By Aimee Nielson, UK Agricultural Communications Specialist
Students filed into the West Jessamine Middle School library, whispering to one another about what was hiding under tablecloths. Dr. Uneeda Bryant, a veterinary pathologist from the University of Kentucky Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, brought an interactive learning experience to teach students about the lab’s role in safeguarding animal health in Kentucky and about career options in veterinary medicine.
“Many people don’t realize the work we do at the UK VDL actually saves the lives of other animals,” Bryant said. “A big part of what we do in the pathology section of the lab is determining why animals die. If an owner knows that his cow died of pneumonia for example, they can go back to the farm and check their other animals and use the antimicrobial susceptibility report provided to them to guide them to the appropriate treatment regimen to use to prevent the disease from spreading.”
Bryant started each class with a video of a lab submission. Students watched as necropsy technician Sara Welsh performed an equine necropsy to determine the cause of the horse’s death. A few students had to look away, but most watched in amazement as things they had learned about animal anatomy came to life on the screen. It spurred questions about animal disease, treatments and even jobs associated with pathology.
West Jessamine Middle School agricultural exploration teacher Anna Campbell said her intent when inviting Bryant was to spur discussion about things they were learning in class and for them to discover ways to create a sustainable future as they grow up and choose vocations.
“I try to give my students a lot of meaningful experiences and to show them that agriculture affects everyone’s life,” she said. “I think having visitors like Dr. Bryant helps them see there are a lot of career opportunities out there related to agriculture that aren’t on a farm.”
After the video, Bryant and Campbell removed the tablecloths to reveal samples of some of the lab’s past findings. Students put on gloves and began to touch and explore preserved animal parts and learn about eye abnormalities, tumors, parasites, gallstones, kidney stones and even cow hairballs. The students reacted with loud oohs and ahhs and lots of questions that Bryant was happy to answer.
Sixth-grader Presley Howard believes she would like to be a large-animal veterinarian one day.
“I’ve always had a fascination with horses and cows,” she said. “I just think it would be super cool to take care of a lot of animals. Every summer, I go spend time at my Papaw’s farm. I have been able to get over the fact that animals die; that’s just how life is, but what I want is to be able to help more animals than we have to put down.”
Campbell likes to see the lightbulbs going off in her students’ minds, as they realize just how important agriculture is to them, their families and their communities.
“I have been trying to talk to them about how our population is booming and how we have to find creative ways to produce enough food to feed everyone,” she said. “Very few kids in my classes have lived on a farm. Very few of them have even visited a farm. We have to help them make a connection to agriculture in some way.”
Bryant takes her show on the road all over Kentucky each year. She sees it as an outreach opportunity to teach youth about a nontraditional career path in veterinary medicine as well as educating the community about the plethora of services offered at the UK VDL, which is part of the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.
“Some people are more visual and gain a better understanding through hands-on learning,” she said. “So, we bring the lab to them and it opens a door to talk about what we do.”