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Dr. Drew Lugar

Mentor Department



Animal Science demographics are shifting from students that come with an abundance of experience, to students that do not have any prior animal experience. It is important to note the present student demographics, could be impacting student mental health. In a semester long Parturition Management course, students attend overnight, unsupervised shifts during the birthing process of sheep, cattle, and pigs. Throughout the course, physiological measurements via heart rate variability (HRV) and psychological stress data via Perceived Stress Surveys (PSS) were collected, along with student demographic and background data. Both units of stress data were compared back to baseline measurements taken on campus during the daytime to quantify the stress caused by the class. Heart rate variability did not differ in this study (P > 0.15) in all of the demographic variables measured. The data analysis showed that students had the highest level of change in PSS (cPSS) in lamb watch, the first species of the class (P < 0.01)

Students that had expert level experience had the greatest cPSS among all other levels (P < 0.01). They also showed that, ethnicity, academic sequence, and hometown population played a role in how high cPSS was. These findings may be due to self-reporting of their prior animal experience, which may have resulted in bias towards their true experience level. It is also possible that this study needs to be completed in the introductory level course that has students’ first collegiate interaction with animals, to capture their initial college stress levels associated with animals. However, the physiological stress results showed no significant differences among the demographic categories, or the species measured. This is likely due to the timing of the course taking place overnight because it is suggested that heart rate variability measurements are most accurate when taken in the morning.

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