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January 15, 2020

Contest puts students’ animal welfare knowledge to the test

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The AVMA Animal Welfare Assessment Contest has been around for nearly 20 years and is one way undergraduates, graduate students, and veterinary students can learn more about the important topic of animal welfare.

Participants must conduct live and computer-based assessments of the welfare of animals in various settings. Those decisions and how well the participants present and justify their positions are scored by a panel of judges.

2019 assessment contest group
The 19th annual AVMA Animal Welfare Assessment Contest hosted this past November by Colorado State University drew the highest number of participants since the contest began in 2001.

Started at Michigan State University in 2001, the Animal Welfare Assessment Contest—formerly known as AWJAC for Animal Welfare Judging/Assessment Contest—was modeled on traditional livestock, horse, and meat judging competitions to encourage students to learn about welfare while competing with students from universities across North America. The competition teaches students to assess the welfare of animals in a variety of settings using science-based methods and reasoning. Contestants also learn communication skills to help them clearly share information. Aside from alumni’s positive reviews of the event, now there is further evidence that the event benefits participants by not only increasing their aptitude for animal welfare, but also helping them hone other skills.

The “Special Reports” section of this issue of JAVMA features the findings from a survey of veterinary students who participated in the contest. Overall, students reported coming away from the experience with a heightened awareness of animal welfare science. Moreover, they saw the contest as an opportunity to expand their professional networks and to expand their communication and critical thinking skills (J Am Vet Med Assoc 2020;256:239-244).

A record 244 participants representing 25 universities competed in the 19th annual AVMA Animal Welfare Assessment Contest, Nov. 23-24, 2019, at Colorado State University. The event included keynote addresses from Temple Grandin, PhD, professor of animal science at Colorado State, and Ruth Woiwode, PhD, a livestock auditor with Food Safety Net Services. Results of the 2019 competition are as follows:

  • Veterinary Student Division: Live Assessment High Scoring Individual—Brittany Senecal, University of Illinois; Live Assessment High Scoring Team—Michigan State University; Overall Individual—Caleb Brezina, Iowa State University; and Overall Team—University of Guelph.
  • Graduate Student Division: Live Assessment High Scoring Individual—Shannon Kelley, The Ohio State University; Live Assessment High Scoring Team—Colorado State University; Overall Individual—Emma Heuchan, University of Guelph; and Overall Team—University of Guelph.
  • Undergraduate Division: Live Assessment High Scoring Individual—Samantha Likar, University of Minnesota; Live Assessment High Scoring Team—Texas A&M University; Overall Individual—Ashley Dunn, Michigan State University; and Overall Team—Michigan State University Team 1.

“We’re excited that this event continues to draw more and more participants every year. It’s a great indication of the leadership role veterinarians play—and will continue to play—in protecting animals’ welfare,” said AVMA President John Howe.

“These dedicated future veterinarians and animal scientists have worked hard to prepare for this contest, and the things they’ve learned and the connections they’ve made this past weekend will help position them for great success in their future careers,” he said.

The next two Animal Welfare Assessment Contests will be held at North Carolina State University, followed by contests in 2022 and 2023 at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

Learn more about the Animal Welfare Assessment Contest.