A familiar face around Frank B. Morrison Hall, students are likely to know Debbie Cherney in one of the many courses she teaches in Cornell CALS Department of Animal Science. Cherney introduced the Animal Welfare course to the department and is known for her positive, caring attitude toward students. Integrating her research and applied experience to the four classes she instructs, Cherney believes her knowledge in agronomy is applicable and necessary for all animal science students to use in their future careers.
Before entering the department in 1990, Cherney received her bachelor's and doctorate, completing research at the University of Florida. She then worked as a post-doctoral research associate at Purdue University before applying to become a senior research associate at Cornell.
To this day, Cherney’s research focuses on forage utilization and quality, where she examines economical and environmentally sustainable systems of forage management for dairy farms in New York State. “The research side of my job is great! In addition to working with my husband and a team of dedicated individuals, I’m able to travel and attend nutrition conferences," said Cherney. "At a 2019 research conference, I explored the role forages play in both human and animal lives. In 2020, I was able to publish a paper in Nature with a team of researchers I met from that conference.”
Cherney’s entry into course instruction began when she was a teacher’s assistant for the animal ethics course. She soon realized her passion for teaching and returned to school to get an MS in Medical Bioethics.
As a teacher’s assistant and animal nutrition lab instructor, Cherney learned to effectively balance her research, student and course responsibilities. In her animal ethics course, students expressed recurring interests in learning more about animal welfare and its differences from animal ethics. Eager to feed her students’ curiosity and further her own knowledge, Cherney established an animal welfare course.
Soon after introducing the new class to the department, Cherney took over the animal science careers course. Currently taught by Cherney and undergraduate program coordinator Lindsay Glasner, the class introduces students to potential animal science careers in agricultural production, education, communications, and policy development. Cherney notes, “I have found most students to be interested in veterinary medicine, but this course tells them that there are so many more options! Lindsay and I provide them with resources that can be applied when looking for internships or volunteer opportunities during the summer. Once they graduate, the skills and lessons they learn from this class will help them in finding a job.”
In an effort to make challenging concepts taught in animal nutrition more approachable to students, she uses lecture time as an opportunity to make it fun for her students, stating, “the nutrition course is definitely one of the more challenging classes that I teach. In a nutshell, the course makes students think critically to consider the specific feed rations every animal species needs.”
Throughout the semester, students work with lambs and chickens to analyze the type of feed on their overall body growth. At the end of the semester, they compile two reports entailing which feed was most effective and why. “The students enjoy working with the animals to understand the certain amounts of protein and fat that go into each feed type," claims Cherney. "The teaching assistants and I love observing and engaging with their presentations at the end of the semester. Every year, I learn something new from the students through their creative reports or presentations.”
Cherney recognizes the benefits her classes provide to students. “All of the courses I teach encourage students to use their critical thinking skills. They also provide scientific training to give each student the flexibility to go into a broad number of areas when they graduate. I have had students go to veterinary or medical school, have become animal nutritionists at farms Upstate, and policymakers for the USDA. The opportunities are limitless.”
The courses Cherney teaches are crucial to the department. Cherney recognizes the importance of each of the courses she’s able to lead and is especially happy to see student growth throughout the years.
A highlight of Cherney’s work is her engagement and investment in the students over the course of their time in the department. “I have such an amazing position in this department. I love seeing students’ knowledge in the field grow through the courses I teach. I wouldn’t change my position for the world.”
Caroline Stamm ’24 is a student writer for the Cornell CALS Department of Animal Science.
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