Thursday, February 29, 2024

Texas A&M poultry science student shares her experiences and future research goals

By Brooke McDonald Texas A&M University

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COLLEGE STATION, Texas —Camryn Wilder ’25, a student in the Department of Poultry Science within the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, grew up knowing Texas A&M University was going to be a big part of her life.

“My Aggie parents sang me the War Hymn every night before bed,” Wilder said. “Before I could walk, I dug around in my family closet until I could find my dad’s A&M jersey. I have also always been involved in something agriculture-related, whether it was equestrian sports or raising goats.”

Fast forward to the start of her academic career in 2021, and Camryn continues to chant that Aggie War Hymn proudly, all while pursuing her degree. Her drive to study agriculture has also landed her an undergraduate research assistant position with Dr. Audrey McElroy, professor and head of the department studying intestinal health and nutrition.

In the following Q&A, Wilder discusses her experiences as a current student, a recent intern, and her plans for a career in poultry research.

· Why did you decide to study poultry science at Texas A&M?

I always knew I would be involved somewhere in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, but I was unsure where until I began judging poultry in high school. After discovering that the poultry science department had so many opportunities to develop and grow a career, I knew it was the place for me.

Because Texas A&M plays a huge role in Texas FFA judging contests, I was able to hear numerous firsthand accounts about how personable the department can be. Since I started attending classes here, I have experienced fellow students who encourage me, professors who care about developing my future, and networking opportunities to get to know the many aspects of the poultry industry.

This is truly the best decision I could have made for my college experience.

· You recently finished an internship with United Animal Health. What were some of the high points of that experience?

My internship with United Animal Health allowed me to get glimpses of the many moving parts of animal agriculture research. United Animal Health began as a swine feed company but has expanded into the poultry and dairy cattle industries. I served as the monogastric research intern, focusing specifically on their poultry products.

I spent days meeting with employees of all departments of the company. I heard about their educational journeys, career highs and lows, and how their roles play into the company’s vision. When not interviewing employees, I rotated through sampling days on the farm, microbiology in the lab, research reading and writing in my cubicle, and business planning meetings with the research and development team.

The company trusted me as an eager learner to play roles in creating protocols for future research and adjust the trials we had running at the time. I was incredibly blessed to have such a well-rounded experience in the nutritional

research world. I left feeling motivated to keep building, aiming to later contribute more to the poultry industry and feed the world.

· How well did your education apply to your internship?

I fully believe I got the most out of my internship, and I don’t think that would have been possible without what I learned throughout high school and college. Concerning poultry knowledge, barn management practice came into play as we created the correct environmental conditions for the birds we grew.

When we collected different bird samples, avian anatomy came into use, and I could locate the proper functional components for the feed products we were testing. The concepts learned in poultry nutrition became extremely applicable when I saw the behind-the-scenes of formulating diets for trial broilers.

The actions of my internship helped me take my knowledge from the classroom and see the real value of why we sit in those maroon Kleberg chairs and hear from our highly experienced professors.

· Tell us about the factors that made you want to become an undergraduate research assistant.

Before starting as a freshman at Texas A&M, I met with Dr. McElroy and Lesley Gleason to discuss the department and how I could get involved as soon as possible. Our first conversation was about potentially joining Dr. McElroy’s lab and seeing the research she focuses on. Being interested in the nutrition side of things, I was very excited to see how different feed additives can affect gut health.

While examining intestines and fecal material may not sound glorious, it is an extremely eye-opening way to see how intricate life can be. Chickens may look simple, but their bodies supply us with affordable nutrients, and learning what makes them healthier on the production side is worth exploring.

I love working in this lab. We have long workdays that leave us smelling pretty foul, but we always have fun working together.

· What are your goals after graduating from Texas A&M?

After finishing my undergraduate degree, I plan to stay with the department and work toward a Ph.D. in poultry science, focusing on nutrition. Once graduate school is complete, I hope to work in the industry as a poultry nutritionist, specifically in research.

While technical service is crucial, the research side can help make the best possible product to feed our world. I would be honored to play a part in improving the lives of producers and consumers.

· Do you have any advice for students studying poultry science who are interested in a similar career path as you?

I discovered my passion for finding sustainable ways to feed the world because I talked to industry members. Step out of your comfort zone. Walk up, shake hands and talk with former students and representatives from visiting companies. Attend career fairs no matter your age.

Build your corner. You would be surprised by how many people are willing to be in it.

Company representatives are just regular people who were once in our shoes. Even if you are an introvert, write down questions beforehand to take the pressure off. Learning classroom knowledge is great, but people skills push you over the edge as a job candidate. That is why they say, “It’s not about what you know; it is about who you know.”

· Tell us about your experience as an Aggie Poultry Ambassador program member.

Aggie Poultry Ambassadors, APA, allows poultry science students to act as advocates for the department, leading to recruitment for the industry when students graduate. I have enjoyed traveling alongside friends and professors to spread the word about what we can offer to incoming students. It means so much to me because these events played into my enrollment as a poultry science student.

We talk about scholarship opportunities, clubs and organizations, research, study abroad, internships, and much more.

My favorite APA trip I attended was to the 2022 Texas FFA State Convention. I traveled with department representative Ally Spears and fellow members Makensie Till, Dylan Nance and Ervey Sanchez.

We met thousands of students, handed out poultry science swag and even made fun TikToks with the FFA members. Fast forward to today, we still run into those members at livestock shows, judging contests and when they come to campus for their prospective student visits.

Connections do not have to stop with industry members ahead of you. I see student interaction through APA as the first step I am able to take to give back to those who have encouraged and poured knowledge into me.

· What does your life look like outside of being an undergraduate student?

If I am not on the farm or in the classroom, you will likely find me at my church home, Brazos Fellowship. I have attended BF and the college ministry, Two42, since my freshman year.

College is enjoyable, but it can also be challenging at times. Without being rooted so deeply in my faith, I do not know how I would get through those difficult times. I am thankful for those around me who consistently point me back to Jesus.

These four years are so important, as students are finally experiencing the freedom to establish their own values to contribute to their purpose. How cool is it that we are able to walk alongside them, all while glorifying Jesus?

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