SAAS Convention 2009

From left: Kaitie Kirkpatrick, John Ferguson, Kendra Gregory

Five members of the Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Department (A&E) family traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, for the 106th annual meeting of the Southern Association of Agricultural Scientists (SAAS)from Jan. 31 through Feb. 3.

Dr. Florah Mhlanga and Dr. Michael Nicodemus accompanied Kaitie Kirkpatrick, senior Animal Science major from Richardson, TX; Kendra Gregory, senior Environmental Science major from Pittsburgh, PA; and John Ferguson, junior Agribusiness major from Abilene.  The three students presented papers based on original research in the conference's undergraduate student research competition.  Kirkpatrick presented on the "Effect of RADEX on the Utilization of Poor Quality Roughages by Small Ruminants," Gregory on "The Growth Potential of Tropical Forage Legumes Grown in a Semi Arid Region of Honduras," and Ferguson on "Smallholder Livestock Production in Zambia: Constraints and Opportunities."  The highlight of the trip for the A&E contingent was Katie Kirkpatrick's second-place overall finish in the presentation competition.  Although a North Carolina State University student took first place, Kirkpatrick's finish is indicative of A&E students' ability to compete successfully at the national level. 

According to its website, SAAS "has been in existence since 1899.... [and] strives to forward the interests of Southern agriculture by bringing agricultural leaders in the educational field and industry together. The association instructs and trains individuals for the purpose of improving or developing their capabilities relating to educational activities in service to the public arena. SAAS also offers young scientists an opportunity to present papers resulting from their research, extension, or other efforts and to exchange knowledge with other leaders."  The Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences is proud to have students of the caliber necessary to participate successfully in this organization. 

According to Dr. Foy Mills, Jr., Professor of Agribusiness and department chair, much of the research success can be credited to one the newer members of the A&E faculty.  "Dr. Florah Mhlanga has single-handedly revitalized A&E's undergraduate research program," he said.  "Our focus is directed towards contributions to sustainable agricultural and environmental systems in developing countries.  We approach it with an attitude not of imposing what we think the people or place need, but rather of listening to understand what the indigenous folks believe they need.  We then apply science to not only improve food availability while respecting the environment, but to provide an opportunity to share the message of Jesus by showing people we care about them and their needs."  According to Dr. Mills, A&E is engaged in pursuing ACU's mission of educating students for Christian service and leadership throughout the world.  In light of ACU's 21st Century Vision, it is noteworthy that each student research project (critically) involved an international perspective (globally) with the intent of identifying specific ways to improve food availability in developing countries (missional).

SAAS '09 2nd place undergrad presenter Kaitie KirkpatrickKaitie Kirkpatrick's research focused on testing the ability of the feed additive RADEX to improve the nutritional content of poor-quality feed for goats.  This research was designed to test the effectiveness of the product for more than just Texas or U.S. applications---the primary goal was to see if it could be utilized in poor and developing countries to boost production capabilities for poor quality land.  The project required a lot of hard work and long hours, but in Kirkpatrick's words, the "blood, sweat, and tears were totally worth it."  She said that she felt lucky to be able present at the convention, and hopes that ACU continues to be well represented.  "We had the highest attendance rate of any school," she said, referring to one of the highlights of the convention for her.  "We were able to participate against state schools and research institutes, and I felt like the odds were against me.  I felt really overwhelmed and honored [to win second place]." 

Fellow researcher and presenter Kendra Gregory was also thankful for the opportunity that she had to present agricultural research.  Her paper was the result of a summer of research in the Honduras testing different forage legumes to see which of them would perform the best under the typical growing conditions faced by a Honduran smallholder dairy farmer.  "It was great to see other universities researching and presenting as well," Kendra said, "and of course it was awesome to see Kaitie win."  She added that the opportunity was also great preparation for graduate school, which she plans to attend when she completes her degree at ACU.

John Ferguson also pointed to the future benefits of undergraduate research. "Undergraduate research not only looks good on a resume but is a huge opportunity for someone going through any undergraduate program to experience if they are interested in someday working in the field of agriculture."  And according to Ferguson's experience, research is something A&E does very well.  "Seeing the quality of ACU's presenters matched up against major land grant universities as well as graduate level research; it was encouraging to see a small school like ACU not only be competitive [with] but in my opinion exceed some of the graduate students competing." Ferguson's research was based on survey work that he completed over two months during the past summer in Zambia, studying production constraints on smallholder livestock production. 

The highlight of the trip for John seems to sum up the overall feeling of satisfaction for both the participants at the Convention and the entire department.  "Hearing the announcer say 'Abilene Christian University' as one of the top 3 schools when the competition included the top agricultural schools of the South" was really special, he said.  And while this is indeed a special event for the department, the research and competition results are only indicative of the department's mission to be a place "where learning is informed by faith and where servant leadership is expected and modeled."  As such, there is little doubt that with the continued dedication of A&E faculty and students, the research successes of the department will be repeated in the near future.

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