Focus on Faculty

Kylee Jo Duberstein

Kylee Jo Duberstein

Kylee Duberstein, an associate professor in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, conducts research and gives students hands-on research experiences in equine nutrition and animal biomechanics.

Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?

As unpopular as it may be to say this here, I grew up in Gainesville, Florida, and earned both my B.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Florida—Go Gators! I have since grown to love wearing the colors red and black, and I have spent the last 10 years working in the animal science department at UGA. I mainly have teaching and extension responsibilities, teaching several of our equine science classes and serving as one of the state’s horse specialists. I serve as a resource and point person for youth and adult horse programs across the state. I also have an ever-growing research program that encompasses many topics related to equine nutrition and animal biomechanics.

When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?

I moved to Athens and started working for UGA in early 2007. I actually worked for the Athletic Association, first as an assistant coach for the UGA equestrian team. I had finished my Ph.D. in December 2006, and I also had spent several years riding jumpers (horses) professionally and competing on the Grand Prix circuit. When I started looking for jobs, the equestrian team was advertising for an assistant coach to finish out their 2006-2007 season. So I applied for that job as well as a lecturer position in the animal science department. I was hired first by the Athletic Association and spent several months finishing out their season, which was a great experience. In the end, I was offered the lecturer position in the animal science department and started working in my current role in July of 2007.

What are your favorite courses and why?

I love all my courses in different ways! I teach classes in equine nutrition, equine anatomy and biomechanics, and beginning to intermediate horse handling/riding courses. My Ph.D. is in the field of equine nutrition, so I’m really comfortable teaching that class. The science behind feeding horses has always been interesting to me, and it teaches you so much about your own body too. The anatomy and biomechanics class was a new class that I proposed after being here a few years.  I’ve had a lot of student interest in that class, and we do a lot of great lab activities.  It was a steep learning curve to get that course off the ground, but it has been a really fun class to teach. And finally, my riding classes—how can you not love to teach classes that are outside and involve riding horses? Those classes are unique and a great break in my day to do something different.

What are some highlights of your career at UGA?

Some of the highlights I’m most proud of are developing new courses and creating research opportunities in our equine program, as well as developing a biomechanics program that has been used by other faculty in ways I would have never initially dreamed possible. I’ve been able to branch out and collaborate on some truly amazing research that I believe has potential to make a long-term impact.

How do you describe the scope and impact of your research or scholarship to people outside of your field?

When we think about horses, one of the ways they are unique from other farm animals is that they are performance athletes, and we really care about and study the way they move. That led me to doing research in the field of biomechanics, looking at areas of interest to performance horses—everything from shoeing techniques to nutritional supplements. This then led to collaborations with faculty in my department who specialize in stem cells and regenerative medicine, working with animal models to test new treatments for things like stroke and traumatic brain injury that affect motor control. I’ve also studied biomechanics in different production settings to optimize animal management practices in pigs and cows. I joke that I’ve spent a lot of time (years now!) teaching pigs to walk around a track so I could video them. I also love nutrition, and a lot of my recent research focuses on nutrition and the performance horse.

How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?

For me, the two go hand in hand. I couldn’t do any of my research without my students, and I use a lot of the information I gain from my research to teach my classes. At any given time, I might have five to 10 students sitting in my class who are also working with me on research projects. Since the two main focus areas of my research are nutrition and biomechanics, and these are two classes that I teach, I am often inspired with ideas for projects based on something I’ve taught in class or read about while preparing for class. In my nutrition class, we do a project where we study research on currently marketed nutritional supplements to discuss what research still needs to be done. In my biomechanics class, we do mini-projects where we film horses and analyze their gait using a software program. I can bring a wealth of experience on what works and, especially, what doesn’t work when trying to collect data!

What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?

I think about this question a lot! I was in a great teaching group years ago, and one of the things that surprised me was a statistic on the percentage of material that students retain long term. It was a really small number! The take-home message was to make your main points easy to grasp and reinforce them. I take that to heart. I want students to get something out of my class that they will want to remember. I want them to find my class interesting, even if they initially were only taking it to fill a requirement. I try to show them real-world applications of what we are learning. I want students to feel comfortable participating in class. It’s hard to learn if you’re so busy trying to hide what you don’t know rather than trying to get in there and learn what’s being taught. So I do activities that force students to get involved and apply what we are learning.

Describe your ideal student.

I’m not sure that I have an ideal student. I like that there are different personalities in every class—I think it makes things more interesting. I like students to be involved and interested in the class. To me, there is no worse teaching experience than standing in front of a class that is completely solemn and quiet and just counting the minutes until they can leave. This is my job, and I am here teaching every day. And I like it. I want students to like class, too. So if a student is interested and engaged and trying to learn what I am teaching, then they are my ideal student.

Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…

I’m going to have to admit that I don’t venture very far outside of my two main spots on campus. My office is in the Rhodes Center for Animal and Dairy Science across from the Ramsey Student Center for Physical Activities, and I’m there at least a few hours most days. I spend most of my time at the UGA Horse Farm/Livestock Arena out on Milledge, and I love it there. I teach class there, I do research there, and sometimes I just sit in one of the offices there and work because it is quiet. I really should get better about venturing around campus more since I’ve been here 10 years and still get lost in some places!

Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…

I like to hike here! In Florida everything is very flat, so moving within two hours of the mountains was really cool for me. My husband is a big outdoors adventurer, and he got me into hiking and camping after we got married. There are a lot of great state parks in Georgia and some awesome places to hike (and cool waterfalls!) within a few hours of where we live. Beyond that, I’m a bit of a homebody. We live on a small farm with a collection of random animals (horses, dogs, goats, chickens, bees). My husband has degrees in forestry, natural resources and wildlife biology, so we are always planting something at our house, and my children are always playing outside looking for bugs, worms, frogs, turtles, etc.

Community/civic involvement includes…

Since I have two small children, a lot of my community involvement revolves around kids. I have one child in elementary school and one in preschool, and for several years much of my free time has been spent at their school-related activities. This past year, my daughter’s teacher let me volunteer in his classroom once a week over my lunch hour. Since I love both teaching and kids, it was a pretty great way to volunteer and get involved in the community. I also try to be involved and help with kids’ activities at our church. One year I learned karate and helped teach a kids’ karate class at our church.

Favorite book/movie (and why)?

I don’t know!  I read so much for my job that I don’t read as much for pleasure as I should, though English used to be my favorite subject! Most of the reading I do outside of my job is reading to my kids every day. I am fairly well-versed on children’s books right now! I also hardly ever have two hours to sit down and watch a movie, but past favorites have been good comedies or historical/historical-fiction movies. Also, I grew up in the generation of the “Rocky” movies, so a good movie of an underdog triumphing is always popular with me.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…

There are so many! I tend to look for humor in life, and there have been a lot of great stories from my teaching experiences over the years. On a more serious note, I’ve been honored to work with so many unique and talented students. I’ve had several students present our research at college, university, and even national symposia.  I am always so proud of my students when they can stand up and do presentations better than I could myself. This past year in particular, I’ve had a really good group of students who did research together as a team and then presented their research at the university’s Center for Undergraduate Research Opportunities Symposium, the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Symposium, and then national meetings in Minnesota. It was really a treat to work closely with such a good group of students and watch them support each other.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’ve had so much support and worked with a lot of great people at UGA. I love being open to new ideas and new collaborations. Some of the best things I’ve done here are things I would have never imagined for myself that happened just by saying yes to an opportunity. I’m always willing to try new things, and this has led to some great experiences so far.

(Originally published Oct. 1, 2017)