Women taking over OSU animal sciences department

December 11, 2003

CORVALLIS – The Animal Sciences Department has long been one of the core agricultural programs at Oregon State University, and it has long been a male-dominated discipline. An informal survey suggests that its student enrollment in the mid-1960s was about 90 percent male.

That no longer is the case. And the turnaround is startling.

Today, a growing number of students are enrolling in animal sciences and some 80 percent of students in the department are female. So, where have all the men gone?

"I don't know," said Tom Savage, head adviser for the Animal Sciences Department. "But I do know that the department's total enrollment began to grow in the early 1990s, and most of that growth has been female students coming in."

According to Savage, 120 students were enrolled in the Animal Sciences Department in 1992. That number grew to 327 in 1999 and hasn't dipped below 300 since.

He added that the growth of OSU's College of Veterinary Medicine over the past decade has contributed to more students choosing an animal science major in recent years.

"At most colleges and universities a large number of the students planning to study veterinary medicine earn undergraduate degrees in animal science," Savage said.

"When you consider that the enrollment in the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine is also about 80 percent female, the high number of women in animal science is understandable," he said.

For much of OSU's history, the Animal Sciences Department focused primarily on the study of traditional farm animals such as beef and dairy cows, horses, poultry and sheep. Students who came to the department generally intended to go on to careers in some sector of agricultural industry—and most of them were male.

In fact, a photographic record of graduates from the department shows that from 1964 to 1974, 207 of the 228 OSU students earning animal science degrees were men. And though a few graduates may not have posed for photos, Savage said, the pictures give an accurate depiction of how male-dominated the department once was.

That tradition is evolving, Savage pointed out.

"We get students in the department now who want to be veterinarians because they're interested in working with exotic animals such as lions, tigers, pelicans, buffalo, gazelles, or elephants," Savage said. "For example I might have someone come in and tell me they want to be a veterinarian in a zoo and then ask how majoring in animal sciences will help her/him achieve that goal."

Savage noted that the pre-veterinary medicine track in animal sciences can take students in many different directions.

"More than half of our students are taking the pre-veterinary medicine option in animal sciences, but this doesn't require the students to go on to vet school," he said. "Many pre-vet students go on to the pharmacy program and masters and doctoral programs in other disciplines.

"Some even go to law school, the masters program in business, and occasionally medical and dental school," Savage added. "A lot of people are still stuck on the idea that having a degree in animal sciences relegates the student to a career in agriculture or animal production," Savage said. "The reality is anything but that.

"Our whole program is unique and the options and opportunities for our graduates are wide open."

Author: Bob Rost
Source: Tom Savage