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Grad students in monogastric nutrition at U of I make the most of international opportunities

Published December 22, 2014

URBANA, Ill. - Hans H. Stein, professor of animal sciences at the University of Illinois, knows the value of overseas travel for study and professional development.

"I like to say that there are two kinds of graduate students in the Stein lab: those who have traveled abroad, and those who will travel outside the country," Stein said. "The reason international experiences are so important is that all our students after graduation will get jobs where they either will be travelling abroad or they will be doing business with people from abroad.

“An important part of graduate education is to prepare students for the challenges they will encounter after graduation and there is no better way to do that than to provide international opportunities for the students,” he added.

This year, four students from Stein’s lab had the opportunity to travel outside of the United States.

Kelly Sotak-Peper, a doctoral candidate, spent the summer conducting an experiment on metabolizable energy in soybean meal fed to broiler chicks at the University of Los Baños, the Philippines.

Though the experiment went well, it wasn't entirely without challenges. "On the last day of the study, I wasn't able to make it to the farm because Typhoon Glenda arrived and knocked down some trees that got in the way," Sotak-Peper said. Fortunately the farm research crew was able to get there by motorcycle and collect the samples she needed to complete her experiment.

Sotak-Peper also gave four presentations about soybean meal at the 20th Southeast Asian Feed Technology and Nutrition Workshop in Manila in August.

In April, doctoral student Caroline González-Vega received the Wilson G. Pond International Travel Award from the American Society of Animal Science. She used the funding from that award to travel to the annual meeting of the European Federation of Animal Science (EAAP) in Copenhagen in August, where she gave a presentation about her research on calcium digestibility in pigs.

González-Vega also visited the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, where she gave presentations at feed companies AB Vista and Agrifirm.

"I feel like you grow every time you travel. You learn something new, and that's what I want," she said. "I'm so happy that my Ph.D. program doesn’t just involve sitting in the office or in the lab or on the farm, but that I get a chance to grow as a person and as a professional. I'm so thankful Dr. Stein supported me with this opportunity. My goal was only to go to the EAAP, but he opened up more doors to me."

Another doctoral candidate in the Stein Lab, Diego Navarro, also attended the EAAP conference in Copenhagen this summer, where he gave a presentation on amino acid digestibility and energy concentration in soybean and rapeseed products fed to pigs.

Prior to the EAAP conference, Navarro went to Horsens, Denmark to give a presentation on the digestibility of soy products in pigs at the Hamlet Protein company. Not only were Hamlet employees on hand to hear the talk, but they invited some of their customers – and some of their competitors.

Navarro also traveled to Aarhus, where he met up with Niels Geertsen, who was a visiting scholar in the Stein lab in 2013-2014.

Oscar Rojas was one of three Young Scholars selected by the Spanish Foundation for the Development of Animal Nutrition (FEDNA) to receive an all-expenses-paid trip to present their research at the annual FEDNA meeting in November. The FEDNA meeting is the biggest conference on animal nutrition in Spain, and is attended by people from all over Europe. It is also an opportunity for nutritionists, producers, and professors to give input on the FEDNA tables, the Spanish version of the NRC tables.

While in Spain, Rojas visited former Stein lab visiting scholar Pilar Guzmán. He met with Guzmán's professor, Gonzalo G. Mateos, and members of his lab. He said that meeting new people was the highlight of his trip.

"Every time Dr. Stein gives us the opportunity to go somewhere, we have the chance to learn things outside of the U.S. system and meet new people,” Rojas said. “I had the chance to meet with Dr. Mateos' lab, so I met people from South America, Pakistan, Iraq, and Iran. I think that's the most important thing.”