Over a mile away from the center Green, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) on South Campus serves as a haven for the many different students. With 350 acres of outdoor classroom space, it is the largest college by space and the third smallest by students.
Students at the university may associate CANR with the UDairy Creamery, a long trek to statistics class or the Botanic Gardens. But for students in the college, much more is offered.
“I feel like people don’t really understand how complex it is and also just how interesting it is,” says Mallory Page, a junior plant science major with a wildlife insect conservation minor. “You can learn a lot of different things. I have been given a lot more opportunities than I really thought.”
Page feels that her major and others in the college are not appreciated by the rest of the university, even though the soil chemistry research program at the university is internationally recognized, according to Calvin Keeler, the college’s interim dean.
Keeler, who took over as interim dean in 2021, is proud of all the college stands for. He has been a professor at the college since 1998 in multiple departments.
Keeler is so excited to tell me about the college that I don’t even have to ask any questions to get the conversation started. Only after explaining the college’s increase in enrollment with the Class of 2027’s 258 students – a notable feat given all other colleges’ decrease in enrollment due to lowered admissions – does he ask me what my questions are.
When I ask him to highlight parts of the college to me, he immediately starts naming majors and the successes of students within them.
“The big major is pre-veterinary medicine,” he says. “So that’s probably one of the premier majors in the college. And they have a success rate of 85 to 90 percent of the students that apply to vet school get into vet school.”
The national average acceptance rate for pre-veterinary medicine is 40 percent, according to the university’s major finder page. A senior pre-veterinary medicine student, Ashley Streithorst, credits the college’s success to the unique opportunities available to herself and others.
“I feel like the classes at CANR have really set me up to succeed in the future with a broad range of different aspects of not just medicine or setting me up to take medicine classes, but within the environment and within different environmental and agriculture classes,” says Streithorst.
Experiential learning is at the core of the college’s philosophy, according to Keeler. With only 911 undergraduate students in the college as of last year, there are more opportunities for students to gain experience through hands-on learning and externships. Streithorst had the opportunity to work at a veterinary hospital through one of her courses.
“There’s one class that they just started a couple of years ago,” says Streithorst. “It was called the clinical pre-vet experience. They had a veterinarian come in and teach clinical hands-on experiences. Within that class, there was a winter internship opportunity. I did an 80-hour internship, which was also a great opportunity to get more hands-on learning throughout the college.”
Such experiences go far beyond just pre-veterinary medicine majors. Page interned at the Botanic Gardens, enjoying her experience greatly.
“I was really working in the field as opposed to just a cubicle job,” says Page.
The same thing seems to be highlighted across the varied majors within CANR. The college has a model for experiential learning, which includes providing a multitude of hands-on experiences, and the students are excited by it.
When I ask about what the college offers to the community as a whole, Keeler immediately mentions the sustainability initiatives. He describes the college as a trailblazer in this field in ways that the rest of campus is probably not aware of.
“[We] have a sustainability community that’s gonna look at all aspects of sustainability, not just recycling, but also agricultural sustainability,” says Keeler. “How do you do agriculture in a sustainable way, but also maintain the business of agriculture?”
Keeler has big questions that are at the forefront of the college, some focused on sustainability and others on equity.
“We have issues of accessibility and underrepresented minorities with the populations that work in the poultry processing houses,” says Keeler. “So there’s migrant issues …. issues with health. And so I think students want to address these issues, climate sustainability and One Health.”
One Health comes up repeatedly in the conversation. One Health is a global approach that uses the integration of environmental, human and animal health, which is then applied to sustainability initiatives in interdisciplinary ways. This approach is used by major organizations such as the CDC. Within the college, the initiative is captured in its One Health Certificate, a recent addition to the available programs. The university is one of the few that offers this certificate.
When asked about future projects, Keeler feels confident about the university’s collaborative commitment to sustainability. He foresees the university working collectively towards solving issues even beyond the school and in the greater community, such as the issues within the agriculture industry. To him, the college’s commitment to sustainability is at the forefront of its endeavors.
“I see a lot of enthusiasm and energy at the administrative level for establishing these collaborative ventures in order to really truly address these issues I’ve been talking about.”