URI students win regional animal science competition

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KINGSTON, R.I. – February 17, 2016 – Students studying animal and veterinary science at the University of Rhode Island won the 2016 Northeast Student Affiliate competition, knocking off perennial powerhouse Pennsylvania State University, who had won the contest the previous 10 years in a row. The win earns a group of URI students an all-expenses-paid trip to Salt Lake City to attend the annual conference of the American Society of Animal Science.

According to Katherine Petersson, assistant professor of animal and veterinary science and one of the advisors to the URI student team, the competition has three components — livestock judging, a quiz competition, and oral presentations on an agriculturally relevant topic. URI has participated in the competition for 14 years and usually places second or third. This is the first time the URI students have won the competition.

“This is a big deal to our students,” said Petersson. “Penn State has a huge program and lots of resources, so I’m very proud of how our students represented URI.”

URI entered eight teams of four students – the maximum allowed – in the competition against teams from seven other universities. The event was hosted by the University of Connecticut.

Casey Barrett, a URI senior from Richmond and co-president of the URI club that enters the competition, said the key to winning was their success in livestock judging, a category in which they did poorly last year. The student teams judged horses, dairy cows, beef cows, sheep, chickens and a mystery class, which this year was “steak.”

“I like judging because you get to use all your knowledge to determine which animal is the best and try to match your score with the score of the professional judge,” said Barrett, who plans a career as a livestock veterinarian. “We focused a lot on judging this year, practicing three times a month and visiting farms to learn what to look for. It paid off.”

When URI was announced the winner, senior Karishma Nayak of Altamont, N.Y., was in shock.

“I looked at Casey and asked if it was real, and we both got up, hugged each other and accepted the trophy, and the entire room was cheering and clapping for us,” said Nayak, co-president of URI’s team. “It was one of the best experiences of my life.”

URI students Richard Llanos of Cranston, Bailey Chalut of Hopkinton, and Jacquelyn Foley of West Bridgewater, Mass., took first, second and third place, respectively, in the livestock judging competition. Four of URI’s four-person teams placed in the top 10 in the team livestock judging competition, including the winning team of Katie Cole of Bolton, Mass., Katelin Kuyoth of Coventry, Jill Lombardi of West Boylston, Mass., and Thomas Ruckert of Aquebogue, N.Y.

Samantha King of Providence won first place in the oral presentation competition with her talk on “Shell Disease and the American Lobster,” while Kathleen Leach of Williston, Vt., took second place for her presentation on “Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Virus.” Amy Vigneau of Hingham, Mass., placed fourth for her talk titled “The Pig Bang Theory.”

Hannah Kaplan of Ocean, N.J., won third place in the original research competition, which is open to individual students who present the results of their undergraduate research. She worked in conjunction with researchers at Mystic Aquarium on a presentation entitled “Exploratory Research into RNA Transcripts from Beluga Blow Samples.”

In the competition for the highest scoring team across all three components, URI teams placed second, third, fourth and eighth, while in the quiz competition, URI’s best team placed fifth.

Behind URI in the final overall rankings were Penn State, Delaware Valley University, Rutgers University, University of Massachusetts, University of Delaware and the University of New Hampshire.

Barrett said she learned a great deal from participating in the competition for the last four years.

“In addition to learning about judging animals, I definitely learned that you can’t do it all on your own,” she said. “You have to work as a team to be successful. Being on this team has also helped us get closer to the professors, which has been great.”

“I learned that time and patience is everything, and with hard work you’ll get your reward one day. That’s been evident every year,” added Nayak, who will enter vet school next year. “This whole experience has helped me grow and learn as a student and as a person. Each year the team has gone up in placement, and this year we got the gold. There’s nothing better than that.”

Pictured above: URI students won the Northeast Student Affiliate competition, an animal science contest that included livestock judging, a quiz competition, and oral presentations about agriculture topics. (Photo courtesy of Katherine Petersson)