AFS Regents Award

Shown with the Regents Teaching Excellence Award is (L-R) UW-River Falls Interim Provost Faye Perkins, CAFES Dean Dale Gallenberg, Animal and Food Science Department Chair Gary Onan, and Chancellor Dean Van Galen.

Animal and Food Science Department honored with 2017 Regents Award for Teaching Excellence

April 11, 2017 – The Animal and Food Science Department at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls has been honored with the 2017 Regents Award for Teaching Excellence. The department is home to the animal science major, the largest enrolled major on the UW-River Falls campus. The department also houses the dairy science major, annually ranked as one of the top three largest undergraduate dairy science programs in the nation in terms of enrollment.

The department has a long history of teaching excellence. Over the years 10 department faculty members have been awarded the UWRF Distinguished Teacher Award, the highest award bestowed on the UWRF campus. In their nomination materials, Gary Onan, chair of the Animal and Food Science Department, noted three components of the department teaching philosophy that contribute to their success:

·      Hands-on laboratory experience – most courses across the broad discipline areas and sub-areas have laboratory components.

·      Out-of-classroom opportunities – such as internships, work experiences on the UW-River Falls farm including management opportunities, intercollegiate competitions, undergraduate research, international experiences, and student organizations.

·      Effective academic advising – all academic advising is handled by the 15 faculty members in the department.

The Animal and Food Science Department has been able to foster teaching excellence in their faculty through the evaluation process. All faculty, whether probationary or senior faculty, are assessed using an evaluation tool where 95% of the evaluation is based on factors that the department feels are important for student learning.  Moreover, there is an informal open environment and camaraderie among the faculty members that promotes teaching development. Faculty members willingly share materials and techniques with new faculty hires and encourage them to participate in the scholarship of teaching and learning. The department also routinely funds opportunities for faculty members to enhance their teaching effectiveness through workshops, professional conferences or the purchase of equipment and technology.

Approximately two years ago the department embarked on a curriculum review and revision process in response to the changing demographics of students (particularly the increasing percentage coming from non-farm backgrounds) and the ever changing dynamics of the animal industries. The core of the new and reworked courses will be offered starting in fall semester 2017.

Tom Westerhaus, a retired pre-K-16 teacher and administrator, served as a facilitator for the department curriculum review process. In his letter of support for the award nomination, he complimented the department on the caliber of the curriculum review. 

"The department agreed on three general concerns that the new curriculum needed to address," Westerhaus said. "In selecting these, the department clearly chose a more difficult, long-term, and systemic approach to curriculum redesign, as opposed to an easier, short-term, and more surface curriculum review process."

In a second letter of support for the award, Greg Lardy, department head of the Animal Sciences Department at North Dakota State University said, "One of the best measures of the effectiveness of a program is if other academic institutions seek your graduates for their graduate program. Students trained at UWRF all came well prepared for graduate education."

Several alumni also provided support letters for the nomination.

Laura Olenski, DVM at Lodi Veterinary Care, shared comments on several professors who were influential in her academic career.  "Dr. Justin Luther found a way to organize an infinitely complex subject:  reproduction, in such a way that I referred back to my college notes to clarify veterinary school instruction."

Ruth Wagner, a calf and heifer manager at a large dairy operation, said, "… the most important thing I was taught was how to ask the right questions. When problems arise…I know where to look. When I've exhausted my own resources, I know whom to ask."

Onan accepted the award on behalf of his department at the Board of Regents meeting April 7. In his remarks, Onan said the department strives to strike a balance between the hands-on, skill based activities and the basic and applied sciences and this seems to serve their graduates well in the industry.

He went on to praise the dedication of his department faculty and support staff who struggle with work life balance so that their students are afforded all the opportunities mentioned above. 

"This extends to the herd managers on the farms who allow students to make mistakes which leaves them with an indelible learning experience," he said.

Before concluding his remarks, Onan shared one area of concern he has for the future. He has been involved in hiring new faculty for nearly 10 years and although his department has been fortunate to make some excellent recent hires, he has seen the pool of applicants for positions shrink significantly. In general in the agriculture industry there are up to two positions for every qualified applicant and the industry is prepared to compensate new hires very well. He allowed that there are some benefits to working in academia as compared to industry but the competition for qualified applicants in increasingly challenging.

Dale Gallenberg, dean of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES) at UWRF, was also present at the April 7 meeting. Gallenberg felt Regent James Langnes, who formally presented the award to Onan on behalf of the Board of Regents and UW System and had recently visited the Animal and Food Science Department, captured it best when he said his favorite thing about the visit was the passion exhibited by members of the department.  "Passion is hard to fabricate…their passion there is very real," he said.

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