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Ellsworth Equine program flourishes amid COVID-19 challenges

ECC Equine student, Caitelyn Nguyen, with her horse during the Fall 2019 Student Show

How do college faculty and students in a hands-on career training program like Equine Management and Equine Science adjust during a pandemic that forces all learning online? At Ellsworth Community College, it has been with lots of patience and grace … plus an abundance of hope and anticipation for being hands-on with the horses in the Ellsworth Equestrian Center again in the fall.

Like all other students at ECC, the Equine students learned during their Spring Break that classes were being canceled for a few days immediately following the break to allow the College time to determine how to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. All classes were quickly moved to an online/virtual format for the remainder of the spring semester, which is not an easy feat with subject matter like Equitation, Horse Operations Management, Equine Reproduction Techniques, Young Horse Training, and others.

“We had to postpone Young Horse Training until the fall, but the remaining classes transitioned online with a variety of visual media aids and research projects,” explains Julie Burchett, ECC Equine Faculty. “In addition to incorporating photos and videos of riders and horses at work, our faculty created many of our own videos, keeping the subject matter and activities unique to our facility and our ongoing breeding program. The students also created and shared research projects and videos via our Zoom class sessions.”

Burchett says the ECC students took the situation in stride and have made the best of it despite the challenges. “Our students don’t want to be in this situation any more than anyone else, but we are all here for a reason, and that is to learn. Despite missing out on the “hands-on” experience that is so unique and critical to our program here at Ellsworth, students have done their best to make the most of the situation. Our instructors and students alike have gained new technology skills as a result of all this, too.”

Final exams are being administered this week, and ECC summer classes (starting May 18) will be exclusively online. Fall semester classes begin August 24, hopefully back on campus and, for Equine students, back among the many horses at the Equestrian Center.

Burchett says it has been encouraging to see students step up in supporting one another and ensuring that their classmates are not losing touch or missing class, even when they may not have a good internet connection. “In one Zoom session, Megan Humphrey, an instructor in the program, noticed that a student appeared to be filming the class with their phone during a lecture, so she paused and asked the student to put the phone away and focus on class. (She was surprised, as this student is usually very attentive and not one to ‘goof off’ during a lecture.) The student turned the phone around to show the screen and revealed one of the other students in the class who had lost internet connection … the two students were FaceTiming to ensure that no one missed out on taking notes or participating in the lesson! I think everyone in the class had a good laugh at the time, but the story really made me proud of the creative ways the students were adapting for success!”

The ECC Equine Department typically hosts a 4-H Learning Clinic presented by students each Spring. This Spring, due to COVID-19, the clinic was cancelled. In lieu of the clinic, ECC students shared their presentations on various topics via Zoom to faculty. The topics were recorded and will be shared with the 4-H youth in an online format later in May.

“I’m proud to say that while we may not have been able to teach or learn in the customary, hands-on or hybrid format that we have in the past (and are anxious to resume ASAP!), I have learned some exciting skills that I will use in future classes,” says Burchett. “In the end, it’s important to remember that people are good and will do their best to get through the rough times if you are encouraging and give them the support they need.”

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