NJAES Animal Care Program Receives “Employer of the Year” Award

Animal Care Program staff and student employees at the April 10 awards ceremony pose with Student Employment Director Cynthia Meekins and then-Associate Director Erick Herrera. From left, Laura Comerford, Kyle O’Neill, Rebecca Potosky, Schyvon Almeida, Devon Santos, Brittany Bamonte, Emily Martines, Clint Burgher, Amanda D’Autrechy (kneeling), Wes Darcy, Bridget Balkaran, Felicia Kleiman (kneeling), Erick Herrera and Cynthia Meekins. Photo courtesy of Rutgers Student Employment

The NJAES Animal Care Program was commended as “the quintessential site for acquiring workplace skills” and honored as “Employer of the Year” at the spring awards ceremony at Rutgers, marking the culmination of the 2013 National Student Employment Week.

The first unit at Rutgers to be selected for this honor, the Animal Care Program annually employs dozens of undergraduate students from the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS) as well as the School of Arts and Sciences.

According to Cynthia Meekins, director for Student Employment in the Rutgers Office of Financial Aid, the work on the farm is very “hands on” and students acquire skills that are directly related to their future employment goals. Meekins reported that the students employed with the Animal Care Program enjoy their work. “All I have ever heard from those students, and heard for years, is how much they love those farm jobs—even from non–Pre-Vet student employees. That’s a rarity!”

The program [njaes.rutgers.edu/animalcare] cares for the animals living on the Cook Campus Farm – approximately 75 Holstein heifers, 25 Standardbred horses, 30 sheep, 110 goats, and 30 breeding sows – and occasionally chickens, lizards, and fish. The program is fully accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International since 1993 and operates the campus farm as a ‘hybrid’ of production farm, research facility and teaching operation. Research Farm Manager Clint Burgher, office administrator Peggy Severino, and the nine full-time staff members—the “farm crew”— work closely with the students employed by the Animal Care Program.

The cake created to celebrate the Animal Care Program’s “Employer of the Year” award from Rutgers Student Employment Office. Photo courtesy of Rutgers Student Employment

At the campus ceremony, Meekins praised the supervisors of the student employees who work on the farm. “Though naturally there are significant needs required for the proper management of the farm, your supervisors elect to teach beyond the scope of job skills and classroom learning. They manage to draw out dedication, love and commitment from their student employees. This is a remarkable feat, and something that I don’t oft see; it speaks volumes about their significant management skills.” Meekins also congratulated the supervisors “for running such a stellar workplace!”

Carol Bagnell, professor and chair of the Department of Animal Sciences, noted the close connection between her department and the NJAES Animal Care Program. For example, undergraduate courses such as Animal Handling, Fitting & Exhibition (11:067:175) and most sections of Animal Practicum (11:067:200) are based at the campus farm and the farm crew assists with teaching those courses. First-year undergraduates are introduced to the farm in the introductory course Animal Science (11:067:142), which is required of all Animal Science majors. In addition, the upper-level undergraduate course Techniques in Equine Exercise Physiology (11:067:403) makes use of the equine treadmill and other equipment in the Red Barn.

Significant animal nutrition, reproductive endocrinology and equine exercise physiology research are conducted on the farm by several faculty members and their research students, both undergraduate and graduate. Also, many outreach activities of the Animal Sciences faculty, staff and students are based on the campus farm. These include the Ag Field Day Animal Shows on Rutgers Day, Equine Science Center demonstrations of the equine treadmill and Extension programs conducted at the Ryders Lane Environmental Best Management Practices Demonstration Horse Farm.