The Story of Buttercup

Buttercup and Alyssa at the Dairy Show
Buttercup and Alyssa at the Dairy Show

I spent a lot of time in high school and the beginning of college worrying that I would never find anything that I was passionate about. Everyone made such a big deal about it—counselors and teachers were always encouraging us to pick a major or career that we love. When I was applying to college I intended to be a nursing major, but once I got in I promptly changed my major to chemistry and then again to biology. Nothing felt right. I was getting closer—I knew I liked the healthcare industry but I wasn’t quite there yet. Finally—I don’t remember how I came to this realization—but I figured out that I wanted to work with animals and not people. I came to UConn officially as an animal science major, with the intention to go to veterinary school. Still, this just didn’t feel exactly right, but I was getting closer, so I stuck with it.

During the spring of my freshman year, I received an e-mail about participating in a dairy show, no experience necessary. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I went to the meeting anyway.  I knew I needed some experience with large animals if I wanted to be competitive for vet school. I learned that I would pick a dairy heifer, train her to walk and set up, groom her, and finally show her in front of a judge in a few months. They had a list of names of the animals we could choose, and I picked a random one: Buttercup.

I started working with Buttercup a few times a week, and every time I went down to the barn it was the highlight of my day. The first few practices, I got her used to wearing a halter and being handled. This involved a lot of petting her and brushing her. Once she got used to me, this also involved a lot of her using me as a scratching post. Eventually, we got to the point where I could walk her a few steps here and there on a lead, and finally we could even walk outside. As the show got closer, I got to give her a bath and clip her fur so she would look just right. As I was working with her, it amazed me how gentle and kind these animals could be, and how much of a personality each specific one had. I was slowly falling in love with dairy cows, and I’m not sure that I even knew it was happening.

On the day of the show, everything went fairly smoothly, and Buttercup and I placed third out of six in the intermediate class—most of the people had shown once or twice previously. I was so proud of us, but putting her back in her pen after the show made me sadder than I thought it would. I realized I would no longer be spending my days down at the barn working with her. Afterwards, I visited the heifers every so often, but that wasn’t enough. Eventually, I was lucky enough to get a job working at the Kellogg Dairy Center, milking the cows that we have on campus. I love working with them. One of the best parts of the job is working with calves. I knew someday soon Buttercup would be moved up from the heifer barn to the milking barn; I checked every time I worked to see if she was there yet.

Betsy on the night she was born
Betsy on the night she was born

Finally, the day came when I walked into work and checked the pregnant cows to see if anyone had calved before we got there, and I saw Buttercup in a stall with a tiny brown calf who must have just been born minutes before we walked in. I was so excited to be the one working when she calved, and I even got to name her baby: Betsy. This night is when something just clicked; I knew that I wanted to work in the dairy industry. I had finally found the thing I was passionate about that had always seemed impossible.

Unfortunately, Buttercup got sick shortly after she calved and a few weeks later, I found out that she was definitely not going to get better. I was devastated, but it was nobody’s fault, and I had to accept it and look for a silver lining. I found this in Betsy, who I’m very excited to show in this spring’s dairy show.

You don’t have to know what your passion is right away. It took me 18 years to find mine, and it came from an unexpected place. When I signed up to participate in the dairy show, I thought I’d just train a cow, write it on my resume, and move on with my life. I never thought that I’d fall in love with an animal and change my entire life plan, but that’s what happens when everything falls into place. I mention Buttercup on every application I submit and in every interview I have when I’m applying for jobs and internships, and it’s worked: this summer I will be interning in Washington DC, advocating for agriculture policy that supports dairy farmers. If you’re still trying to find your passion, I’ll leave you with this final advice: Go out of your comfort zone, don’t be afraid to say “yes”, and be open-minded. You’d be surprised at what might make everything make sense.

“In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn”

Hanging out with Prince before lessons!
Hanging out with Prince before lessons!

Last semester I had the opportunity to intern at the Camp Care Inc. Therapeutic Riding Program in Columbia, CT. Since I am minoring in Therapeutic Horsemanship Education, I was required to learn the basics of running a therapeutic riding program and being a therapeutic riding instructor. Throughout my internship, I had the opportunity to work with many different riders and instructors. Besides learning about why we do certain stretches with our riders, how to work with riders who may decide they don’t want to ride anymore mid-lesson, and safety practices for if things go awry, the Camp Care program gave me much more than I ever anticipated.

On my first day I met Kirsten, one of the riding instructors and my new mentor. She welcomed me with open arms and made me feel as though I’d been there for years. She quickly “taught me the ropes” and I jumped in with two feet. The barn work was easy to get used to, especially coming from a horsey background. I knew the basics of feeding, cleaning up, and exercising horses. What was completely new to me was working directly with the riders. Although I was a camp counselor for a few years at my local horseback riding camp, I had never had the opportunity to work with children with special needs.

Appa and Spirit giving each other scratches before being lunged.
Appa and Spirit giving each other scratches before being lunged.

For my first lesson, I got to work with Jake, a spunky teenager who suffered a traumatic brain injury. I quickly learned when the lesson started that Jake is an extremely determined and strong rider, despite his limited use of his body. Watching Jake steer his horse Mandy around obstacles, through poles, and over bridges simply amazed me. What was even better was that he laughed and smiled throughout the ENTIRE lesson. Naturally, I couldn’t help but laugh along with him. By the end my internship, we had switched Jake around to three different horses, tried out new obstacles, and had him ride without using his hands to practice his balance. He attacked each challenge with enthusiasm and would put 110% into everything that we asked of him.

Dressing up for Halloween with Galli.
Dressing up for Halloween with Galli.

Now I don’t think he realized it, but as I was teaching Jake, he was teaching me too. No matter the challenge, he pushed through and didn’t let his disabilities stand in his way. This made me step back and look at my own life in a new perspective. When I was feeling down and had a seemingly never-ending list of things to do, I would think of Jake and his determination. This immediately helped me to change my attitude and look at my to-do list as a challenge rather than a burden. I changed my mentality from “I can’t do this” to “I can and will get everything done”.

Jake also taught me to celebrate my achievements, no matter how small, to push myself and my limits in order to be better, that laughter is the best medicine, and that when you make a mistake, fix it, and move past it. Every Wednesday I would get to start my afternoon off with a smile and end my first lesson with a big high five. Jake will always hold a special place in my heart and I am grateful that he was not only one of my students, but one of my teachers as well.

10 Ways to Have a Successful Second Semester

  1. Mindy and her fellow College Ambassador helping out at a food waste seminar on campus.
    Mindy and her fellow College Ambassador helping out at a food waste seminar on campus.

    Let go of last semester – First semester is over, let go off all the stress and bad experiences you’ve had. The best thing about second semester is that it gives you a clean slate and new opportunities. Take advantage of all that UConn has to offer.

  2. Get Involved – A new semester means another involvement fair, another Greek week, and more possibilities. If you aren’t a part of any clubs or organizations step out of your comfort zone and sign up for some. Even if you only go to one meeting you are at least trying out new things. If you are already part of some clubs/organizations, join another if you have time! It never hurts to make friends and be involved in the UConn community. You can also try going to body wise classes that UConn Recreation offers. They are organized fitness classes ranging from yoga to HIIT. Getting involved and trying new things helps you submerse yourself in all UConn has to offer. It will make you feel more comfortable and a part of the community.
  3. Eat breakfast – Eating right gives you the energy to make it through the day. I always eat a balanced breakfast with eggs, toast, and some form of fruit. Last year I always skipped breakfast and found myself getting tired and taking a lot of naps. Now that I make time for not only breakfast, but also lunch and dinner, I feel like I have so much more energy.
  4. Fix your sleep schedule – Along with getting up early enough for class and having enough time to eat breakfast, you want to make sure that you’re getting a good amount of sleep each night. After winter break your sleep schedule is probably all messed up. People sleep until noon maybe even 2pm during break and stay up late or go to bed too early because they’re bored. Being back at school you need the break the habits you just made and fix your sleep schedule. Getting 6 to 8 hours a night gives your body enough of a break to relax and get ready for the next day.
  5. Breakfast at McMahon dining hall.
    Breakfast at McMahon dining hall.

    Plan ahead – After syllabus week you should gather all the important dates from each class and transfer them into your agenda pad/planner. Having exams and quizzes written down will help you plan for studying and plan for weeks that are “free” enough so you can travel that weekend without having a load of homework. Planning ahead is also beneficial not just with course work, but also courses in general. Planning out your semesters in advance will help ease the course picking chaos and allow you to put courses together like a puzzle in terms of labs, discussions, and hard/easy classes. It is good to have a mixture to not overwhelm or underwhelm yourself.

  6. Apply to internships – I don’t know about you but I procrastinate so much during winter break, I don’t want to do anything. However, when I go back to school I need to make sure I’m productive by applying to
    Mindy and her sorority, Sigma Alpha, at the homecoming parade in Fall 2015.
    Mindy and her sorority, Sigma Alpha, at the homecoming parade in Fall 2015.

    internships because they are very important. They provide you with real world experience in your field of study and can be a stepping-stone toward your future job. If you haven’t already started looking I recommend you do so soon! Summer internships normally have their applications open from early January until mid-February and require information like transcripts and letters of recommendation. UConn’s Center for Career Development has a lot of awesome information and advice that helped me when I applied.

  7. Apply for scholarships – Scholarships are so important these days because college is so expensive and debt is piling up. There are thousands of scholarships that can help lessen the financial burden. Topics range from being within your major all the way to writing an essay about a certain book or living in a certain town. UConn has an Office of National Scholarships, which is very helpful in finding specific scholarships, but a classic Google search is also informative.
  8. Find the right ways to study for class – Doing well in your classes is an essential part of having a successful semester! However, all classes and professors have such different teaching methods and testing strategies. Students can go talk to their professors about what material they should be studying, which is very
    Mindy visiting Hammonassett State Park over spring break.
    Mindy visiting Hammonassett State Park over spring break.

    helpful. And sometimes the first test or quiz might not go to well but when you get the hang of how your professor tests you can find the right ways to study for future assignments. Different ways to study could be how you take notes in class. Some people handwrite notes, print power points, type notes, or just listen. Another way to study would be to rewrite your notes or study every night for a single class for a certain amount of time.

  9. Spring Break!!! – Working hard in school is very important, however, relaxing and having fun is important too. Going somewhere for spring break gives you something to work towards and look forward to for the first 2 months of the semester! It’s also a great opportunity to relax for a week and clear your mind before you finish off the year.
  10. Budget your money – it’s so easy to spend over a thousand dollars a semester on food, clothes, and other random things. Then at the end of the semester you are going to wonder where all of your money went and wish you saved it or spent it on something else. It is important to budget your money and realize how much you’re spending when you order/buy something.
  11. Overall, keep going – On the days when you feel like you can’t look at another textbook or hear about another rare bacteria found in the middle of the rainforest, just breathe. Course work can be so stressful and overwhelming, however, it will get done and you will be okay. The key to a successful semester is to not give up and to keep going.

Finding Your Voice in College

Djion in Voice of Freedom Gospel ChoirThe transition into college is understandably a difficult process for any student, especially at such a large university like UConn. My first semester on campus was difficult mainly because I struggled to find my niche; where I was completely comfortable. Though college is a great environment to step out of your comfort zone and try new things it is also important not to forget about the things that you are most passionate about. Throughout my entire high school career I was involved in musical theater; I’ve always had a passion for singing, dancing and acting. I was also raised in a religious family. I can honestly say that I did not fully feel at home on campus until I found an outlet that encompasses the things that I have always been passionate about; singing, and my faith. I found the epitome of what I love and missed the most from home though the UConn Voices of Freedom Gospel Choir (VOF).

Joining the Gospel Choir helped me in a multitude of ways. It gave me a place where I could sing without judgment, surrounded me with people with similar upbringings and values, and most importantly brought me closer to my faith. Though I was new to UConn joining the gospel choir felt like coming home. Joining the Voices of Freedom Gospel Choir also gave me one of the most memorable and spiritual experiences of my life thus far; the annual spring break concert tour. On our last tour we traveled and ministered to congregations in Connecticut, New York, Washington DC, North Carolina, and Georgia. Going on tour not only gave me an opportunity to further build my bond with the other members, but also was a beautiful experience to minister to different people through song along the east coast. Continue reading

Backyard Biodiversity and Sustainability

UConn Heron
A heron standing at the edge of UConn’s Swan Lake

As we walk around campus we seldom think about the ecological diversity that surrounds us. Each structure, flowerbed, and field at UConn has a different biodiversity than that of neighboring communities, suburban areas, and the planet as a whole. All of these ecosystems are interdependent and affect our health and livelihood, but it is no secret that we are consuming more natural resources than the earth can sustain. As an Animal Science major with a minor in Wildlife Conservation, I have been able to explore how all species adapt to physical and environmental changes. The biggest threat to biodiversity is habitat loss due to the effects of natural and human-induced factors such as agriculture, over exploitation, and industrial pollution. After taking a course in wildlife management, I learned a lot about the different techniques used to influence the plant and animal species that progress in a given territory. I began to develop a passion for sustainable living and actions that can increase earth’s biodiversity.

The perfect place to begin creating a stronger ecosystem is your very own backyard. It is not crucial to distinguish the specific biological needs of all plants and animals, but there are essential elements for most species. The four basic needs for wildlife include food, water, shelter, and nesting. The first step is making a plan that suits each asset of the yard. Consider potential habitats and water sources for different species. Target species may include animals that are endangered or of special concern. The second step is implementing suitable horticulture practices. Get rid of invasive species and cultivate plants native to the area. Planting trees and shrubs provides sources of food and shelter for wildlife. Allowing them to grow up to different sizes will attract a plethora of species that can Continue reading

A Few Not-So-Typical Reasons Why I Chose UConn

Thinking back to senior year brings back all the stress of having to choose where I was going to go to college. After submitting applications, waiting to hear back, and then having the list of schools from which to choose, I thought the decision would be a lot easier than it was. As someone who really struggles with decision making, choosing where I was going to spend the next four years of my life was not a walk in the park. Clearly, I ended up here at UConn, but my reasoning might not be what you’d expect. Here are a few reasons why I chose UConn:

Emily and SportsSports. It may sound strange to hear that sports were a major factor in my decision of where I would go to school, after all, I am here to study. But, growing up as an athlete, attending high school games, and watching professional sports on TV, while begging my Dad to take me to a Patriots game, I knew it was something I couldn’t live without. I wanted a school where it is normal to wear UConn gear head-to-toe, or scream and jump around my room when I win the lottery for basketball tickets. I wanted to be somewhere that I got chills watching the teams play and maybe even cry when we win a national championship (for the fourth time in a row). I wanted a school with so much spirit that no matter what team was playing, people were always watching. So far I can say that UConn has lived up to my expectations of what it would be like at such an athletic school, but I wouldn’t mind if Continue reading

Cooking Up A Sustainable Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving Day is only two weeks away; a day where families all over the U.S. celebrate all that there is to be thankful for by having a nourishing Thanksgiving feast. Although some families have their own traditions, we all know the staples of this yearly event: dishes like mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and of course, turkey.

If you have you ever thought about the impact of these millions of turkey dinners on the environment, you would be right to feel concerned. Like any other day of the year, a massive amount of carbon is used to transport food to your grocery store from factory farms. At those farms, millions of acres of land are used to raise beef, chicken and turkey. These millions of acres include not only the land where the animals graze, but also the land used to grow food to feed to our livestock. Additionally, billions of gallons of water are used to raise these animals.

Thanksgiving is a meal on a large enough scale that significant planning is required for most families. If you are already putting extra effort into this meal, why not also incorporate sustainability into your meals? There are many things you can do Continue reading

Maintaining Your Artistic Passions at UConn

My latest painting
My latest painting

As a child, I had a hyperactive imagination. Maybe it was because I was always around my mischievous neighborhood friends, running around and lighting piles of leaves on fire, or maybe it was because I played with dinosaur and Pokémon toys instead of Barbies like most other girls my age. What I do know is that ever since my mother taught me how to hold a pencil when I was two, I have always loved the arts – it was a way for me to channel my ideas. I remember spending hours upon hours sprawled on the carpeted floor with my bucket of crayons, drawing epic battles between griffins and giant lizards and every fantasy scenario that I could imagine.

Music is also another one of my greatest passions. I always keep it playing in the background no matter what I’m doing – homework, striding across campus to class, or just getting ready for the day. Depending on my mood, my music taste fluctuates. When I want to feel energetic, I listen to heavy metal and techno, and if I want a relaxing environment, I go for classical and musical soundtracks. I also learned to play piano on my own after many years of lessons, learning new songs in my free time. I tend to play classical pieces with a sad tones like Chopin’s nocturnes, because Continue reading

Are You Ready for CAHNR Career Night 2016?

The upcoming CAHNR Career Night scheduled for Wednesday November 2nd from 5:30-7:30 PM in Wilbur Cross North and South Reading Rooms is a valuable opportunity for all students – whether you’re a freshman looking to decide on a major, a sophomore or junior seeking an internship or a graduate school program, or a senior looking for a post-graduate career – the Career Night event is a moment for all students in any part of their college experience to capitalize on. One key item for students to keep in mind as they prepare for and then attend the Career Night program includes learning how to identify and then pursue the “gap” in the recruiting process as practiced by many employers at most career fairs.

What do I mean by “gap”? At most career fairs tabling organizations indicate their preferences for would-be recruits based on academic major often leading many students to incorrectly conclude the firm’s representative is not interested in talking about other career paths. However, in some instances, those employers also have other lines of business and job functions for which they are not expressly recruiting for at the Career Night program, but in which you have a strong interest in pursuing as it aligns with your career goals, and this is where some good old-fashioned research, reconnaissance, and preparation on your part come into play to find the “gaps.” By familiarizing yourself with the employers that will be attending the Career Fair, you can then go to the website and LinkedIn page of a few of those firms that strike your interest to see if they have a line a business that might have the need for someone with your skills, abilities and interests. You can then create Continue reading

My Journey as an Animal Science Major

Kelly and a sheepKelly and a horseComing to UConn has been one of the greatest experiences in my life. Animal science has meant the world to me since I was 5 years old so when I got accepted into UConn I was very excited. However, as a young freshman I did not know exactly what this major was all about. I knew I was going to be learning about animals, anatomy, nutrition, etc. but I never knew that I was going to have the opportunity to start hands-on experience right away.

When I started my journey in the Ratcliffe Hicks School of Agriculture two years ago, I had the opportunity to work a lot with animals through some independent studies. My freshman year, I also took an intro to ANSC course where I had to pick an animal to train. I was assigned a horse, which I thought would be amazing since I have never worked with horses before so I thought it would be a great opportunity to start learning about horses my first semester in college.

My first day training my horse, Tamale, was fun. I remember I groomed her that day, but when I was about to leave she stepped on my toe and it was one of the most painful things in the world. I couldn’t walk or stand on that toe for a while. At the time I did not know how to take the bus so I walked to all my classes on crutches. However, if it wasn’t for my little accident with the horse, I would not have been reassigned to a chicken, where I won first place in the Poultry advance category at Little I. My sophomore year, I had another unfortunate experience while Continue reading