Animal science embedded course gets creative with virtual experience

Kelly Jedrzejewski
July 10, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Although the travel portion of their study abroad class was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, animal science students in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences still experienced a “virtual” Ireland while learning about the equine industry in Pennsylvania.

The class, ANSC 499: Ireland’s Equine Industry — A Global Perspective into the Horse World, was offered for the first time during the spring 2020 semester. As the horse industry becomes increasingly global, students need to understand the U.S. horse market and how it intersects with the worldwide economy. Ireland is well-known for its horses and is an excellent example of a country involved in international equine trade.

The class was co-taught by Danielle Smarsh, equine extension specialist and assistant professor of equine science, and Andrea Kocher, instructor in equine science and equine extension specialist.

For class of 2020 animal science alumnae Kaylee Kishbaugh and Melaina Pepsin, experiencing the equine industry on a global level, while learning about the industry at home, was a significant draw.

“We had speakers from around the world connect with us via Zoom to discuss the equine industry,” said Pepsin, of Old Forge. “It was interesting to hear from people with different backgrounds and learn how diverse the industry is.”

Kishbaugh, of Shickshinny, said, “We spent time learning about Irish culture and researched the places we were going to see and the people we were going to meet. We learned about local etiquette, common American ‘mistakes,’ and were told to be willing to try new experiences.”

One of the first guest speakers was Caroline Lane, managing director at Equipeople, an Ireland-based organization that provides work experience and study tours for students. She met with the students in January to talk more about the basics of the Irish equine industry.

Barbara Murphy, lecturer and researcher in equine science at University College Dublin and founder of Equilume Ltd., met with students to discuss her company, which is a world leader in the research and development of light therapy solutions to assist the equine industry in maximizing reproductive efficiency and performance.

Scarlett Gotwals, of Brook Ledge Horse Transportation in Oley, Pennsylvania, spoke about how horses travel internationally and domestically. The class heard from USDA veterinarian Linda Detwiler to get another perspective on importing and exporting horses. To learn more about international equine events, public perceptions of animal welfare, biosecurity and European Thoroughbred racing, the class heard from David Marlin, a United Kingdom-based equine respiratory and exercise specialist.

Rounding out the guest speakers was Nettie Liburt, senior nutrition manager at Ohio-based Buckeye Nutrition, who joined the class to talk about the feed industry.

In January, the class took a trip to Pennsylvania’s Penn National Race Course in Grantville. Animal science rising senior Paul Mendoza, of Philadelphia, said the trip was a highlight of the course. Students met with jockey Jackie Davis, who spoke about her experiences and the challenges of working as a female jockey in the horse racing industry.

“I didn’t know much about racing, but after meeting Ms. Davis and learning how much care and attention each horse gets, I can say they gained another fan,” he said.

Students visited Equistar Farms in Annville during the same trip to learn about the Thoroughbred breeding programs in Pennsylvania and saw Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner, Smarty Jones. Pepsin said, “It was awesome to see how prominent the racing industry is and how many opportunities there are.”

The transition to online learning in March brought challenges but not an end to the Irish experience. “It was disheartening to miss the trip, but Dr. Smarsh and Mrs. Kocher made sure we still learned about Ireland during each session,” said Kishbaugh. The class had virtual tours of some sites, including the Cliffs of Moher, downtown Dublin, Trinity College and Kinnitty Castle.

Despite the different end to the semester, Mendoza highly recommended the class. “This class brought me out of my comfort zone and allowed me to experience things I would never have, even if some of the experiences were virtual,” he said. “I can't thank our instructors enough. I am still learning equine terms and basic knowledge, and they made me feel comfortable enough to ask any question.”

Travel for 10 international embedded courses in the college was canceled during the spring semester due to COVID-19, according to Ketja Lingenfelter, assistant director for student global engagement.

“Faculty came up with creative solutions to complete their courses without the travel component, including inviting their international hosts to guest lectures and taking virtual field trips to some of the locations they were scheduled to visit,” she said. “We are proud of how our faculty and students handled the challenges presented.”

New virtual programs and internships are available for the summer and fall semesters to give students a global experience while following COVID-19 safety precautions, Lingenfelter added.

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Last Updated July 10, 2020