Agriculture, Featured, News

Georgia government officials meet over disaster relief

     Pick-up trucks flooded the parking lot at the UGA Conference Center as farmers walked into the auditorium hoping to hear good news from Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Ag. Commissioner Gary Black. The meeting was hosted by the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.

     The pair flew into Tifton by helicopter to discuss disaster relief efforts happening in Washington D.C.  to help farmers affected by Hurricane Michael. Senators Johnny Isakson and David Perdue and U.S. Congressmen Austin Scott, Sanford Bishop and Buddy Carter joined the discussion through a video conference call.   

     The state’s agriculture industry suffered a loss in the following areas: peanuts, poultry, soybeans, dairy, pecans, greens, timber, vegetables and fruit. The University of Georgia estimates a $2.5 billion loss for Georgia agriculture, including a $780 million loss in timber alone.

     Senator Perdue used his time to make an apology to the farmers in the audience, “I want to apologize to all the farmers out there in this meeting. Washington was here and saw it firsthand after the storm and they told us they had our backs.” Perdue has talked with President Trump and was assured of his full support to push the legislation through the senate and congress.

     Kemp said “I’m all for helping everybody else that needs it after a disaster—whether that’s California after a wildfire, Florida, Alabama, South Carolina. We have helped our neighbors when they needed help, and I called Governor Ivey after the devastating storm that hit Lee County and offered our support. That offer still stands, but we need our help too.”

     A day after the deadly tornados swept through the state, Kemp received a phone call from the president. The governor used the conversation as an opportunity to express the urgency in expediting the aid to the southeast.

     The Georgia House of Representatives enacted House Bill 4EX, which allows eligible taxpayers to apply for the Timber Tax Credit from the Georgia Department of Revenue (GADOR). The program is limited to the 28 counties, including Tift, in the governor’s disaster declaration area. The tax credit should assist farmers in offsetting economic losses from Hurricane Michael.

     Initially, a $1 billion aid package failed to meet the approval of President Donald Trump because the deal included more funding for Puerto Rico who suffered crippling destruction from Hurricane Maria.

      Senator Isakson weighed in on the issue concerning Puerto Rico. “Puerto Rico is not a state, they suffered terrible damage, but they also have a crime-ridden government. Their electrical power grid has more power stolen off it than people who live there that pay for it.” He then commended President Trump, for doing everything he can to save taxpayers money.

     Congressman Scott pointed out the silver lining about the difference between the original legislatures and the current. “The original legislation was drafted at 1 billion dollars. That’s not 1 billion dollars for Georgia, that’s one billion dollars for the entire southeast and for California’s wildfires.”

     Scott continued, “We are much better off with a $3 billion appropriation passing this month than we would have been with a $1 billion appropriation passing in November or December.”

     An agribusiness owner asked if destroyed warehouses and facilities would be covered in the legislation. Bishop weighed in by saying, “The Small Business Administration has a part to play in terms of supporting agribusiness and including in the overall disaster package resources to deal with that.

     “Along with that,” Bishop continued, “The Community Facilities Program has $150 million for grants to facilities and services that are essential to our rural communities. That entire package will be there to help rehabilitate and support our rural communities and that includes agribusinesses.”

     In late February, Perdue and Isakson introduced a bill to the Senate for $13.6 billion in relief efforts to places affected by natural disasters. The bill has support from President Trump and Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. The senators from Georgia were promised by McConnell that the bill would receive floor time before the last Monday in March so that it can be passed.

     Members of the audience expressed appreciation for Kemp and Black meeting in person with farmers amid the General Assembly session happening in Atlanta. Though appreciative, members expressed their exhaustion from dealing with the relief delays.

     Bishop explained why farmers are having trouble securing operational loans for the rapidly approaching planting season. “Time is of the essence,” said Bishop. “They’ve got to make sure that arrangements are made for last year’s operational loans to be satisfied so that lenders will know what will be coming forward so that everybody can make plans.”

     Congressman Carter praised Bishop and Scott for spearheading this legislation. “Especially thank these two guys [Scott and Bishop] in the house. It was a team effort in the house, but these two guys were the leaders.”

     Despite support from the President and Senate, it could take the house of representatives several weeks to finalize the aid package. David Bishop, a farmer from Hawkinsville, worried—despite having disaster relief—if he and other farmers would benefit after the losses brought on by the storm.

     Despite justified concerns with the timeliness of receiving relief after a five-month wait, the audience gave their politicians respect and support to continue fighting on their behalf.

     Future meetings will be held in South Georgia to discuss more information about the Timber Tax Credit from the GADOR. The closest meeting will be March 13, at the UGA Cooperative Extension Office in Cordele at 6:30 p.m.

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Ms. ABAC 2019: The Golden Anniversary

     The 50th Annual Ms. ABAC pageant broke tradition this year when the Ag Business Club hosted the event in the spring semester instead of the fall. Although this was a huge change, it didn’t affect the number of contestants or the huge crowd.

     “The move didn’t affect the event whatsoever. The only thing I can think of is if someone wanted to be a contestant who recently graduated. They didn’t get a chance to contend,” the president of the Ag Business club, Lauren Braddy, said.

     Twenty-one contestants competed for the title of Ms. ABAC 2019. These contestants included Katibeth Mims, Caitlyn Lawton, Madison Barber, Abigail Stumpf, Rebecca Davis, Megan Thackston, Kaycee Goodman, Lexie Reynolds, Hayli Ary, Wellsley Martin, Lindsay Shurley, Charley Lollis, Jaylee Bass, Savannah Eastall, Meredith McGlamory, Madison Thompson, Natalie Meeks, Emily Ralston, Sara Faulk, Shelby Mumma and Chasity Denmark.

     Every contestant has the qualities to become Ms. ABAC, but it comes down to who is the most deserving of the crown, the title and the responsibility.

     “I am running for Ms. ABAC because while at ABAC, I’ve developed a passion for serving the institution through the ABAC Ambassadors and I go to a lot of events that Ms. ABAC would also attend. I feel like the title of Ms. ABAC would be an extension of myself and the service that I’ve already done here at the college. I believe that I deserve to be Ms. ABAC because of my involvement. I wouldn’t just be someone standing at an event, I know how to make our students and parents that come to our campus feel like this is their home, ” Jaylee Bass, contestant 13, said.

     The show began when the contestants danced to “Gold” by Britt Nicole. The number was choreographed by Shannon Hawsey and Meredith Morgan. After the dance number, the pageant was split into two sections before revealing the top 10 contestants. These two sections were casual wear and the evening wear sections.

     After a short break, the top 10 contestants were revealed. The top ten contestants included Jaylee Bass, sponsored by the ABAC Ambassadors; Meredith McGlamory, sponsored by Ag. Communicators of Tomorrow; Shelby Mumma, sponsored by Red Door Bible Study; Lindsay Shurley, sponsored by Sigma Alpha Sorority; Madison Barber, sponsored by Moore Farms; Kaycee Goodman, sponsored by Baptist Collegiate Ministry; Emily Ralston, sponsored by Sigma Alpha Sorority; Charlie Lollis, sponsored by Ag. Communicators of Tomorrow; Katibeth Mims, sponsored by Ag. Communicators of Tomorrow; and Wellsley Martin, sponsored by the Agronomy Club.

2018 Ms. ABAC, Shannon Kehoe crowns the Wellsley Martin as the 2019 winner of the Ms. ABAC Pageant. Photo by Billy Ray Malone.

     These contestants were asked a variety of questions to have the last chance to sway the judge’s choice such as how ABAC caters to military personnel, childhood memories, the qualities of a successful Ms. ABAC reign, study abroad programs, favorite memories at ABAC and what changes they would like to see at the college.

     After the judge’s intermission, the awards ceremony began. Mike Chason announced the winners as Shannon Kehoe, Ms. ABAC 2018, presented the awards. The People’s Choice Award was awarded to the contestant who raised the most money for the Relay for Life.

     The award was presented by Admissions Director, Donna Webb, to Caitlyn Lawton. The Essay and Congeniality award was awarded to Katibeth Mims. The interview award was presented to Meredith McGlamory. The fourth runner up was Madison Barber, the third runner up was Charlie Lollis, the second runner up was Meredith McGlamory and the first runner up was presented to Jaylee Bass.

     Shannon Kehoe spoke about her experience as Ms. ABAC 2018 and advice that she has for future Ms. ABAC’s, “My time as Ms. ABAC 2018 was the best year of my life. I got the opportunity to connect with future students, represent the college that I am so passionate about and I got to fly in the hot air balloon at the Sunbelt Ag Expo.

     As far as advice, take advantage of every experience possible. Take the little moments and cherish them, like taking photos with younger siblings of potential students who think your crown is the prettiest thing in the world. I may not get to wear my crown anymore, but I will always be Ms. ABAC.”

     “Ms. ABAC 2019 is…,”

     Anticipation from the crowd and the participants filled Howard Auditorium as Chason paused before announcing the winner of the pageant.

     “Contestant number 10, Wellsley Martin.”

     The crowd erupted in cheering and applause as Martin began crying. Kehoe helped Martin regain her composure as she placed the crown on her head and the sash over her shoulder.

     “During the crowning, I had a hundred thoughts running through my mind, but what stands out when I look back is an overwhelming sense of happiness to have the privilege to represent ABAC with confidence, leadership, organization and morality during my upcoming senior year,” Martin said.

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Making The Grade: Classes students are most likely to pass or fail

     In one forestry course, almost two-thirds of all students who took the class failed the course, regardless of the professor. College Algebra had an average failure rate of 30 percent while all the students that took Social Media Marketing and Issues in Rural Health passed with A’s. What is happening here?

     Some of the high fail rates are contributed to gateway courses, such as freshman core or introductory classes to a major. These are the first difficult courses students come across and they aren’t prepared. Another explanation professors give for the difference in passing rates is that some classes have no latitude — you either know it or you don’t — and at the end of the semester, many students don’t. Or perhaps some professors (and classes) are too hard, and some are too easy. It’s to the students’ advantage to understand that and prepare themselves if they hope to succeed.

     This article examines the Fall 2018 grade distributions at ABAC, an anonymous view of student’s report cards from last December that is gathered every semester by the college. This data, made available at apps.abac.edu, tells exactly how many students earned what letter grade in each individual class for each specific professor. This article is by no means meant to be an evaluation of the professors mentioned.

     Undoubtedly, students need to be challenged, or they gain nothing from their courses. Professors and administrators want to maintain the integrity of academic programs. The purpose of this article is to inform, interpret and report on a public record of interest to students.

     The university system is concerned with classes that have high “DFW rates,” meaning classes with a large percentage of students who get grades of D or F, or withdraw from the class. ABAC is taking some steps to address the issue, such as embedding tutors in difficult classes and working with initiatives like Gateway to Completion. This story is meant to provide students with a more complex view of what these grade distributions mean.

Illustration by Danielle Long.

Average pass and fail rates

     Last semester, the institution-wide average passing rate was around 80 percent. The institution-wide DFW rate was around 15 percent.

     Percentages can tell different stories depending on the size of the class. For example, the professor who had the single most A’s in any course was Von Peavy in his five Power Equipment classes. Out of the 132 students who took the class last semester, 93 garnered A’s. That’s 70 percent of students.

     Peavey may have given out the most A’s in a single course, but he did not have the highest percentage of students earning an A. Some courses have only one student in them, like senior projects, and if that student received an A in the course than that course would have the highest overall percentage of A’s, sitting at 100 percent (1 out of 1).

     At ABAC, the average number of students enrolled in a course under one professor is somewhere around 24 students. To prevent percentages from being too misleading in these small environments, this article looks at classes where professors had 10 or more students enrolled.

     A total of three courses last semester had 100 percent A’s. One of these courses was Agricultural Seminar with Frank Flanders, where he taught 27 students. Another was Troy Spicer’s Issues in Rural Health with a total of 16 students. And the final class with 100 percent A’s is Xia Zhou’s Social Media Marketing with a total of 20 students.

     On the opposite side of the bell curve, College Algebra damaged the most GPA’s last semester affecting the 705 students that took the class. For the most part, students did fairly well with 443 earning above a C and 186 of those being A’s. However, the course had a 30 percent DFW rate, affecting 261 students.

     The class with the highest percentage of students who failed a single course under one professor was Renaldo Arroyo’s Quantitative Methods in Forest Resources (FRSC 1180). Out of the 19 students in the class, 11 left the course with an F meaning 58 percent of students failed. In addition, only six students made a C or higher in the course.

     Arroyo’s class wasn’t the only FRSC 1180 course. Stuart Moss also taught the course and gave out the second highest percentage of F’s to students. Out of the 20 students that took the course, nine made F’s. That’s 45 percent of students who took the class. And just like Dr. Arroyo’s FRSC 1180, only six students made a C or higher.

     Also in the forestry department, Daniel Sollenberger had a DFW rate of 77 percent in his Forest Wildlife Management course (FRSC 1192) and a DFW rate of 67 percent in his Dendrology course (FRSC 3070). James Carroll had a high DFW in his Dendrology class as well as 67 percent or 12 of the 18 students.

     Tied for the second highest percentage of F’s was Jennifer Harper’s Anatomy and Physiology Lab (BIOL 2011L) where 45 percent of students, or 10 out of the 22 students, failed the course. Anatomy and Physiology lecture and lab had an overall DFW rate of around 32 percent.

     Andrew Mcintosh’s BIOL 2011 had 16 withdrawals in his class. The high number of withdrawals and an average number of failures put the DFW rate at 60 percent. Only 17 of the original 42 students made it out of the class with higher than a C. Similar statistics apply to another BIOL 2011 class under Leslie Pryor, where 21 students dropped the class. Only 38 out of the 81 students, or 47 percent of the class, made it out with a passing grade of a C or higher.

     Andrew Mcintosh also taught Principles of Biology (BIOL 1107) and had a DFW rate of 59 percent or 27 of the 46 students.

     While crunching the numbers, the usual suspects were often mentioned like Dendrology, Quantitative Methods in Forest Resources, and Anatomy and Physiology. But two other courses, College Algebra (MATH 1111), and Quantitative Reasoning (MATH 1001), also had unusually high failure rates.

     Both MATH 1111 and MATH 1001 appeared five times in the top 10 courses with the highest percentage of F’s. Four College Algebra professors, in particular, had low passing rates. The lowest of which belonging to Gary Dicks. His course had a passing rate of 28 percent where 17 out of 25 students made a D or F in the course. Following him was Amanda Urquhart with a passing rate of 30 percent, Rachel Flake with a passing rate of 38 percent and Lori Pearman with a passing rate of 48 percent.

     In MATH 1001, Gloria Beard had the lowest passing rate at 40 percent or 6 out of 15 students. Following her was Gary Dicks at 53 percent, as 41 out of 77 students made a C or better.

     There were also a few outlier courses such as, Introduction to Sociology which had a DFW rate of 64 percent or 41 of the 64 students.

The Usual Suspects

     Throughout the data, three usual suspect disciplines had the highest DFW rates across many of the courses offered. The three usual suspects were Math (1111 and 1001), Forestry (3070 and 1180), and Anatomy and Physiology (BIOL 2011 plus the lab).

     Of these three, Math was the only common course for all students on campus. College Algebra (MATH 1111) and Quantitative Reason (MATH 1001) are beginning classes. Regardless of a student’s track, they must take one or the other to get their degree. These are often the first courses students encounter in Math, says Melanie Partlow, the Mathematics Department Coordinator.

     “If you talk to the biology department, they’ll say Anatomy and Physiology students are better if they have biology first. Well, the biology teachers say they have better students if they take anatomy first. It’s just the first class they encounter and they just do better in the second class.”

     In part, this is because students may not have met a class with college-level rigor yet or they haven’t developed the study techniques and time management skills to succeed, according to Partlow.

     College Algebra and Quantitative Reasoning have a DFW rate of around 30 percent altogether. Partlow says part of the reason DFW rates are generally higher in math is that people just don’t speak math.

     “People speak English,” Partlow said. “And so, they go into their English class and they’re not quite as intimidated. People don’t speak math on a regular basis and so, if they haven’t seen math in a year, they’re deficient. Who doesn’t speak English for a year?”

     She believes that students often have the wrong mindset like thinking that they can’t do math because they are better at other subjects like writing or agriculture. Her advice to students is to immerse yourself in the work like you would speaking a language and keep at it with a can-do mindset.

     “You can blame it anywhere you want to. We can sit here and blame it on the high schools if you want to. That’s not fair. You could blame it on the agrarian society that feels like they can’t. That’s not fair. Ultimately, it’s that one person’s drive and desire to do that’s going to overcome all the obstacles. Some say it’s a financial obstacle. Well, that’s not fair. We have changed our software so that it’s as cheap as we can get it. We have calculators that they can borrow at the library. We have tried to lessen the financial burden.”

     People must also remember that professors are people too and are overtaken by life like the rest of us. “I’ve had higher DFW rates when my husband had open-heart surgery. I had a hard time that spring. Getting caught up and having everything in and worrying about him. It’s not something I’m proud of but it’s real.”

     The other two usual suspect disciplines are more major specific and reflect the rigor of the program overall. According to Dr. William Moore, Department Head of Forestry and Natural Resources, Fall 2018 was the first-semester Quantitative Methods in Forest Resources (FRSC 1180) was ever taught. It was implemented to better prepare freshman for the math they’d be doing throughout their studies in the YOW, specifically FRSC 3140 Measurements and Mapping. This was meant to help students meet the rigor of the program and are a gateway type course much like College Algebra and Quantitative Reasoning.

     “We were seeing so many students that had terrible preparation for math coming out of high school,” Moore said. “And it was causing a lot of them to have serious trouble in measurements and mapping. What we recognized was that it wasn’t the skills or the applications of measurements and mapping itself that students were struggling with. It was the basic math that was being used in that class they didn’t know how to do. So, we created this class last year, this past fall actually, to try and develop an applied math course that could bring them up to par as well as introduce them to math skills that relate to forestry and wildlife.”

     Both professors who taught Quantitative Methods in Forest Resources only passed around a third of the students that took the class. Moore says that after last semester, they looked at trying slow down the pace of it for future classes.

     Dendrology or FRSC 3070 is a first for many students as well, according to Moore. It’s taken around their sophomore to junior year of college.

     “It’s that first hard class people take,” Moore said. “It requires memorization, especially of scientific names. And every week, they’re keeping up with it and learning the new species that are introduced because that class builds on itself. Every week, when they go out in lab, they are learning anywhere between five and eight new species every week. People that get behind those first three or four weeks, they end up trying to cram and learn those species but then they get new ones every week and it snowballs. We tell people every week don’t get behind, don’t get behind. They often do.”

     To help compensate for the difficulty of the class, the program has begun mentored tutoring in Dendrology. These tutors will go with students to lab in order to better engage students and make them more comfortable with seeking help outside of the class, according to Moore.

     Moore also mentioned that part of what makes Dendrology a difficult course is the objective nature of the course.

     “They need to know the common name, scientific name, and using the family for that particular species. So, they either know it or they don’t. If they know the common name they get some points but also if they know the scientific name they get full points. The basic math skills, to be able to convert something from square feet to acres or miles to kilometers. It’s also very objective. It’s either right or wrong.”

     This is a common trend among all three of the most failed classes. These courses have an objective right or wrong answer. Partlow explained that in math, although it is objective, professors can give partial credit if the student knows the method, but not all professors grade that way.

     In the third suspect course, Anatomy and Physiology (BIOL 1107), it’s the same way, according to the Science and Mathematics Department Head Joseph Falcone.

     “There are definite right and wrong answers, so it’s much more quantitative than other forms of narrative knowledge,” Falcone said. “When you write an essay, sometimes there is no right or wrong answer. It’s how well did you argue your point, or how well did you construct that paragraph. Here they’re actually saying can you point to that particular organ in the dissected animal.”

     Anatomy and Physiology is an introductory course for those in the Nursing degree, as well as a core class for those in the Biology Health Sciences track. However, Biology students do not usually take the class until after their introductory biology courses. This means biology students do not typically take Anatomy and Physiology until their sophomore and junior year, while nursing students take the course as an entry-level freshman, according to Falcone.

     “There is a difference in maturity and preparation when you take it as a true freshman versus when you take it later on when you develop your skills and your habits,” Falcone said.

     Falcone also said the class covers a great deal of material in order to provide students a broad foundation for their studies.

     “One of the problems is that because you go over so many different things it can get overwhelming for some people because you can’t see the connection yet. You’ll find with many of the introductory classes, whether it’d be Anatomy and Physiology, or General Chemistry, or Biology 1107, and so on and so on, those entry-level courses cover a lot of different things just enough to give you the foundations to get you deeper into the other classes. So, that’s part of the problem in any entry level class.”

Breaking the threshold

     Each of the usual suspect classes are introductory in some way. Whether it’d be at a freshman-level or an introduction to upper-level college work, all of these courses, to some extent, weed out students from reaching their next step. These courses are often referred to as “gateway courses” by professors.

     They have historically high DFW rates “especially for low-income, first-generation and historically underrepresented students,” according to Gardner Institute’s Gateway to Completion Initiative. This initiative was hired by the USG to help Georgia colleges better address their gateway classes.

     According to Baker, the courses that ABAC has selected as their focus with the Gateway to Completion initiative are ENGL 1101, Math 1111, BIOL 2011 and SOCI 1101.

     “At ABAC, we’ve been really concerned about these gateway courses before the system wanted to do this initiative,” said Dr. Jordan Cofer, the Assistant Vice President of Academic Affairs. “There are a lot of elements that are beyond the control of your instructor— the language gap for some kids. They come in from low-income households, so if you come in from a household where a family read to you, you heard roughly 30 million more words than the ones who didn’t. One of the strategies for success, later on, is for parents to read to their children. To talk to them out loud, sound them out, point out rhyming words and things. But these are the kind of systematic problems you can’t address when you come into college.”

     One way ABAC helps students overcome some of the academic obstacles is through the tutoring center. There are review sessions for many of the classes mentioned in this article. Some of the review sessions include Trigonometry, Chemistry, Business classes like Accounting, and Anatomy and Physiology. There are tutors in the Yow building for forestry and wildlife majors and there are several tutors that work on the third floor of the Branch Student Center.

There are also some resources available to help students’ wallet such as digital textbooks and calculators available in the library, according to Partlow.

Looking forward

Grade distribution is a massive subject. With more time, more student research could be done into the larger trends in grade distributions over the years. Even soft-factors, such as the effects time of day or attitude have on DFW rates, could be the subject of research.

Many students don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing the professors they take at ABAC, whether it’s because there aren’t any other professors to pick from, or that a student is low priority for picking classes. However, taking difficult classes with high DFW rates can be risky, but rewarding. According to Moore, 100 percent of forestry graduates get jobs after college because of their high standards.

     It’s like the AT&T commercials, “Just okay is not okay.” Maybe 70 percent fail rates is just what it takes to make students better than okay.


Addendum: February 12, 2019                                                                                                                                                             After we printed the story, Von Peavy responded to an email interview and provided an explanation as to why so many students do so well in his Power Equipment class. Here is what he sent: 

Why do so many students do so well in your course?

* It is all but impossible to capture and express all of the nuances of the success of such a varied group of student learners, but following are some of my observations:

o Because it is a required course, students must “pass” at a certain level to be able to move on in their identified major and the skills attained will further their academic and employment possibilities.

o Student learners will be successful if you allow them every opportunity to be so, although some have to be guided to realize their potential- failure is not an option.

o Students will rise to the level of expectations, if those expectations are clearly outlined early, enforced fairly, and nurtured frequently.

o Students treated with respect and fairness will be more open to learning possibilities.

o Different students learn in different ways (modalities), therefore a class that employs as many different learning possibilities as possible will be rewarded with more success.

o Learning does not have to be boring and clinical, interjecting a little humor and fun as much as possible adds to the class success and alleviates stress.

o Any course that allows students to experience guided hands-on learning will result in individuals who are better prepared for success in their chosen fields of study and in life.


 

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“Life looks good after graduating from ABAC”

     Everyone has a different reason for attending ABAC. Each story is particular but every story at ABAC hopes to include one common element: graduation. Students spend countless hours studying, creating and stressing for that piece of paper. It is a symbol to the rest of the world that you can commit to a challenge and persevere through it.

     After the walk across the stage, the next step for some is work, for others, continuing their education in grad school. Ryan Weredyk earned his Bachelor’s of Diversified Agriculture degree in May of 2018, graduating Cum Laude. He is now a graduate student and research assistant for the University of Georgia-Tifton campus.

     Ryan is from Guyton, Georgia. It’s about three and a half hours from Tifton. He came to ABAC in the fall of 2014 as a diversified ag major in general ag. “As I progressed throughout my studies, at first I thought I was more interested in the livestock side of things, but I got more interested in crops and vegetables.” Back home his family had cattle, but it wasn’t until he started taking his fruit and vegetable courses that he developed his love for soil.

     He recalls his time at ABAC citing Justin Ng, not only as his academic advisor but also one of his favorite teachers. “He was always a good guy and could tell you anything you needed to know.” Ng described Weredyk as, “a hardworking student who has experience in a wide variety of agriculture from turf care, to scouting to field production. He even tutored younger ag students while he was here.”

     After graduating ABAC, Weredyk didn’t know exactly where he was going next, “I hadn’t been really looking for a job much, but getting my master’s was something that had always been in the back of my mind.” He wanted to enter UGA’s Master’s of Plant Protection and Pest Management (MPPPM). Before he could start the program, he had to return to ABAC during the summer to take a couple of chemistry courses. After finishing the credits, he took the Graduate Record Exam to get into the MPPPM.

Ryan Weredyk inspecting rows of collard greens for his research assistantship at UGA. Weredyk is pursuing a Master’s of Plant Protection and Pest Management. Photo by Billy Ray Malone.

     Weredyk has dreams of becoming a county extension agent. Extension offices are a sort of public outreach for anything that has to do with soil. “It’s someone that the farmers or even your everyday gardener can call about their grass or ask for help if something isn’t growing.”

     All extension offices house experts in the field. Agents are required to have a master’s to work. If you can prove that you are being educated for your master’s you can apply to be an agent.

     “A lot of these guys go ahead and get a job in the extension office while they’re working on their masters. It helps you get experience in the field.” He expressed that becoming an extension agent was something he figured out while at ABAC. “I’m the type of person who likes to talk to people, to inform them about things. So, the extension was a way I could talk to not only farmers but everyday people.”

     Currently, Weredyk works as a research assistant in the MPPPM. Through the program, his tuition is covered, he gains work experience and he receives a monthly paycheck. He works under Dr. Alton “Sparky” Sparks. Weredyk said, “The first day I met him I called him, Dr. Sparks and he said, ‘you must be new here. Call me Sparky.’” He also happens to teach Weredyk’s pesticides and transgenic crops course.

     In research with pest management and weed science, there is a constant push in the field to provide the best information. “I had a professor last semester that wrote one of the books for our class. He told us that we shouldn’t use it because it was already outdated,” said Weredyk. He and Sparks are doing research on what is known as, “Hort Hill.”

     The research is in vegetable entomology, which is technical speak for the bugs that target certain crops. Researchers need to learn the best way to get rid of the pests without harming the plants or soil. Weredyk runs trials on different vegetable groups grown to attract a specific insect.

     Currently, they are growing collard greens to study a specific nuisance, the diamondback moth. The moths will tear through the leaves of a collard plant, but what makes them truly annoying is the larvae they leave behind.

     These larvae soon become worms who will do nothing but eat. They are currently a big problem throughout the south, specifically in warmer areas like Tifton. “The problem with the moths is, they are persistent, and they’ve started becoming resistant. A lot of the stuff you used to spray on them doesn’t work anymore. So, we do different trials with different pesticides.”

      The experiment takes place on Hort Hill where they have the plants lined up in the dirt with only a fence separating them and I-75. Each week, Weredyk monitors plants that have been sprayed with the pesticides and watches to see if any leaves get eaten or larvae have developed. They have a control group where nothing is sprayed on the plants. The experiment hinders on the number of leaves that have been affected and the number of larvae found if any. Weredyk must go through and collect data from each plant. “I have to go in and count them one by one. I have to pull them under a microscope and there have been a few times I’ve counted over 100.”

     The experiment isn’t just a way to help combat moth populations, it is a way to actively help the community. “When we can gather all this info, that allows us to accurately inform the extension agents and any growers that are interested. It lets them know that this information is what is really going to work because it’s current.”

Ryan Weredyk discovering a diamondback moth on a collard green plant. Photo by Billy Ray Malone.

     Many more experiments like this are being planned for the summer when vegetables have a real chance to grow. They include crops like cucumbers, squash, sweet potatoes and corn.

     Weredyk describes the transition from ABAC to UGA, “here, the classes are more specific. You get a more in-depth look into what you’re studying and you’re doing it with people who really know their stuff.” He says looking back on it now, those classes at ABAC put him on the path he’s on to expand his knowledge even more.

      He says if he can continue in the program he may earn his doctorate somewhere. But he urges that everyone should be cautious about taking the next step after ABAC. “Continuing my education has been an important thing for me, so I may continue, but I don’t know right now. I think it should be a personal thing people decide for themselves. It’s not for everyone.”

     Weredyk’s boss and teacher, Sparky, also gave students a look into what graduate school is like. He warns students that they should look beyond the classes needed to graduate if they plan on getting into grad school. “Students need to be looking into what courses graduate schools require. They may differ from the classes required to graduate. We all focus on getting onto that stage, it comes after.”

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Winter Graduation 2018

     Two hundred and sixty-eight students filled the rows of chairs in the Gressette Gym for the 2018 Fall Graduation Ceremony. Some graduates had creative caps, others’ robes were adorned with medals, tassels and sashes. Families gathered on either side of the gym’s bleachers to watch students receive their diplomas. Faculty gathered in seats behind the graduates to watch those they had mentored take the next step into life. President Bridges presided over the event. He introduced this year’s Speaker, The General Surgeon and the Tift Regional Department of Surgery Chair, Dr. Tracy Nolan.

     She described the things she had to overcome as she climbed the ladder of life. Each ring is a step in life, you have to keep moving up. She reminds students to lean on others like a ladder to a house.

     98 students received Associate’s degrees from the fields of Science in Nursing, Music, Arts, Science and Applied Science. The 170 other students finished their Bachelor’s degree in Science, Arts and Sciences, Business and Science in Nursing.

     “It’s always great to have another set of fine additions to the ABAC Alumni,” said President Bridges after the ceremony. Twelve students graduated Cum Laude, finishing with a GPA of 3.5-3.69. Eight students graduated Magna Cum Laude, with a 3.7-3.99 GPA. Only one graduate, John Wesley Helms, earned Summa Cum Laude in this graduating class. His GPA finished as 4.0 or above. He was part of the Honors Program and graduated from the Stafford School of Business.

     “It feels refreshing after four and a half years, it took a lot of hard work and dedication. Many hours of studying, but I’ve always had a passion to exceed,” said Helms. He plans on attending UGA for his Master’s in Business and go into marketing or management. He wants to work in Atlanta someday. Helms described his time with ABAC as, “full of a lot of fun memories, it’s been a really great experience. It was a good adventure to get to go here with the people I have.”

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