First-Year Students Showcase Polytechnic Learning

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Hamburger or Beyond Burger: which has more impact on the environment?

That was just one of the topics that new students in the Huntley College of Agriculture explored and presented at the 2nd Annual Learn Through Discovery First Year Experience Showcase on Dec. 1.

The showcase was part of the Learn Through Discovery initiative, under the Office of Academic Innovation.

“The goal of the program is to give students a chance to participate in a signature polytechnic experience – also known as PolyX – their very first year at Cal Poly Pomona,” said Professor Winny Dong, the Learn Through Discovery faculty director. “Through PolyX, students can see how they might apply their knowledge and discover the impact they can have on others when they apply their knowledge.”

The students came from the first-year orientation courses for their major.

Lecturer Holly Greene taught the first-year class for the animal and veterinary science majors. Her first goal was for the students to learn how to conduct research: posing a question, researching a subject, analyzing the data, drawing a conclusion and presenting their findings.

“This gives the students a good foundation and sparks their interest in being involved with research, even in a virtual format,” Greene said.

The second goal is to ensure that first-year students meet and engage with their peers, she said.

The students formed into groups of no more than six students. Greene gave them topics to choose from, including COVID-19 effects on the pet industry, alternative therapies for small animals or equines, technology devices for pets, animal diseases, welfare concerns for animal housing, and eating animal products versus Beyond Burger.

“My group and I decided the Beyond Burger versus animal products topic was best suited for us since half of the group are vegetarians and figured this matter was the best subject,” said Sophia Andrews, a freshman animal science major from Concord.

The group, which also included students Rebekah Alcala, Johanna Guevara, April Herrera, and Marilyn Gutierrez, chose to research the environmental impacts of both products. They discovered that Beyond Burger benefits the environment more than animal products.

The students also conducted two surveys as part of its research.

“The first one gathered information on our peers’ diets and their knowledge of the environmental impacts of each product,” said Alcala, a San Pedro native. “The second survey was a follow-up survey to check and see if peers made any changes to their diet based on the information we provided them with and to see if they felt better informed about the environmental impacts of each product.”

Based on the information they collected on their second survey, the students determined that their peers didn’t make any changes.

Other Huntley College of Agriculture faculty served as mentors to first-year students who made presentations. They included:

  • animal and veterinary science Associate Professor Joanne Sohn and lecturers Amber Freeland and Melissa McCormick
  • nutrition and food science lecturer Aleida Gordon
  • agribusiness and food industry management lecturer Ben Lehan
  • and apparel merchandising and management lecturer Alejandra Parise.

Among the many topics these students tackled were:

  • fundraising for the Cal Poly Pomona Beef Unit
  • the impact of climate change on agriculture
  • the effectiveness of ketogenic diets
  • differentiating diets in sports
  • the effects of food insecurity
  • preventing childhood obesity
  • plant-based eating
  • the pros and cons of composting
  • the pros and cons of natural pet food
  • whether animal testing is necessary in human drug research
  • cloning ethics
  • spay and neuter clinics
  • food accessibility
  • apparel business concept projects.

The program didn’t change the veterinary career path that Andrews and Alcala want to pursue, but Gutierrez found the first-year program helpful in learning more about career paths.

“I’ve had doubts about what I want to do after I graduate, but I was provided helpful information by my instructor about the different paths I could take,” the Indio native said. “After I graduate, I would like to work my way up to become a veterinary technician.”

All in all, Alcala and her teammates had positive experiences their first semester at Cal Poly Pomona, despite having only remote instruction and not getting to meet in person.

“I loved my first semester at Cal Poly Pomona. I made so many friends that I love, and this group was the best thing that could’ve happened to me,” Alcala said. “We supported each other beyond the project, and I know that they will always be there for me. I never expected that from a school.”

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