2020 has certainly been a year of firsts for the Midwest Poultry Consortium’s Center of Excellence Scholarship and Internship Program — the first year it was hosted by Iowa State University, and the first year the program was held in an online format due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
ISU’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences virtually hosted 29 students from 14 Midwest universities for the virtual summer educational program. The 25-year-old program was formerly hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
ISU was selected to host the program because of its college and industry program support, facilities for teaching, and existing poultry faculty support, says Elizabeth Bobeck, ISU assistant professor of animal science and on-site coordinator of the summer program. Iowa is the leading state in the nation for egg production.
Preparing students for poultry careers
“The Midwest Poultry Consortium Center of Excellence courses began in 1996 as a way for 13 Midwest states representing 14 universities to pool students and teaching resources, and continue educating university students for future employment in the poultry industry,” Bobeck says. “Many universities were discontinuing poultry science departments, and by bringing together industry and universities, a poultry education program was able to continue.”
Students complete the program over the course of two consecutive summers. Each summer, students take three classes that are two weeks long to learn more about poultry science, earning up to 18 credits that can be transferred to their universities. This summer’s courses were moved online and taught by ISU animal science and veterinary medicine faculty, as well as others from poultry centers throughout the U.S. Following completion of their coursework at the end of June, students began industry internships with consortium members.
The consortium consists of 117 industry members. Membership is open to any poultry company that has an interest in helping educate the next generation of poultry industry employees, says Beth Nelson, Midwest Poultry Consortium president and CEO.
New ISU research and teaching farm
Before the pandemic hit, the plan was to host some classes at the new Robert T. and Arlene Hamilton Poultry and Research Teaching Farm at ISU, just south of campus; and host some classes in Kildee Hall and the meats laboratory on campus. Bobeck says they still were able to make use of the new poultry facility for the program by filming laboratory videos for nutrition and physiology courses.
“Students commented that although they missed the hands-on and networking component common in the [Midwest Poultry Consortium] Center of Excellence instruction, the courses were among the best-run online courses they had taken,” Bobeck says.
Dawn Koltes, adjunct assistant professor in animal science at ISU, co-taught the online avian physiology course with Zac Williams, poultry outreach specialist at Michigan State University. Koltes says the course typically involves a lot of hands-on activities that help build camaraderie among the students. To make up for this, she assigned group projects and a virtual debate about current issues or topics within the poultry industry, pairing students to work together and get to know each other.
ISU teacher wins ‘Pullet-zer Prize’
“It was a unique perspective with it being my first time teaching a course for the program, and the first time the program was offered in a virtual format,” Koltes notes. “It went fairly well.” As a result of her efforts, the students voted Koltes to be named this year’s runner-up for the “Pullet-zer Prize Award.” The award recognizes faculty for their efforts in teaching students in the program.
ISU will again host the scholarship and internship program next summer, reverting to an in-person format. “We hope to continue bridging the education gap for undergraduates throughout the Midwest interested in poultry production by offering the poultry-focused courses here at a world-class agricultural institution, with brand new poultry facilities, in the heart of the laying hen industry,” Bobeck says.