activities and experiences with the class, create a portfolio and share results through a poster presentation.

At the end of the semester the students in SWP present their posters to peers and faculty. This provides the opportunity for students to see what their classmates have been doing, and invite their mentors and advisors to update them on their work.

This real-life application and learning experience allows students to earn academic credits through the course and to earn money. Students receive an hourly wage paid half by the students’ departments and half by CALS sources. The ISU Agricultural Endowment board, the dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Van Wert Endowment Board, funds the program.

“This program is so broad, it gives students an opportunity to experience various projects, and sparks their interest,” said Adam Sacquitne, graduate assistant teaching in the agricultural education and studies department. “It is very student driven.”

Two students share their personal experience with the program:

Emily Southard, presents her research to Rep. Mark Smith, at Research in the Capitol.


Emily Southard, a senior in agriculture in society and global resource systems, has been working with her mentor, Carmen Bain, associate professor in sociology, for the last four semesters. She has been conducting research to help develop a book about GMO labeling in the United States.

Southard learned about SWP through her mentor, and enrolled in the program. With the direction from Bain, Southard is collecting data from previous articles, and online searches to compile and transcribe it for Bain. 

“It is really great how I can take my work and apply it to school work,” Southard said. “Having that connection with the content and the strategy is really applicable.”

Southard said that SWP has given her opportunities she would never have gotten. By doing this program she feels more capable of achieving tasks previously out of reach, more committed to schoolwork and is excited that she can share her research in different mediums.

“To be able to teach other students or professors and see them take an interest in what I am doing, is really cool,” Southard said. “I want to become a professor, so to already have someone want to listen to me is great.

After graduation, Southard plans to attend graduate school for developmental sociology.


Skyler Brazel is monitoring hops plants to understand how moisture levels affect the cold tolerance of the plants. 

Skyler Brazel is a junior in horticulture and global resource systems. Brazel learned about SWP through Southard during a shared class. He spoke to Diana Cochran, his advisor who is assistant professor in horticulture, about enrolling. 

Brazel is working to understand how moisture level affects the cold tolerance of hop plants, and how to use pre-winter treatments to improve overwintering.

“Science With Practice has put me ahead of other people with similar majors, from Iowa State and other colleges,” Brazel said. “This experience is going to set me apart from other students.”

Brazel said that SWP has provided a lot of insight on research. He has learned how to conduct research ethically and how to balance class and his personal life.

Brazel’s ultimate goal is to work in developing countries to provide better nutrition for those who do not have access to a diverse diet. To achieve his goals he is planning to go to graduate school and possibly obtain a doctorate.

“I think one of the coolest things is to learn about other people’s projects,” Brazel said. “It’s great to see how every person’s project is different from each other, but at the same time, very similar.”