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Students Gain Hands-on Learning at VMTRC

April 3, 2015

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High school students visit the VMTRC milk quality lab

Thanks to a partnership between the Veterinary Medicine Teaching and Research Center (VMTRC) in Tulare, California and area elementary and high schools, more than 8,000 students over the last 12 years have benefited from direct, hands-on learning in veterinary medicine.

The center’s free tours offer students of all ages real-world problem solving and hands-on activities and investigation in dairy production medicine. Students learn why the center plays an important role for training veterinary students and conducting research to solve problems related to dairy production medicine, food safety, cattle welfare and ecosystem health.  For example, students can learn how the monitoring of mastitis is conducted by the center’s Milk Quality Lab and how researchers conduct “CSI” type of investigations to identify the source of salmonella outbreaks.  They view a video necropsy of a calf to help understand how the California Animal Health & Food Safety (CAHFS) Lab – housed at the center - detects and diagnoses disease. Or they may participate in the viewing of brain tissue samples through proper use of lab microscopes. 

The tours are just one example of a wide range of outreach activities offered by the VMTRC. The center also participates in the Education and Agriculture Together (E.A.T.) Foundation’s annual workshops which provide teachers with hands-on learning in food and fiber production to incorporate into the classroom. And for younger students, the staff regularly visits elementary schools and 4-H clubs with its ‘traveling cardboard cow.’  Staff members Jennifer Crook and Grant Jones-Wiebe helped create the popular cardboard cow by filling a cow-patterned box with pink packing peanuts (representing muscle), a Styrofoam backbone, and various sized balls to represent four stomach compartments.  Students can palpate the cow and even determine if she is pregnant (with a plush toy calf).  They also get to look at and touch tapeworms, intestinal stones of a horse, and veterinary instruments.  These events help students and teachers explore healthy food choices, learn how food is grown, interact with farm animals, and learn about careers in agriculture.

For students contemplating college, VMTRC post-graduate residents participate in high school career days.  An annual high school internship program with the center’s Milk Quality Lab & Clinical Program  provides students the opportunity to work in the laboratory and learn basic skills.  For students that are specifically interested in becoming a veterinarian, they have the opportunity to observe clinical veterinary services provided on-farm to local dairy herds with the Dairy Production Medicine Clinicians.  The internship has been very successful with several of the students going on to veterinary school and becoming practicing veterinarians.   

Jones-Wiebe, who helps coordinate school outreach for the VMTRC, says that due to the popularity of the tours, they receive phone calls from interested high schools from as far away as San Diego County.  He works closely with teachers to customize a tour based on what the students are interested in and studying.

 “Some of the most common questions I’m asked include what it takes to get into veterinary school and examples of the largest or rarest animals that have come into the CAHFS lab, “ he said. “Because of our proximity to the Fresno zoo, we have had a giraffe brought to our lab for disease diagnosis.”  

The Central Valley is one of the world's most productive agricultural regions and Tulare is a major U.S. dairy production center. In fact, Tulare is the number one county in the nation in annual milk production, totaling more than $2 billion, according to the Tulare County Farm Bureau 2013 Agricultural Facts.   Through the VMTRC, students living in this agriculture-rich county have the opportunity to gain an up-close and better understanding of veterinary and dairy production medicine and its importance for industry and consumers.

If you are an educator and interested in learning more about VMTRC’s school outreach, please call 559-688-1731.