30 Students Travel Across U.S. for ALEC 380 Course

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By: Mollie Lastovica

30 students traveled 3,768 miles across six states with stops in 16 cities Oct. 24 – Nov. 5. Led by Assistant Professor Billy McKim, Ph.D., the students are enrolled in ALEC 380: Experience Agriculture.

This was the third year that the course has been offered to teach students about leadership, service, diversity and agriculture. In the past, the groups have traveled throughout the Midwest, but this year, McKim opted for a different route.

“One of the goals of the trip is to introduce students to different graduate school opportunities,” McKim said. “Choosing a different route allows them to see other land-grand graduate schools and also made sure we were not repeating the same experiences each year.”

From College Station, the group traveled eastward to Mobile, Ala. for the first night. From there, they traveled to Fla., where they toured the University of Florida’s agricultural college and participated in Walt Disney World’s Behind the Scenes Tour, which focuses on plant science and agronomy. The next stop was Atlanta, Ga., where they visited CNN’s world headquarters and the World of Coke museum. After a night in Nashville, Tenn., they learned about the scientific components of making alcohol at the Four Roses distillery in Lawrenceburg, Ky.

On Oct. 29, they traveled to Louisville, Ky., where they spent four nights. Not only did the group see the Louisville Slugger museum and Churchill Downs, but also, they served as volunteers for the 2013 National FFA Convention.  The students helped run and oversee the national CDE competitions held in conjunction with the convention.

After leaving Ky., they headed to Mo., stopping at the St. Louis Gateway Arch and Budweiser Brewery. They visited the Warm Springs Ranch and toured the University of Missouri in Columbia. On the last full day of their study away experience, the group toured Amish communities in Mo., learning about diversity in agricultural production. After an overnight stay in Branson, Mo., they traveled back to College Station, arriving on Nov. 5.

The course started when the fall semester began, meeting twice per week before the trip’s duration. It will continue to meet throughout the semester. During their travels, students were expected to journal about their experiences and also stayed connected via Facebook.

“The classroom portion helped a lot before we actually hit the road,” said Chris Mellina, senior supply chain management major. “It gave us some background information on some of the things we were going to see so it was easier to grasp when we got there.”

For many students, the opportunity to see and experience different cities and cultures in the United States was one they could not pass up.

“I think the greatest lesson I’ve learned about myself is just how much I haven’t experienced,” said Amantha Hons, junior agricultural communications and journalism major. “We got the chance to interact with so many cultures, go so many places and meet so many people-things that I never would have experienced before taking this trip.”

Students in the ALEC 380 course could see and apply what they had learned in the classroom. As emphasized by a college-wide initiative to promote high impact learning, students often retain more from hands-on experiences.

“While learning out of a book offers facts and figures, emerging myself into an out-of-the-classroom high impact learning experience has pushed me out of my comfort zone and into a realm of the unknown,” said Kaylie Walker, sophomore agricultural leadership and development major. “I have had the opportunity to experience things first-hand and, in turn, develop myself into a well-rounded individual.”

Agricultural communications and journalism junior Hayley Grimes agrees with Walker on the benefits of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone.

“This greatest lesson I have learned about myself on this trip is that I am capable of more than I thought,” said Grimes. “I faced my fear of heights, met a history professor from England and saw successful Amish and Mennonite businesses. This trip has inspired me to look at things from a different perspective and continue to challenge myself with new experiences for the rest of my life.”

Morgan Fuller, senior agricultural science major, highly suggests this and other study away courses to all students.

“I would recommend this trip to other students because I had the opportunity to experience things that I would never have had the opportunity to otherwise,” Fuller said. “I was also able to learn more about myself and what I want to do with my future and examine my goals in life.”

As the group returns to the bustle of campus life, McKim has already begun planning next year’s course and students continue to reflect upon their experience.

“I can appreciate all that the trip has done for me,” Mellina said. “As a business major, I had a little different motivation for this trip, but it helped me integrate my business background into the agriculture industry to see how they worked together.”

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