Nichole Anderson’s love for animals, specifically horses, took her to North Dakota State University (NDSU) to study equine science. Her goal was to eventually become a professional horse trainer.
Anderson grew up riding horses and joined the equestrian team at NDSU right away. She rode for the team for a year.
“After a year of riding I really didn’t win anything,” Anderson said. “I figured that if someone was going to be paying me to do this professionally, I should probably be a winning rider. I decided to switch my focus.”
She found a new passion for animal behavior and welfare. Anderson finished her bachelor’s degree in animal sciences and earned a minor in agribusiness. She then earned her master’s degree at NDSU in animal sciences with a focus on animal welfare.
“I’ve always been interested in science,” Anderson said. “I had no idea that behavior and welfare was even an avenue that you could take and make a living out of it.”
After earning her Ph.D. in animal sciences at Purdue University, Anderson recently joined the faculty at the University of Missouri as an assistant teaching professor in the Division of Animal Sciences. She has one semester under her belt and is excited to continue to build the animal behavior and welfare courses at Mizzou.
“This is a dream position,” Anderson said. “I love to teach. It’s exciting to be able to design just one course. When they tell you that you can design an entire avenue, that’s amazing.”
Anderson is currently designing new courses within the Division of Animal Sciences, all of which will focus on animal behavior and welfare. Animal welfare focuses on the complete care of the animal, from birth to death. Animal behavior is a subset of animal welfare, but not the same. Behavior talks more about group dynamics and the response to certain situations.
“While the term welfare can be misinterpreted, we are concerned with the health, natural behaviors and affective state, or emotions, of the animals,” Anderson said. “Our goal is to always have the best interest of the animal in mind.”
Anderson’s courses have different focuses. She has an animal welfare course for senior students, an animal behavior course available for students across campus and an animal welfare judging/evaluation course. The judging/evaluation course gives the students two different farm scenarios. The students are tasked with figuring out which farm has the best welfare system in place. They have to give scientific citations with their reasons. It gives the students an opportunity to learn to research through literature.
“I think I’m getting settled in,” Anderson said. “I’m extremely fortunate to be working with some of the best faculty on campus. It’s a resource that I don’t think I’ve fully realized yet. Everyone here is positive and energetic.”
Anderson grew up north of Chicago. While she didn’t grow up on, or even near, a farm, Anderson always had a passion for animals.
“I had extended family who were involved in agriculture,” Anderson said. “My aunt and uncle had a farm in Wisconsin, and we visited them quite a bit. I was never really involved in the full process, but I always enjoyed helping with the various animals they cared for.
“I hope my background encourages our students to see that they don’t have to be a typical farm kid to succeed in agriculture. I hope they can see how well I relate to them. Even though I’m from an urban environment, I feel completely comfortable talking with farmers and producers and those who grew up in agriculture. My focus is always on seeing students’ potential and helping them grow.”
It was while working with dairy cows at North Dakota State University that Anderson realized a switch to animal behavior and welfare could work.
“Watching and observing the dairy cows was incredibly interesting,” Anderson said. “I had never worked with dairy cows before, but they definitely got me hooked on animal welfare.”
Anderson’s Ph.D. work was with swine and the sow-piglet relationship. It was the third species that Anderson worked with in just a few years.
“It’s amazing to me how much more of a curve there is to learn a new species,” she said. “I went in a little overconfident with the dairy cows and the sows. There is a lot to learn – and I didn’t always grasp that as a student. That’s why it’s exciting to be on the teaching side now. While the species do have their differences, behavior and welfare is an important part of the overall equation.”
While Anderson continues to design new courses, she is also focused on bringing more technology into the classroom.
“Technology in the classroom is really exciting to me,” Anderson said. “I’m always looking for how we can use technology to supplement our courses. It’s an exciting process for sure.
“I’m also extremely fortunate to work with some of the best faculty on the MU campus. Everyone here is positive and energetic. They have definitely given me new energy as I move forward.”