AVS ALUMNI NEWSLETTER
A Newsletter Once Again
A Merry Christmas to all our friends and alumni wherever you are at this holiday time. We all hope that you have a great holiday season.
It is thirteen years this month since the last issue of our departmental newsletter, which was edited by Dick Gerry even after his formal retirement. Dick is not doing very well in the Orono nursing home and we all certainly wish him a great holiday season.
If you have not been to the UM campus for a few years you will notice when you do come to visit us that a lot of physical changes have occurred in the last ten years. Biggest of all probably is that we are now “The University of Maine”, no more UMO. We are the flagship campus, hence the logo and the banners around campus. At the departmental level we have returned to being Animal and Veterinary Sciences after using 3 other names since the 1980’s including: Animal, Veterinary and Aquatic Sciences (AVA), BioSystems Science and Engineering (BSE, hence the UMADCOWS), and lastly Animal and Horticultural Sciences. These name changes were often associated with the addition of different faculty, but these changes unfortunately also often involved budget cuts or budget redistributions. Many faculty retired and were never replaced, consequently we are one of the smallest departments in the college in faculty numbers but this year we have one of our highest enrollments ever (120 students). Clearly we are doing something right.
The Witter Research Center is no longer under departmental management; like all the other University Farms it is managed directly by the Experiment Station. Its name and focus have also changed. From being primarily a research resource, it is now used extensively for teaching, so it is now the Witter Teaching and Research Center. In 1996, the Witter Center was closed for financial reasons and all the animals were sold. The funds generated by selling the animals contributed significantly to the repairing and remodeling of the facilities and a conscious decision was made by the faculty and administration to reduce the size of the dairy herd and diversify into other species, including horses. This has allowed us to develop an Equine Minor, to teach classes in equine management, reproduction, breeding management, and some aspects of equitation, to make strong ties with the horse industry, to have students perform an internship with an equine professional, to perform equine research, and to have students retrain our standardbred horses to be pleasure horses. The university’s horses are all donations, primarily retired standard-bred harness racers, which are then used for reproduction research while they are retrained by students to become pleasure horses. If you would like a horse for Christmas we have several available for sale.
Students can also bring their horse to school with them and rent one of the boarding stalls at Witter. This is run as a cooperative where everyone helps look after everyone’s horses, including the university’s horses. Trails are available around Witter and student clubs participate in local and regional competitions.
We have also modified our curriculum to make it more hands-on with Dairy Cattle Technology now being a five credit senior level class where everyone is involved in the day-to-day management of the farm and in the decision-making. These classes give our graduates experience working in real-life situations where they have individual and group responsibilities that help prepare them to be successful contributors to the state’s economy in whatever type of position they take after graduation. Our students have also been more successful in gaining admission to veterinary colleges and other graduate programs since we initiated these changes. We currently have alumni enrolled in the veterinary college in Prince Edward Island (three), at the University of Pennsylvania (two), at Iowa State, Tufts, Illinois, and Missouri. We believe that our increased enrollment and the greater success of our graduates are because of these positive changes in our programs.
We have also benefited from the University’s association with Coca Cola which donates several million dollars each year to the University. This money has been used in several ways but the most obvious is in making high tech classrooms in many buildings around campus. The Rogers Hall classroom was one of the first to be refitted with white boards, a big screen, an LCD projector suspended from the ceiling, and nice tables and chairs replacing the old-fashioned individual desk chairs. The room is carpeted and has high quality vertical blinds to limit the incident light when we are displaying images. It is a really nice room in which to teach, particularly for faculty who use Power Point or WebCT. I was one of the first faculty in our college to get their teaching materials into WebCT so now I can display the notes on the screen while I lecture on this material. Now my students can listen to what I am saying instead of desperately trying to write it all down. It was strange for me at first to have everyone looking at me when I lectured, I wasn’t used to that. Many more of these rooms are being created all over campus every year.
Other changes include many new buildings and the university’s enrollment has increased every year for the last five years, which of course has made parking even more of a contentious issue. Another extension was built onto Hitchner Hall for the cutting edge high tech research of biochemistry, molecular biology and genomics. We are currently seeking applicants for an AVS Animal Genomics position that we received as part of a university genomics initiative. So, if you are a PhD/DVM with genomics skills please give Jim Weber a call (207-581-2774). I’m sure he would be very happy to talk to you.
Yes there have been many changes at UMaine, but overall they have been positive changes for us and our students. Have a great holiday season.
Martin Stokes, Professor and Chair
Written by Jess Small
Other members of the AVS family will be featured in future issues of this newsletter.
Maine’s winters are long and that means that many of the activities related to the University of Maine’s teaching, research, and outreach missions at the farm are often hampered by inclement weather. A new indoor livestock arena is essential to make the farm fully functional year-round.
Retraining of the retired Standardbred horse is an essential component of the program that uses research horses at the J.F. Witter Teaching and Research Center. Most horses come to the program because they have failed in some way at the racetrack. The horses are given a second chance through retraining, the students gain a horse education through classes, and the research faculty have a pool of healthy horses for research. Funds for the equine program are obtained through resale of the horses to good homes.
Construction of the livestock arena will provide students who show beef and dairy animals a place to practice and train in preparation for state fairs and other events held both inside and outside of Maine. Different breeds of livestock can be exhibited. Livestock auctions can be held. Students in 4-H can use the facility to train and show animals.
Although the primary purpose of the arena is to educate students and conduct beneficial research, it will also be available for organizations to host horse and livestock shows, hold 4-H events, and purebred and commercial sales. Therapeutic riding is also a program area that may benefit from the livestock arena.
The building will be 120’ x 220’ with inside dimensions of 100’ x 200’ (similar in size to an Olympic ice hockey arena). Retractable bleaches will be installed on one side for viewing. A two-stage elevator will allow complete handicap accessibility to the second floor multi-purpose meeting room. There will be a welcome center that will act as the hub of activity for the entire farm and will include the farm’s administrative offices. As part of this project, the present horse barn, adjacent to the new livestock facility, will be renovated to allow for a tack room, addition of six stalls, two birthing stalls, and feed storage.
The Livestock arena is the crowning jewel that completes the goal, set in 1997, to make the J.F. Witter Teaching and Research Center a student-centered learning experience in a total animal science system.
Image Description: model of livestock arena