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Animal Science Graduate Students Receive International Research Awards

Two South Dakota State University graduate students in the Animal Science Department received top honors at the International Congress of Meat Science and Technology (ICoMST) research competition held virtually this summer. Master’s student Lydia Hite and post-doctoral researcher Christina Bakker each received first place in their respective categories for their research.

"Chris Bakker"
Christina Bakker placed first in the Ph.D. division of the sustainability/production/food waste category of ICoMST with her dissertation. Bakker is currently a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Animal Science

Bakker, originally from Lake Benton, Minnesota, finished her Ph.D. in animal science in May from SDSU. She achieved first place in the Ph.D. division in the sustainability/production/food waste category. Her dissertation, titled “Influence of feeding a cover crop mixture including brassicas during backgrounding on carcass characteristics and beef tenderness,” focused on how diet management during the backgrounding and finishing phases of beef production can impact carcass characteristics and meat quality.  

Hite, originally from Gracey, Kentucky, received first place in the sustainability/production/food waste category of the master’s division of the competition. Her research, titled “Influence of Carcass Chilling System on Chuck, Loin, and Round Temperature Decline,” investigated the differences in chilling systems utilized on beef carcasses, specifically between air chilling and spray chilling. 

“As a master’s student, Christina was the senior graduate student I always looked up to throughout my degree and went to for advice,” Hite said. “While we were in separate divisions, being able to celebrate together has been a blast.”

Bakker was advised by Dr. Kyle Grubbs, assistant professor of animal science, and Dr. Keith Underwood, associate professor of animal science, during her Ph.D. Hite is advised by Grubbs. 

“They did an outstanding job presenting, and they were very prepared,” Underwood said. “It was a strong poster competition.”

Both professors played an integral part in not only the students’ research, but also the coordination of the entire research competition and associated conference this year. Grubbs served as chair of the ICoMST research competition, while Underwood chaired the American Meat Science Association (AMSA) Reciprocal Meat Conference (RMC), which was held in conjunction with ICoMST this year. While ICoMST is an international technical and scientific meeting that is held across the world every year, RMC is a U.S.-based yearly meeting of the AMSA. Due to the global pandemic, the two meetings were held virtually at the same time this year.

The ICoMST research competition consisted of undergraduate, master’s and Ph.D. divisions, with three topic areas in each division, including muscle biology/fresh meat quality, processing/technology/food safety and preservation and sustainability/production/food waste. Each competitor submitted a pre-recorded presentation, and judges from across the world watched each presentation before holding a live virtual question and answer segment with each student researcher. Competition results were announced on August 3 during the ICoMST opening session.

Having two students from the same university place first in this international-scale competition is not a common occurrence. However, Underwood and Grubbs both noted that pushing their students to think about the applications of their research is very important for carrying out the land grant mission of the university, which further proved the importance of Hite and Bakker’s projects to the judges.

“The fact they both won is fantastic, and it shows how they have applied their research to real-world knowledge,” Grubbs said. “Their projects demonstrated that.”

"Lydia Hite"
Lydia Hite placed first at ICoMST in the master's division of the sustainability/production/food waste category with her research, which investigates the differences in chilling systems utilized on beef carcasses.

Hite’s research has enabled her and Grubbs to design and build a carcass spray chilling system in the SDSU meat lab similar to systems currently used across the beef industry. This system aids in improving yields by reducing moisture lost during the chilling process. As many beef producers rely on carcass and meat quality for their profits, Bakker’s focus on diet management and carcass impact enables her to help producers make management decisions that bring them the greatest profit and higher quality meat products for consumers.

The pair credits the dedication and support of SDSU’s Animal Science faculty and meat science program for pushing them to succeed with their research. 

“I think the biggest thing having two first place finishes says about our department and program is how much our group supports one another,” Bakker said. “I think this accomplishment tells the world that we may be small, but we are not to be overlooked.”