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Noble’s Graduate Education Experience

By Stephen Webb, Ph.D.
Ag Systems Technology Manager

Posted Sep. 3, 2018

Noble Learning, the Noble Research Institute's centralized education program, focuses on youth and adult education. Youth education targets grades 6-12 through engagement and instruction as well as undergraduate and graduate students through educational opportunities that seek to prepare them to enter careers in agriculture or STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Undergraduate students have the opportunity to gain real-world, hands-on training through internships, more specifically the Lloyd Noble Scholars Program. The purpose of graduate education is to further train students for entering the work environment with critical thinking and reasoning skills, which come from intensive coursework; hands-on training; and design, analysis and presentation of rigorous scientific experimentation.

Many of Noble’s graduate students also participate in adult education events such as workshops, presentations or field days that are targeted toward land managers and agricultural producers.

Graduate student fellowships are available in several forms. Students can work with Noble through internally funded fellowships or through more traditional routes like external granting. Collaboration is key. Noble partners with universities where students have academic mentors at the university and research mentors at Noble. These partnerships serve as a cornerstone to students who will form their own partnerships or collaborations throughout their career.

Many of Noble's graduate students also participate in adult education events such as workshops, presentations or field days that are targeted toward land managers and agricultural producers. Through this portion of Noble Learning, students learn to interact with the general public and those who will apply the information and tools developed from the students' graduate education. This may be one of the most important learning experiences for graduate students, who typically work and present in a scientific environment, because they must make their information accessible and understandable to those less familiar with scientific theory. Below are some graduate students who are working directly with Noble's applied agricultural systems research and technology researchers.

Meet Our Students

Zach Johnson working with a net out of a boat on the pond.

Kelly Boyer

Institute: Oklahoma State University
Degree: M.S. in Wildlife Ecology
Graduation: December 2018
Project Title: Damage and Resource Selection by Wild Pigs in an Agricultural Landscape
Background: Wild pigs, an exotic and invasive species, have caused great concern for ecological and economic impacts at a global scale, particularly within agricultural landscapes. Global positioning system (GPS) technology and geographic information systems (GIS) will be used to assess where (spatial) and when (temporal) wild pigs use agricultural and specialty crops such as pecans. Risk maps will be developed to identify the likelihood of wild pigs using the landscape, allowing areas to be prioritized for management intervention to reduce damage. The loss of pecans during harvest will also be quantified as a result of wild pig rooting activity, which can result if harvesting equipment is less efficient at collecting pecans in damaged areas.

Steven T. Peper

Institute: The Institute of Environmental and Human Health, Texas Tech University
Degree: Ph.D. in Environmental Toxicology
Graduation: August 2018
Project Title: A Serological Disease Survey of Wild Pigs from South-Central Oklahoma
Background: Wild pigs are one of the greatest public health concerns in the United States. Wild pigs are capable of harboring and transmitting a variety of pathogens to human and livestock populations. This study focused on identifying the exposure of wild pigs to five infectious pathogens: brucellosis, tularemia, pseudorabies virus, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV), and Chagas disease. Exposure to Brucella species (brucellosis) was detected in 16 percent, tularemia in 8 percent, pseudorabies in 34 percent, PRRSV in 0.3 percent, and Chagas disease in 0 percent of the wild pigs tested from 2015 to 2017. These data highlight the need for continued disease surveillance and the control of wild pigs to minimize contacts with domestic livestock and native wildlife.

Katelyn Haydett

Institute: The Institute of Environmental and Human Health, Texas Tech University
Degree: M.S. in Environmental Toxicology
Graduation: August 2018
Project Title: Seroprevalence of Neospora caninum in a Wild Pig Population in Oklahoma
Background: The parasite, Neospora caninum, is a leading cause of cattle abortions and reproductive failure worldwide. Canid species, such as coyotes and dogs, are known as definitive hosts, meaning they are needed to complete the life-cycle of the parasite. However, other animals such as wild pigs and cattle can become infected when the cyst of the parasite is ingested from the environment. Contact between wild pigs and livestock is becoming inevitable, and the exact role that wild pigs play in transmission of this disease (commonly known as canine neosporosis) is unknown. This study assessed exposure of wild pigs to the parasite. It was found that 1.2 percent (1 of 84) of wild pigs tested positive for previous exposure. This data shows this parasite is present in south-central Oklahoma and signifies the importance of continued disease surveillance in wild pigs, cattle and other wildlife to better understand exposure to N. caninum in the environment.

Jane Dentinger working with tracking equipment.

Ira Parsons

Institute: Mississippi State University
Degree: Ph.D. in Forest Resources (Wildlife Concentration)
Graduation: May 2022
Project Title: Grazing Ecology and Energy Budgets of Cattle to Improve Animal Production Systems
Background: Livestock producers seek to maximize growth and performance of grazing cattle by balancing plant growth and quality with forage intake. Individual forage intake and grazing behavior are difficult to collect, so cattle will be outfitted with GPS collars, activity sensors and thermometers to monitor core body temperature. These tools will be coupled with remote cameras for behavioral monitoring as well as UAVs and other sensors for documenting available forage and offtake and remotely measured body mass. Models will be developed to better understand animal energy budgets and metabolic efficiency on pasture and how that translates into important performance traits such as body mass.

Karla Rascon-Garcia

Institute: University of California, Davis
Degree: Ph.D. in Epidemiology
Graduation: June 2021
Project Title: Spatial Epidemiological Disease Spread Models at the Wildlife-Livestock-Human Interface
Background: This project aims to contribute to the development and expansion of quantitative methods and novel modeling approaches to unravel diseases shared at the wildlife-livestock-human interface. We will use these models that evaluate animal movement patterns and linked disease information to better understand wild pig population dynamics and their potential contribution to disease transmission to livestock and human populations. We will use GPS data from wild pig, deer and livestock populations to investigate the risk of disease spread among species under various epidemiological scenarios. Additionally, predictive risk maps will be generated to better support the prioritization of control efforts, inform risk-based surveillance strategies, and mitigate both disease transmission and wild pig-human conflicts and damage.

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