Student-managed farms at Lakeland College work to reflect the industries they serve

No ivory towers when students are running the show

Lakeland College’s new 14,000-square-foot animal health clinic is modelled after a functioning vet clinic, giving students the hands-on training they need to enter the work world.
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Students are running the show at Lakeland College, and that’s just how they — and their prospective employers — like it.

“Our student-led model has really been our big success at the college,” said Geoff Brown, associate dean of agricultural sciences.

“On our student-managed farms, we really try to mimic the industries we’re in. We’re not just teaching the competencies of the job — we’re also incorporating the culture of that industry into what we do.

“It changes the whole game.”

Since the first student-managed operation (for crop technology) opened nearly three decades ago, the college has expanded the program to include three beef units along with ones for sheep and dairy.

“In the first year, our students gain the confidence they need through typical hands-on training,” said Brown. “But in the second year, they actually manage one of our farm units on campus.”

Its newest venture — a student-managed animal health clinic — follows that hands-on learning tradition for students taking an animal health technology diploma and veterinary medical assistant certificate.

In September, the brand new 14,000-square-foot clinic replaced the college’s Small Animal Clinic, built in the 1960s. It’s been a hit with students and employers alike.

Part of the program is having the students interact with owners of animals.

“They’re learning how to deal with the public, which is a big part of their jobs when they get into the industry,” said Brown. “Employers want to know that we’re building the critical thinking and soft skills in our students, and the animal health technology program is no different.”

Prior to building the new clinic — four times larger than the old one — the animal health technology program had a wait-list of about 200 students, with only 80 spots available annually. There are now 30 more, and with 111 animal health technology students and 26 veterinary medical assistant students enrolled this past year.

“That, of course, is going to put more graduates out into the industry, which is also something the industry was looking for,” said Brown. “But even though we’re increasing our class sizes, we still really value the hands-on learning here.”

A sense of ownership

The clinic is modelled after a real vet clinic to give students a glimpse at what their work life will be like once they graduate.

“We really try to mimic what they’re going to be seeing out in the industry, so it made sense to build a real vet clinic for them,” said Brown.

In addition to the hands-on coursework, students form a retail and marketing team (and run a fully functioning store out of the clinic’s reception area); an organization team (which takes care of the clinic as a whole, including its medical-grade biosecurity protocols); and a public relations team (which puts on pet-friendly movie nights and canine therapy during exam season).

“This model really creates engagement,” said Brown. “Before this student-managed farm idea, there wasn’t much ownership. But now, you’re not just accountable to your instructor — you’re also responsible for your team.”

Students work on animals of all shapes and sizes that come from the college’s livestock programs, local animal shelters and college employees and students. The clinic does, among other things, elective surgeries, spays and neuters, dental work, X-rays, and vaccinations.

“You might think you know how to look after a dog or cat, but we look after them a little differently when they’re in the hospital. So we try to instil those skills in our students,” said Amy Cusack, an instructor at the clinic.

Giving them a chance to learn “soft skills” is key.

“Employers come back and say that students are lacking soft skills, whether because of a lack of confidence or a lack of knowledge,” said Cusack. “So that’s why we have students doing things like admitting patients and discharging patients.”

And while that’s good news for employers, it’s even better for the students.

“Students really appreciate the student-led model,” said Cusack. “It’s prepared them more for working in a clinic and interacting with clients.”

About the author


Jennifer Blair

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.



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