Grace spoke to us from a mixed grass prairie in the middle of Wyoming where she is interning at the USDA-ARS High Plains Grasslands Research Station in Cheyenne. During her internship she is working on production and conservation projects on rangelands under the supervision of Dr. Justin Derner of the USDA. Upon returning from a study abroad program in New Zealand she volunteered to work on an animal nutrition project with Dr. Kasey DeAtley. She became involved in every step of the project, from collecting and analyzing data to drawing out conclusions and recommendations. The first project led to an appointment in Dr. DeAtley’s lab as a research assistant, and with that, different projects and greater challenges.
Grace realized that the undergraduate research experience enhanced her academic learning. The science and critical thinking she was using in her research projects led to greater understanding and insight of the concepts and materials presented in the classroom. “It became easier to make connections between concepts we were learning about in class and their real world application”, Grace said, and in turn “it motivated me to conduct applied research that directly impacts the producer.”
She has discovered the information and knowledge from these research projects are meaningful and can be communicated back to cattle producers so they can profitably and sustainably manage their herds and rangeland. Grace describes her undergraduate research experience as being “transformative”. Although she expected to grow as a student, she was surprised of its role in helping her grow as a person and a researcher. Grace’s rangeland internship will end in November 2016. Her immediate plan is to continue gaining experience in the field before heading off to a master’s program in rangeland management.