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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.



Gay-Straight Alliance sets example for change

     Another Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) flyer is found crumbled on the ground in the hallway of Lakeside. A  CA unravels the discarded paper and makes a phone call notifying the club they need to bring another replacement poster. Fortunately, they keep extra copies. After all, this wouldn’t be the first time a GSA flyer has been ripped from a bulletin board.

     The GSA, in the face of countless tribulations, continue their valiant efforts towards making a safer, more tolerable relationship between the LGBT community and the rest of society. They began such a substantial change by becoming an active club on ABAC’s campus. It’s been a long process for GSA to become the thriving club they are today; a long process which involved discrimination, legal issues and an overall lack of acknowledgment.

     What is currently known as GSA, once referred to as SPECTRA, was founded by ABAC alumnus, Daniel English. During this time in 2009, SPECTRA was not a student-run organization recognized by the institution. Instead, it was a small group of LGBT students who would meet privately with the intent to see how much interest there was to begin a legitimate club.

     During this time, it was the duty of the Student Government Association (SGA), to determine whether a group could be approved to become an official ABAC club. SPECTRA was declined.

     “SPECTRA wasn’t able to be a club on the grounds of religious reasons,” says Alex Griffin, the current President of the GSA. “Several professors, students, even members of the SGA personally objected to the development of the club.”

      Obviously, this was discrimination. Lambda Legal, an American civil rights organization, got involved with the case. A letter was soon sent to ABAC explaining if they refused to allow this club, they will sue the institution for discriminatory acts.

     After finally having the approval the club needed, the next step was putting themselves out there. GSA initially started with very few members, but over time there has been a gradual increase. There was, however, a drastic increase in membership this year.

     “We definitely have Alex to thank for the number of new members we have,” said Ari Penne, the Vice President of GSA. “Since she has been president, we’ve become so involved.”


This is an example of the emails Gay-Straight Alliance President Alex Griffin gets. Photo courtesy of Alex Griffin.

     GSA is one of the most active clubs on campus. During any club-related event, you are sure to see them presenting themselves. They’ve participated in several events such as the Cake Decorating Contest, Club Rush, the Chalk Design Contest and Stallion Day. They host their own events as well, one of their most popular being the OUT!fit Project, which is a website that provides a closet and informational resource for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals to use.

      Even with legal issues out of the way, the GSA still faces the obstacle of funding. The club received funding before the recent consolidation with Bainbridge, but afterward, they received nothing. In order to compensate for the lost funds, the club now hosts events such as bake sales or in the winter months, a “Warm Your Heart” hot chocolate sale.

     “We would get a little funding before, but it was always a difficult process to get those funds,” said Ariel Pridgen, a former GSA President.

     April Abbott and Kaci West are the current advisors for GSA, and they are in charge of the club’s funds.

     Sadly, having their club proposal rejected in 2009 hasn’t been the only discrimination SPECTRA/GSA has dealt with over the years. SGA is intended to be a delegation for the students at ABAC. This means addressing the students’ needs and concerns.

     The SGA most likely declined SPECTRA on behalf of the feedback they may have received from students at the time. After they were approved, some students on campus were not afraid to show how upset this decision made them.

     GSA members are accustomed to getting dirty looks, eye rolls or the occasional snarky remark. They weren’t, however, prepared for the bitter treatment to turn violent.

     “There was an event at Lakeside one evening, where all the clubs could set up tables. At one point, we noticed this group of people standing beside us grab a handful of candy from our table, and so we offered them a flyer,” Penne said, “I guess they didn’t like that because on their way out they threw a flyer and a stress ball at us.”

The Gay-Straight Alliance host their weekly meetings to talk about new fundraising ideas or future activities the club can participate in. Club president Alex Griffin leads the discussions at the meetings. Photo by Danielle Long.

     After that occurrence, the club members became afraid to host events alone without some sort of faculty supervision.

Despite all the harassment they endure, GSA continues to put themselves out there, being one of the most active organizations on campus.

“No matter how much we get bullied, we always like to stay motivated,” Griffin said.

Griffin then went on to explain they persevere because of the impact the same harassment may have on an individual. The idea behind GSA is to ally with others to celebrate diversity and look beyond our differences.

“Be the change you want to see,” Penne said, “If you want the South to be more accepting, put yourself out there. Show them we aren’t going anywhere, and we are no different than anyone else.”


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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.”


“Student research could stop the cycle of abuse”

     There is groundbreaking research happening on the campus of ABAC. Agricultural Education students, Sydney Conley and Audrey Hawk have created and are currently circulating a survey under the faculty guidance of Associate Professor of Education, Dr. Amy Warren.

     The survey measures Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) amongst college students in an attempt to correlate higher scores with behaviors that include: low-grade point average, personal health, alcohol consumption, illicit drug use and what could be defined as risk-taking behaviors or tendencies.

     The survey spans 35 questions; ACE scores are calculated via response to the first ten, the following 25 questions are geared towards the college demographic. The survey is completely anonymous and administered through the Qualtrics Software Company, and it has also been Institutional Review Board approved.

     The research piggybacks off of previous surveys administered by the Center for Disease Control to large scale test groups but is groundbreaking in that it addresses a college audience. According to Dr. Amy Warren, “there is very little in the current literature looking into the ACE scores of college students, and even more specifically, rural college students, or students that are from a rural area.” This survey attempts to shed light on a forgotten demographic and could be a crucial contributor to the ongoing research of long-term health outcomes in association with childhood trauma.

     According to Audrey Hawk, childhood trauma should be looked at in broader terms than what the traditional connotation implies, “people don’t normally think of childhood trauma as including parental separation or divorce, the death or absence of loved ones, and other things that we now consider to be commonplace in the American household; these events can greatly impact children over the course of their life and can contribute to psychological and societal struggles in adulthood.”

     For Sydney Conley, this research may lead to the breaking of cycles of abuse, “This research is important because it brings attention to our community, the rural community and the college student. I am hoping that by participating in this survey it may lead people to seek assistance in their struggles and could eventually help in the breaking of cycles and behaviors learned in the household.”

     Data collected from the survey, pending acceptance, will be presented at the National Conference for Undergraduate Research at Kennesaw State University in April of this year.

Scan the QR Code below to take the survey on mobile.