Students gain valuable research, travel experience during 10-week summer course

Photo Courtesy of Jacy Proctor

Photo Courtesy of Jacy Proctor, Graphic by Mollie Lastovica

By: Mollie Lastovica

Traveling 7,890 miles across four states in the Southwest, six undergraduate students, one grad student and two faculty members were part of a unique research experience this summer.

Created by Assistant Professor Billy McKim, Ph.D., the students spent five weeks in a College Station classroom, four weeks on the road and one week wrapping up to earn credit for AGCJ 404, technical writing, AGCJ 481, senior seminar and AGCJ 491, undergraduate research. Each student created a research proposal and worked to collect data for major undergraduate research projects during the duration of the 10-week course, which cumulated in Calif..

“The research’s focus was on public opinion and how it affects public policy,” McKim said. “California is a unique destination. We could find more extreme views. It also gave us the opportunity to look at production and the agricultural production season during the summer there.”

Three undergraduate research projects drove the data collection during the group’s travel time.

The first focused on animal welfare as a continuation from the spring’s research data collection in collaboration with Rodeo Austin. The second revolved around nutrition and impulse buying in grocery stores, and the final project, coined by Rachel Bedinger and Bo/David Williford, focused on why people select their meat products.

“For my and Bo/David’s project, the chance to interview consumers across the state of California will contribute to a better research project,” said Bedinger, a junior agricultural communications and journalism and animal science student.  “By spending an entire month collecting data in the form of interviews, we better understand the process that follows data collection such as interpretation and data coding.”

Even for those students who were not spearheading research projects, the opportunity to learn about the research and data collecting process in a hands-on way was invaluable.

“I knew that I was interested in graduate school and that getting a head start on what goes into research wouldn’t hurt,” Jacy Proctor, Aug. 2013 graduate said. “I learned not only how to write a research paper properly, but also, how to interact with different types of people and ask questions properly so that participants can understand exactly what I was asking.”

The idea for this course and coinciding travel stemmed from an experiential learning course in the department, ALEC 380, which was established in 2011.

“I saw what students got out of being on the road for 10 days during ALEC 380 and thought that truly immersing them in research data collection on the road every day would give them a better understanding of the different aspects and challenges of collecting data from the public,” McKim said.

Students who participated in the summer course agree that immersion was necessary to fully understand what they had been taught on campus.

“The trip was a hands-on way to apply what I had learned in the classroom to the real world experience,” Bedinger said.

Proctor, who started graduate school at Texas Tech University this fall, has already applied what she learned in McKim’s course to her graduate studies.

“This summer course exceed my expectations and helped greatly in my educational endeavors,” Proctor said. “I have already had several classes in graduate school that I can relate what I learned in Calif. to. This course will push you to the limit and make you work, but you will learn more than you will in any other regular class.”

McKim is already preparing for a similar course offering during the summer of 2014. He believes that this is a great opportunity for students interested in graduate school or those looking to see if research interests them. He considers this summer’s course the best academic experience he has had since coming to academia professionally.

“It’s real,” McKim said. “Sometimes being in this environment all the time, we forget that other things go on around us that don’t necessarily involve academic components. Being off campus that long and in different communities lets us see that it’s real.”

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