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Teaching and Learning Beyond Campus: Poultry Processing

students in health and safety gear listen to a guide in a poultry processing plant
Students listen to a guide at a Butterball processing facility. photo by Rasha Qudsieh

In 2018, the journal Science published an article reporting that over half of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) classes taught in college used traditional lecture formats. While that might not be very surprising, it raises concerns in light of repeated studies that show that lectures are one of the least effective ways of teaching.

So, what works best? Student-centered teaching, meaning activities and methods that get students involved with what they’re learning.

Just ask this semester’s PO433/533* class (after they finish exams!). The course, Poultry Processing and Products, covers processing procedures for chickens, turkeys, shell eggs and liquid eggs. It also covers Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP), a system that addresses food safety.

While the class includes lectures, it also incorporates student-centered activities including group lab projects, developing a HACCP plan  and on-site visits to North Carolina processing facilities.

“I had never seen this process [of preparing chicken feet for export]…and it was pretty neat to see,” said Angela Camacho of the class visit to Mountaire’s processing plant in Siler City, NC.

Being able to expose students to experiences that can’t happen in the classroom – or be taught through explanation alone – is one of the benefits of a class like PO433/533. Students didn’t just hear about how processing works. They got to be there and talk to the people doing the work.

Elizabeth Harper reflected on the value of visiting both turkey (Butterball) and chicken (Mountaire) processing facilities. “Turkeys often get overlooked as part of poultry science because most people just think about chickens,” she said, adding that the visit to Butterball also let her see further processing, which she hadn’t experienced before.

After the visits, students were asked to compare the facilities they toured. Student comments ranged from details (it was cold!) to how the experience related to their overall career plans.

Facility differences were noted and connected to course concepts. Multiple students noted that one plant used more automation than another. One noted that the plant guide explained some of the automation decisions during the tour.

It’s clear from their comments that students enjoyed the field trips. They were also thinking through why they went to the processing plants and how their time there related to the course overall.

Concepts were presented in lecture, in lab, on tours and through post-tour writing. All of that adds up to richer – and more effective – teaching and learning.

Added to the effective learning was a bit of flavor. In their labs, students often prepared and sampled food to understand the properties of egg products. To illustrate foaming of egg albumen (the white part) students baked angel food cake. For crystallization, they made ice cream, which they said was the ‘best lab ever.’

Beyond their education, PO433/533 gave students the opportunity to see how they might shape their career after NC State. One of the course objectives is to “identify poultry and egg products career opportunities.”

While visits to processing plants pushed the class out of the traditional, processing isn’t the only career to come out of this part of poultry science. Not all students wanted to work in plants, but they explained how plants related to their strengths and interests.

Lead instructor Pat Curtis, head of the Prestage Department of Poultry Science, is a leader in food safety, food systems and HACCP training. She has held a variety of positions, all of which demonstrate the breadth possible within poultry science, especially as it relates to food safety. She co-taught the course with Rasha Qudsieh, who earned her Ph.D. in poultry processing with a minor in food safety at NC State.

We teach classes that prepare students for the different career paths in poultry.

“We teach classes that prepare students for the different career paths in poultry,” explained Qudsieh. She added, “We have great students in this department – I enjoyed working with them.”

What makes the course different than many of those STEM courses mentioned in the Science article is that there’s doing. Students test processes in labs. They visit working facilities. They write a HACCP plan. They meet industry stakeholders. They see and taste and explain how concepts are applied in the real world.

That makes PO433/533 unique. It reflects NC State’s promise that students think and do. When they leave the classroom and the campus, they’re ready for what comes next, because they’ve already seen it and they’ve already done it.

d*400/500 level courses are open to both advanced undergrads and graduate students.