June 6, 2018

Week 1

By Hailey Watlington

What a week! I came in to this externship excited and ready to learn, but I don’t think I could have imagined all of the opportunities we are given as AVMA GRD externs. This first week has been a whirlwind of activity. This has been stated by previous externs, but there are just so many opportunities that we are able to take advantage of while we are here, and it’s been incredible.

This week, I attended the 2018 AAAS Charles Valentine Riley Memorial Lecture, where Dr. Alison Van Eenennaam, a cooperative extension specialist in the Division of Animal Science at UC Davis, gave a talk entitled “Does Agriculture Have a Parallel Science Problem?”. Dr. Eenennaam is originally from Australia, and she opened up her talk with anecdotal stories of an echidna chasing her and her pony across the Australian prairie – how cool is that?! She went on to discuss the crossroads that the agriculture and technology arenas find themselves at – we have amazing technological advances that can (and do) result in incredible breakthroughs in agriculture right at our fingertips, but they are often met with great trepidation from the general public (think GMOs). One aspect that I found very interesting from a science perspective is that they are now able to genetically modify dairy cattle to be polled instead of horned without affecting their milk supply or any other trait. This allows them to avoid the uncomfortable de-horning procedure as calves. Even though the only result of this genetic modification was the lack of horns, she displayed several articles, blogs, and even podcasts that argued that it was unacceptable. After the talk, there was a discussion panel with Dr. Rattan Lal, Professor of Soil Science and Director of the Carbon Management and Sequestration Center at The Ohio State University, Dr. Jay Akridge, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Diversity at Purdue University, and Lowell Randel, President of The Randel Group. The discussion was enlightening, and it was an honor to see such distinguished leaders from the international research community and agribusiness.

Later in the week, I attended a hearing with O’Shea and Alex (one of the Assistant Directors) at the Committee on Education and the Workforce with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to examine the policies and priorities of HHS. It was fascinating to watch the dynamics of each party in the hearing and how they approached their questions and how he subsequently answered. It was also interesting to see the themes and issues that each party focused on during their questioning. This was my first time watching a hearing, and I am definitely hoping to attend another one during my time here in Washington.

I could write 10 pages about my first week’s experiences, but I’ll stop here. I can’t wait to see what next week holds!