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Competition, judging gives UWRF agriculture students hands-on experience

Falcon News Service

December 14, 2016

Hands-on experience is important for any student’s college experience. One way for UW-River Falls students in the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences (CAFES) to get experience is through competition and judging teams.

The college has 14 of these teams: Agriculture and Applied Economics Association Quiz Bowl, American Society of Animal Science Academic Quadrathlon, National Agricultural Education Collegiate Conference, Dairy Judging, Dairy Challenge, Horse Judging, Horse Show, Soils Judging, Crops Judging, Meat Animal Evaluation, Mid-America Collegiate Horticulture Society, Animal Welfare, Poultry Judging and ASABE Quarter-Scale Tractor Design.

“Judging teams are one of a number of activities that we think are critical co-curricular components to the programs in CAFES,” said Dale Gallenberg, dean of CAFES. “Students have an opportunity to directly apply knowledge, information that they’re getting out of the classroom in the judging team settings in the competitions as well as develop additional skills that will be important to them in the future.”

One judging team that has done particularly well in the past few years is the Soils Judging Team. Holly Dolliver, associate professor of soil science and geology, is the advisor for the team, which competes once a year at the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA) Judging Conference.

“To be able to learn in a hands-on environment is so beneficial. There is nothing that can replace those educational opportunities out in the field. Nothing. It’s just so superior to what we can do in the classroom,” Dolliver said.

The team is composed of a varying number of students each year, depending on the host school of the competition. Together they spend four months of spring semester enrolled in a course preparing for the competition and training on campus.

Students must apply to be on the team and the only requirement is that the student has taken the Introduction to Soils course and has an interest in soils. Not all team members are soils majors, but Dolliver says 60 percent to 70 percent are.

When Dolliver was hired at UWRF nine years ago, she was tasked with rebuilding the team. Now the team regularly places in the top three in the competition, including back-to-back first place finishes in 2014 and 2015.

According to Dolliver, UWRF is one of the smaller schools that participates in the competition, competing against universities such as Purdue, Iowa State, Nebraska and other large agriculture programs in the country.

The team’s success helps the soil science program recruit new students. The team also benefits current students in their future endeavors whether that be employment or going on to graduate school. Dolliver said some students get jobs directly because of their participation in the competition.

Senior Jon Alexander said that joining the soils judging team helped him build his list of achievements that will help him move on to graduate school.

Alexander will attend his fourth NACTA Judging Conference as part of the Soils Judging Team in 2017.

As a freshman, Alexander was a horticulture major. Growing up on a farm, he was always curious about soils. He enrolled in the Introduction to Soils course with Dolliver, and applied for a spot on the Soils Judging Team. After taking 12th place individually in his first competition, he changed his major to soil science, which Alexander said is “100 percent” his passion.

“The best thing I ever did was switch to soils,” Alexander said.

Dolliver watched Alexander flourish after joining the team and beginning to study soil science.

“I think [joining the team] was the thing that kind of ignited his passion, and I think it led to other experiences that I’m not sure he would have stepped out to do if he didn’t have the judging experience,” Dolliver said.

Alexander got a research internship in the summer of 2016; conducted his own research through the Undergraduate Research, Creative and Scholarly Activity office; attended a national conference with Dolliver; and has applied for graduate school at the University of Minnesota.

“I think one of the best things that students can do here is just simply try to find what they are passionate about,” Dolliver said. “I think if you’ve accomplished that as an undergrad, you’ve accomplished a lot.”