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CALS for the Ages

Shouldn’t someone be writing this down?

That’s the goal of a new course imparting historic discoveries at CALS—and how those findings connect to research today.

The effort was born of a concern by some faculty elders that a great deal of CALS history was known only to people who were retiring.

“Younger faculty and staff, and especially our undergraduate and graduate students, knew next to nothing about genuinely important discoveries and contributions from CALS,” says biochemistry professor Dave Nelson, who is close to retirement himself. “We feared that this history might be lost completely as we left the scene.”

Emeritus animal sciences professor Robert Kauffman convened more than two dozen of his peers, including Nelson, from a broad range of disciplines to create a course in which they would teach CALS history—and at the same time build an archive of videos (all classes are taped), PowerPoints and other material to preserve it.

“Inter Ag 375—Groundbreaking Discoveries from CALS: Past and Present” debuted this spring as an offering not only for students but also for alumni, history buffs, and senior learning groups such as PLATO (all auditors welcome). The class is scheduled at a public- and parking-friendly 4:45 p.m.

The course is designed in a modular fashion, with a credit assigned to each component. Each week pairs a lecture on a historic CALS discovery with one on current research taught by younger faculty. Students going for three credits also participate in a hands-on workshop based on those presentations.

Fun is allowed—as anyone who cranked a Babcock milk fat tester with Dave Nelson or made kimchee with emeritus plant pathology professor Paul Williams (following a lecture on cabbage disease) can attest.

And yes, the kids are learning. “I’m really surprised at the amount of basic biology research that has come out of CALS,” says biology major Jacob Litman. “Discoveries such as the concept of micronutrients—vitamins, minerals—and the creation of an effective strain of Penicillium are not typically what you think of in a ‘College of Agriculture,’ and CALS was originally ‘just’ the College of Agriculture.”

The course will be offered again next spring. And since each year will present different areas of CALS discovery, the course may be taken three times for credit. Think you already know CALS history? Try our special Final Exam on page 39.