by Heather Lopez
Throughout my childhood and into early adulthood, I had everything planned. I wanted to become a veterinarian, and did what I could to be successful in veterinary medicine. By the time I was thirteen, I was certified in pet first aid. At fourteen, I was accepted into Trumbull Regional Agriscience and Biotechnology Center, an agricultural education-based program that allowed high school students to navigate and explore the many fields of agriculture. While in the program, I majored in animal science and got to work with small exotics, such as corn snakes, and livestock, such as sheep. I began shadowing at a vet hospital, and couldn’t have been more in love with veterinary medicine. After graduating high school, I was asked by the technician manager at the vet hospital if I wanted a job there, and immediately began working as a veterinary assistant.
I started my freshman year of college fully believing that becoming a veterinarian was the perfect career choice for me and that I could handle the academic pressure, but that started to change by the end of my first year at UConn. I met so many people with so many different perspectives on agriculture, veterinary medicine, and food production. It was then that I realized that not everyone had the same opportunity that I did when it came to being exposed to agricultural education and having experience in the various fields. I began to feel a deep interest in the education aspect, and by the fall semester of my sophomore year, I decided to change career goals and pursue teaching agricultural education instead of vet school.
This was an easy decision to make, but I became very stressed because I was studying under the pre-vet concentration and had no idea what classes I should take not only to look good on my master’s application, but also to help me become a future agricultural educator. I still loved veterinary medicine, and I knew that if there was one subject I wanted to teach more than anything, it was animal science, but I had no clue how to formulate a pre-education class schedule in a STEM major. I didn’t want to double major or add a minor halfway through college because I still wanted to graduate in 2020. After meeting with my academic advisor, I found out that I can still study under the pre-vet concentration as an animal science major, but didn’t have to take all the courses required for that concentration area because I was no longer applying for vet school. He explained to me that I had a lot more leeway in my schedule, and can incorporate not only more animal science elective courses into my schedule, but also other classes offered in the College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources (CAHNR), like those offered in Natural Resources and the Environment (NRE) and Sustainable Plant and Soil Systems (SPSS).
Since then, I have taken classes not only within animal science, but also in other CAHNR departments, such as a wetlands conservation and biology course and an introductory course in agricultural economics, among others. During this time, I’ve continued to work as a veterinary assistant because I still have a passion for veterinary medicine, but I’ve also taken courses and participated in CAHNR events that I never would have if it weren’t for being able to really mold and shape my class schedule to my particular career and personal interests within the animal science major. I’ve been able to take a lab animal science course where I learned about anesthesiology and got to perform a rat neuter under the supervision of a veterinarian, I competed in the annual dairy show, and I was able to attend the 2019 American Preveterinary Medicine Association symposium in Pennsylvania. The opportunities in the animal science major are endless, and I feel fortunate to be part of a program that caters to my interests and career goals, even as they have shifted over my college career. The wonderful thing about CAHNR and the animal science major is that even though there are concentrations to guide students towards the next steps in their pursuits, nothing is completely set in stone and every student has the ability to shape their classes and college experience to how they want it to be.