Author: Jill Deans

Environmental Health and Justice for Black & Minority Groups

By Yvette Oppong

When I first came to UConn as a freshman in 2017, I did not major in environmental studies. I had decided on being a biology major on a pre-med track. I had always cared about the environment ever since I learned about it in my AP Environmental Science class; that is where my passion for the environment grew and was nurtured. I was hesitant to be an environmental studies major because I did not know if you could be on a pre-med track and not be a STEM major. I had always wanted to combine my passion for the environment with my career, but I didn’t think it could happen because of how common it was to separate environmental issues from human health and social issues.

It was not until I did a summer research program with the UConn Health Health Disparities Clinical Summer Research Fellowship Program where I learned about the health disparities occurring in Hartford, a city I have lived so close to for so long.  This program opened my eyes to the importance of health disparities and why there needs to be more people of color in the health and medical field. In the beginning, it was overwhelming to be learning about how, for example, children of color, regardless of socioeconomic status, are less likely to be diagnosed with autism. It took a while for this to soak in because I was scared of what this meant for people of color: no matter how wealthy one may be, they can never immunize themselves from health disparities. 

Similar to how there needs to be more black people and people of color in the medical field, I realized the same also needs to occur in the environmental arena. When learning about the health disparities occurring in Hartford and in other areas, I realized it all connected somehow to environmental injustice, environmental racism, and environmental inequality. People suffering from health disparities are low-income residents and these residents also are more likely to suffer from health problems due to their proximity to Locally Unwanted Land Uses (LULUs) and food deserts. All of these factors are related to environmental racism and create a cyclical cycle of poverty that continues to keep low-income black and minority residents trapped. People who live in these communities have no power or say in what is built around them, so instead of having grocery stores, healthier food, and green spaces, they get fast food restaurants, corner stores, and pollution-causing facilities, making them suffer physically, emotionally, and mentally. 

Being an environmental studies major has helped me realize that I do want to do more as a doctor than see my patients for 15 minutes and treat a symptom of a larger problem. I want to be able to help my patients outside of the doctor’s office, in their community. I want to be able to make long-lasting change for residents and that begins with unpacking the issue of environmental injustice, environmental racism, and environmental inequity. Being an environmental studies major has allowed me to be able to plan how I will be able to accomplish this goal of mine because unpacking all the environmental injustices is very overwhelming and complex, but this major allows one to think from multiple perspectives, including an intersectionality perspective, which is important in being able to not only solve the environmental injustices, but also the threat of climate change. The only way we will be able to start fixing the issue of climate change is when we fix the environmental injustices. 

Too often when an advancement is made toward the development or convenience of human society, it only improves the lives of certain people and makes the lives of others increasingly worse. The injustice is ignored because those who benefit from the advancement or convenience do not experience any form of pollution or climate change. This perpetuates a cycle of people continuing to live unsustainable lifestyles with little concern for the long-term or larger impacts of climate change. Ironically, indigenous people, who do know how to make the environment livable for generations to come and are well-versed in a sustainable lifestyle, suffer the most from the pollution, excess waste, and climate change, while top polluters are able to protect themselves from the immediacy of climate change with power and money. The voices and perspectives of indigenous people are neglected, ignored, mistreated, and silenced. This is environmental racism. If people were to treat others equally and equitable, there would be consideration and fair treatment of how the earth’s resources are managed. Until this can happen, we will continue to lack the necessary tools needed to solve our climate change crisis. Being an environmental studies major has helped me realize this, and I am so grateful for being able to gain this knowledge and perspective before graduating from college. 

Seize the Opportunity

By Matt Anzivino

As a transfer student coming into UConn, I thought I had the next two years of my life all figured out. Because I transferred from a community college in New Hampshire, I didn’t know what UConn’s large school atmosphere was going to be like. Let me start off by saying this: deciding to attend UConn has been one of the best decisions I’ve made.  With aspirations of running my own veterinary hospital in the future, I knew UConn’s College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources was the only college for me and animal science was the only major. Little did I know that my idealistic future and plan of study was going to change in the matter of months.

Matt and Claire

From placing third in “Little I” with my sheep Claire, to getting involved with lots of clubs and activities on campus, I felt happy with how my fall semester started off. About halfway through the semester, however, the workload really picked up. I felt a step behind everyone and didn’t know why the drive for my future was no longer there. It wasn’t until my evening biology lab that everything unfolded for me. My body completely shut down, and I fell unconscious for about two minutes. According to the ambulance EMTs, I couldn’t even remember my name en route to the hospital. I woke up in the hospital bed sweating from head to toe, just trying to wrap my brain around what happened to me.

All my thoughts and doubts about my first semester at UConn came to me that night in the emergency room. All the times I walked back to my dorm at one in the morning because I chose procrastination over productivity, all the meals I skipped to cram work, all the 8 am lectures that I didn’t attend—they all played a role in why my body decided to react the way that it did. College students shouldn’t have to experience what I went through. Everything I learned and changed from that day on wouldn’t have been possible without the doctors who made sure I was okay, as well as all the advocates who helped me adjust by changing my curriculum.

Weeks after the incident, I realized that I was pushing myself to do something that I didn’t truly want. I’ve loved animals my whole life and am passionate about them, but a part of me was yearning for a different future with animals. As a student always looking for the next best option, I wanted to venture into a different major. This time around one major and concentration stood out more than anything else: Natural Resources with a concentration in Fisheries and Wildlife. Now, as a natural resources major, I couldn’t be happier with my schedule. The goals I have in mind for my future is much stronger because I’m not a step behind; rather, I am a step ahead thanks to UConn’s prestige. Just three days after my seizure, I went to the rec center to play basketball. I took the opportunity to play because it’s easy to take for granted how much we work each day; just enjoying the moment put into perspective why I started playing in the first place.

Whether you’re transferring into UConn, or starting out as freshman, be open to new ideas, new people, even a new environment. Take time to really form meaningful relationships, especially with teachers, because more often than not they’re going to be your key to the next step in your life. Don’t forget the simple things like getting enough sleep, managing your time, having a concrete plan for each day, and asking for help when you need it.

I wanted to share this part of my life because it’s important to know yourself and why you wanted to be a part of Husky Nation in the first place. I encourage anyone who’s reading this to ask truly why you’re pursuing what you’re pursuing, and to remember always the people who helped you get there. I’m grateful to be at UConn, because what turned out to be a scary end to my fall semester last year, has turned out to be the reason I want to conserve our land and save endangered animals.  Whether it be on the ocean, in the forests, or locally, I know that I’ll be right where I need to be because events like this have shaped me.






























Experimenting with Undergraduate Research

by Olivia Corvino

I began my undergraduate career at the University of Rhode Island (URI), and it seemed that from day one I was told of the importance of joining a research lab. The advice I received sounded daunting. I was told to look up the research labs in my major and see if any of the descriptions match my interests, but as a freshman in college I did not yet know my interests.

I began with the professors who were right in front of me. They were an amazing resource not only for the research that they are doing in their labs, but they were also aware of the types of research that other professors were engaged in. I started the conversations by asking if they were taking undergraduate students to work in their labs. I would then ask them to explain what their research was like and if I would be able to shadow a member of the lab for a day. I got a good understanding of the overarching topic that the lab was researching, but was not always told what my responsibilities would be once I became a member. So, before shadowing I would prepare a list of questions to ask the student, including: “What would a typical day in the lab look like for me if I were to join this lab?” This gave me a better idea of what I would be doing each day and if it fit my interests and skillset. After this, I signed up for an independent study for the fall of my sophomore year.

In the meantime, I got an email from my department head at URI about a summer research opportunity run by the UConn Department of Nutritional Science and funded by the USDA called Bridging the Gap. I applied and was accepted, and spent the summer after my freshman year learning how to write a literature review, while many other members of the program got to be in labs with more hands-on work. It wasn’t until two years later that I realized how valuable learning that how to do a lit. review would be!

Returning to URI in my sophomore year, I joined a community-based nutrition lab. There, I met with a weekly focus group for people who had acquired neurological impairments, whether they were from a stroke, car accidents, Parkinson’s disease, etc. I delivered nutrition education to them through fun and interactive games and by providing a healthy snack. I would then draw their blood to measure their plasma lipids. As much as I loved participating in this weekly group, I knew that community nutrition was not what I was passionate about, and after my second semester in that lab I began looking elsewhere.

Over the next summer, I went home to the New Haven area and decided to see what local research opportunities I could find. I went online and looked up research labs at Yale University and sent out emails with my resume to the principal investigator (PI) of lab that captured my growing interests. After sending about ten emails, I finally received a “yes” reply! I spent that summer in a food science-based nutrition lab working with food, people, blood samples, and Excel, and learned to screen patients for research studies. Being in a food science lab only confirmed that community nutrition was not for me — I wanted something more hands on. However, food science didn’t completely fit either, so I continued looking.

Having decided by this time to transfer to UConn, I began emailing research labs at UConn during the summer, hoping to join one in the fall semester. Unfortunately, every PI had a full lab. Initially, I found having to take a break from research upsetting, but the right research experience is sometimes a matter of timing. That fall, I found a PI who would be my professor the following semester who had an opening in his lab. We met and I asked my role in the lab and he ensured me that I would be putting in minimal time and that undergraduate students do not do very much hands on work. This was not ideal, but I felt that any exposure was better than no exposure. Soon after meeting with that PI, Dr. Ji-Young Lee gave a guest lecture in one of my classes, and at the end of her presentation she mentioned that she was looking for undergraduate students for her bench-based research lab for the first time in years. Since I was still looking for a lab, I approached her at the end of her lecture to tell her that I was interested, and after meeting to go over what her lab entailed, I had to make a decision. I asked the opinions of peers, professors and advisors whether I should enroll in a labor-relaxed lab where I would still expand my knowledge or join a lab with a reputation of being intense. After some deliberation, I enrolled in an independent study with the more demanding lab for the following spring.

Dr. Lee’s lab surpassed my expectations for what being an undergraduate student in a research lab could mean, and I am happy to still be there today. Every day I am doing hands-on experiments, culturing my own cell line and performing real-time PCRs (Polymerase chain reactions). I have worked my way through six, nine and now twelve hours a week in the lab and even have my own lab bench and set of equipment. Since I was able to experience other forms of research, I can be confident in my love for this lab and have now made the decision to stay in this lab for a master’s degree.

If I were able to give advice to anyone currently looking to get involved in research, I would say, don’t worry about choosing the wrong lab! You never know until you try. Professors are very understanding and empathetic that you are looking for your best match. I was always uncomfortable telling my PIs that I was leaving their lab, especially future professors of mine, and each time I was met with encouragement and compassion. There is no wrong lab to spend time in because every research lab that you join gives you a new set of skills and a better understanding of the field as a whole. I have been a member of four research labs in my undergraduate career and it has not only expanded my breadth of knowledge, but also given me insight into my goals for the future.

My Internship

By Victoria Shuster

My internship was at Our Companions Animal Rescue and Sanctuary located in Ashford, CT, about twenty minutes from campus. I have always known that I wanted to work with animals, and when this opportunity came up, I knew I had to do it. While some students have to actively hunt down a place to intern (see From Puppies to Skinks: How Internships Shaped My Career Path), my process for getting this internship was pretty straightforward.  After receiving an email from the Animal Science Department, which forwards relevant opportunities to their majors, I contacted the owner of the rescue stating my interest. I was invited to fill out an application and schedule an interview. That day, I met with Lindsey, the volunteer and intern coordinator, took a tour of the facility, and landed the internship! Then I met with Dr. Milvae, one of the faculty members who coordinates internship credits in Animal Science, and set up my requirements so that I could receive college credit. Here’s my advice when it comes to finding and applying for an internship:

  1. Remember that transportation is key. Don’t let it discourage you, but if you don’t have reliable transportation, look for something nearby or wait until you can bring a car to campus. Also, remember to factor in transportation time — you don’t want to be late to an exam because roads were slippery or traffic was slow!
  2. Be professional. This should go without saying, but think of an internship like a job. Paid or unpaid, you still should make a good impression as an internship could lead to a job or at least a great recommendation one day.
  3. Find something you love or, at the very least, are interested in learning about. UConn requires at least two hours a week to receive one credit, so even though two hours doesn’t seem like a lot, it will if you hate the job you’re doing.
  4. Make sure you have the time. I originally signed up to do six hours a week, and then I remembered I was taking Organic Chemistry II and very promptly cut my hours. I was lucky to have a boss who didn’t mind me switching my hours around, but you may not be so lucky. Make sure you have thoroughly thought about the time commitment you are about to make before you sign on.

Our Companions Animal Rescue is  a unique facility. Each animal has its own personal room to create a home environment, allowing  animals that would never make it in a traditional shelter to thrive. I was an intern for the cat sanctuary. A lot of the job was cleaning and assisting staff with their daily duties, but once I was finished, I got to work very hands on with the cats. My main task was dealing with behavior. For the friendlier cats, this meant getting them used to having their paws touched, being loaded into carriers and getting wrapped in towels. For more skittish cats, my job was to socialize them and get them used to human touch. I was also able to help medicate the cats and shadow the vet when she came to the shelter once a week.

The internship taught me about shelter life, even though OC is different from typical shelters. I learned a lot about behavior and how to create positive, corrective experiences. It will be useful for me in the future as I plan to attend vet school in the fall of 2021. I enjoyed all of my time there and encourage everyone to visit/donate/volunteer or even follow in my footsteps and become an intern there.

Working at the UConn Horse Barn

By Julia Brower

My entire life I have loved horses. In fact, when I was a kid, my mom used to tell me that there were no horses in Connecticut, hoping that it was just a phase. It was not just a phase, and I eventually called her bluff. When I turned eight years old, I had my first riding lesson on a big chestnut horse named Jackson and have continued riding ever since. At home, I get to ride at least two to three horses every time I go. Their names are Venus, Roxy, and Otis, and they are all fun in their own way.

When it finally became time to embark on my journey at UConn, I continued my horseback riding lessons in order to provide a comfort zone that could make the university feel a bit smaller. Since I was only a freshman, I decided to wait until I had gotten used to the college lifestyle before finding an on-campus job. Being an animal science major on the pre-vet track, I was worried about struggling in the hard classes that were soon to come. When sophomore year came along, however, a job opened up at the horse barns, just as I felt ready to become more involved on campus. I was already in the barn a lot, considering that I took lessons and had just started an independent study with a horse named Slick that I rode and worked with every day on my own time. (Now that horse has actually been sold and is doing really well!) That October, I started my first day as a student employee of the UConn horse barns.

Me and my friend Rachel getting hay for the truck.

Working at the horse barns can be tough. It involves a lot of hay splinters, and dust, as well as the cleaning out of fifty stalls every day, but I would not change it for a thing. The good times of this job outweighs the bad. We get to see the baby horses and even help take care of them. My favorite baby of this bunch is Ziva, who is the daughter of Zoe, a big Friesian, and she can be very feisty.

Me and Ziva

We sometimes play music while cleaning stalls and do side projects like walking polo ponies to a pasture down the road in the summer or taking pictures of horses that are for sale. Some other tasks are not as exhausting; for example, we sometimes hand walk some of the injured horses or groom the ones that we are going to breed.

Abigail Rose as a newborn.

Ever since my first day, I have gained so much knowledge that I never thought I would get as a student worker. I’ve made some new friends, gained the trust of my bosses, and was able to observe and assist the veterinarian and farrier. Because I am an animal science major, these opportunities at my job are extremely helpful because I would not have had the same experiences if I had simply chosen a typical student job, like working in the dining hall, just for money or involvement. Being here, I have gained some leadership skills by being one of the more experienced workers, as well as public speaking skills in having to talk to visitors. While some jobs may be stressful, working and being at the barn is actually my stress reliever because I can just go into a stall and pet a horse whenever I want. In working at the UConn horse barn, I am forever grateful for the opportunities that I have gotten and the ones to come. Being a part of something so meaningful to me in college is wonderful, and I suggest to any new students that you seek that place or job that you enjoy and can relieve the stress of academic life.

Me, Myself and My Major

by Shawn Perry

In high school, I was asked constantly what career path I wanted to take. I needed to choose so that I could figure out which AP exams to take, what schools to apply to, and what extracurriculars I should be participating in. At 17-years-old, I was being asked to choose what I wanted to do for the “rest of my life.” It felt overwhelming.  Under this pressure and from everyone telling me I was good at science and math, I chose to major in engineering. This might have been a good fit for my skill sets, but I soon realized that my interests did not align with engineering. My freshman year classes seemed a bore, and I struggled to maintain interest in them. This made it really difficult to get good grades; still, I squeezed by.

When I told people that I was an engineering major they would often comment on how great it was that I was a girl in a male-dominated field or what a great career choice it was since I would make “good money” someday. I was scared to ever mention that I hated it. I noticed that the classes my nursing or pre-med friends were taking seemed so interesting to me, while I was stuck taking statistics and physics. My friends from other fields would tell me about the interesting facts they had learned about healthcare or the human body and these things would stick in my head. Meanwhile, I couldn’t manage to recall the Bernoulli Principle or Newton’s Laws no matter how many times I studied them.

When I finally decided to change my major, there was push-back — just as I had feared. While my parents were supportive of my choice, there were others who contradicted them. My advisor asked me a hundred times if I was sure, because if I switched out of engineering I could not come back. My friends, mainly engineering students, couldn’t understand why I would want to leave the field when they found it so interesting. Even random strangers would constantly remind me that engineering was a great field. Engineering is a great field. I couldn’t deny that. My doubts surrounded me, but I was drawn to something different.

The day I received my acceptance into the allied health sciences major, I felt a wave of relief. I knew then that this was the right choice. Yet even when I made it to the right major, my decision on a specific career was still up in the air. I wandered between optometry, physician assistant, nursing, physical therapy, among others. However, at this point I had at least found classes that got me excited, and school became easier as studying no longer felt like pulling teeth. I shadowed people in each area of interest. When I went to any doctor’s appointment, I would ask everyone I met how they liked their jobs. When I settled on nursing, I chose to become a nursing assistant. From here my doubts subsided as I encountered role models every day, including my mom as she switched between numerous nursing jobs within her career. I noticed the flexibility and range of opportunities that nursing provided her, and realized that this was a profession I felt excited to pursue.

The author with her big sister at work with Mom.

Now, when people ask about my major, many still remember when I was an engineering student. Some still ask why I would dare switch out of such a great major. Most of them, though, just tell me that nursing is also a great field. They tell me I am cut out for the profession and will do great following in my mom’s footsteps. While it has been a long journey, and I am still on the path to success in nursing, I feel that I am in the right place, finally. I am glad that I trusted my gut and didn’t allow the doubts of others and myself from letting me pursue the career for me.

From Puppies to Skinks: How Internships Shaped my Career Path

by Apurva Gangakhedkar

I know you are most likely expected to get some kind of internship and/or volunteer position over the summer; however, it can be quite hard for students interested in animals to find a position that they love that also gives them relevant experience. As someone looking ahead to veterinary school, I want to share the different types of internships that I did to step out of my comfort zone, learn a lot and still enjoy my summer.

            Of course, I started off contacting many veterinary clinics to ask about any type of volunteer position, internship, or shadowing that might be available, but it wasn’t easy to find one willing to take me on. Persistence paid off because I finally received a position at a vet clinic as a clinic assistant, helping both technicians and veterinarians. It was a great hands-on experience, learning about vaccines, where they’re injected, bloodwork, and how each exam is given based on the current problem. I was even allowed to watch surgeries from when pets would become anesthetized to when they got to go home. My routine was very similar every day, depending on the time I would come in and leave. My day in the morning would start off with getting all the equipment turned on, looking ahead to the next patients coming in and admitting any surgery patients we had that morning. From there, I would assist the technicians in the exam room and equip the veterinarians with any tools or equipment needed during surgery. One of the best experiences I had working at the clinic was when I assisted with an emergency c-section on a dog. The experience was so thrilling. Being able to see little puppies coming out of the womb, warming them up and seeing them healthy and alive, really excited me to continue on to veterinary medicine. Alongside that, I was able to develop my communication skills with clients and get to know them personally while working at the front desk. Here I could learn all the office management skills in case they needed some extra help in the front as well. Lastly, I made valuable connections with all my co-workers and the veterinarians who taught me so well and gave me the motivation to continue my journey to vet school.

After working at the clinic, I wanted a different experience with animals to see if this was the right path for sure. I contacted a nearby zoo and was able to get an internship there working with exotic animals. In this environment, I got to work with a wide variety of species on different days. I had to learn their diets and observe their behaviors in order to see if they had any changes on a daily basis. I was constantly on my toes, learning about new animals every day, ones that I have never heard of, and ones that I knew but got to know better.  It’s fascinating to see how each animal is so different but so similar in their own way. A new experience that the zoo added to the internship was assigning one animal that you would get to work with the entire summer, and for me it was a blue tongued skink. When I first saw this, I thought they made a typo and were giving me a skunk, but a blue tongued skink is really an animal!

Meet the skink!

I was able to look up facts about the skink and learn its behavior inside and outside of its home. For an hour a day we would let children come and pet the skink and answer any questions they had. It was really exciting to show people a  species that they haven’t seen before and were as interested in as I was. I never thought that working at the zoo would change my career path, but it did, and now I want to focus more on exotic animals.

New experiences can shape the course of your life. Working, volunteering, or interning is a great way to find this out. I recommend reaching out to try new things, even if it takes a while, and maybe it will change your path like it did mine.   


My Path to PT

by Prina Deva (CAHNR: Allied Health Sciences ’21)

I knew that ever since I was little, the medical field would be my destiny. For the longest time, I have been fascinated with anatomy, how intricate body components come together to build a human, and what is done to help treat an individual with physical troubles. However, the question was always: what should I do? The medical field is filled with endless possibilities, but I am someone with endless interests. Applying to colleges was complicated by the fact that I did not know what to major in because I did not know what I wanted to do. One positive was that many health science majors have similar prerequisite courses, so I at least knew I could realistically major in anything for a year of two before deciding on a more distinct path. With that in mind, I decided to come into UConn as an exploratory exercise science major in UConn’s Academic Center for Exploratory Students department.

Out of my array of interests, being a sports fanatic is at or near the top of my list. I was never an athlete (my family does not have those genes), but I have always been competitive and glued to a TV during major sporting events. While I can never play or dream of playing professionally, I learned quickly that I wanted to be in the sports medical industry and be behind the scenes of teams that I grew up watching. So, I decided on a pre-medical path, with the intention of specializing in sports medicine, which means preparing myself to go to medical school. 

My freshman year, I took your basic introductory biology and chemistry courses like the usual pre-health science student. Boy, that was tough. I knew it was going to be one of the many challenges heading my way as a health science major, and it was time to take prepping for my career choice more seriously. At the end of my very first semester as an undergraduate,   I know I am capable of being in most high-pressure situations, but I had to think about myself realistically. I did not want to give up my dream job setting over my fears, so I began to reanalyze my options.

At the end of my freshmen year, I began an internship at a senior living community. One of my many roles there was to escort residents to their in-patient physical therapist for daily exercises. I would stay there for the majority of their appointment and watch the physical therapist walk them through their routine. I soon realized how this was turning into a shadowing opportunity. I found myself asking the physical therapist about their undergraduate and graduate experiences, research, and patient recovery and treatment plans. I asked them to take me through their routine with patients and how they determine what course of action to take with specific ailments. As my summer was ending, I switched into the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources (CAHNR) as an allied health sciences major and generated a new plan of study that follows a pre-physical therapy track.

I knew I always wanted to help people. As a potential physical therapist, I find the process of recovery gratifying. Being able to improve the life of an individual and observe the progressive strength and growth in them is very rewarding, as I get the chance to employ my health science principles and adapt physical activity interventions in order to help individuals achieve their goals in a one-on-one environment. This part of the field is what I have been told keeps physical therapists able to enjoy and be happy with their jobs.

I got my second shadowing experience at an out-patient setting, where I got an inside look at a busy environment. There was a larger range of individuals and ailments than there was at the live-in geriatric setting, from younger kids, athletes, to retirees. I particularly enjoyed being around the athletes, and always asked for shifts where they were the main clients. Injuries are unavoidable. I appreciate the motivation that athletes have to get back to their peak form, and I know they are anxious to get back to the game they love. Specializing in sports physical therapy has now become my perfect path. It allows me to combine two things I like, sports and physical therapy, into a job. I think it could let me feel like my job is not my job everyday, but my passion. Because of this, I have now been shadowing the athletic medical team here at UConn, and have gotten a direct behind-the-scenes look at what it is actually like being in my ideal environment. I am looking forward to enhancing people’s lives by helping them heal.


Shaping My Classes to Fit My Career in the Animal Science Major

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.     


NRE Major? What’s is that, exactly?

by Hannah Desrochers

Every holiday that I spend with my family, I find myself explaining exactly what a Natural Resources and the Environment (NRE) major is, and what I plan to do with it in the future. Many of my friends at UConn think that I am in Environmental or Animal Science. How did I get involved in such a little known major? 

The author with Loki at Honeyguide Ranger Camp, South Africa.

Truth be told, I was drawn in after a discussion with Dr. Ortega, one of the NRE faculty members. After just one semester within NRE, I had the opportunity to study ecology abroad in South Africa, and I knew that my future was within this field. I was able to learn about elephants, rhinos, lions, and much more within their natural setting, while also getting some hands-on animal care experience with the camp caracal, Loki. The learning experiences that occurred during my three weeks on the game reserve felt vastly different from any other type of learning I had experienced before, and I was eager to continue those experiences back home at UConn. It was fascinating to see just a small example of the opportunities that are available across the globe to study wildlife.  

I underestimated the height of the waders I would need!

Since then, I have found myself outside for nearly all of my labs, and for a fair share of my lectures as well. Every semester I have been in classes that have allowed me to do everything from taking water samples in waist deep water, to setting up trail cams to test a hypothesis on what animals inhabit certain areas of campus. It baffles me when I speak to friends in other colleges, who spend all day stuck inside a traditional classroom. Going into college, I was undecided, but I knew that I wanted to go into a profession where I wouldn’t necessarily be stuck behind a desk all day. The College of Agriculture, Health & Natural Resources  as a whole, and specifically Natural Resources, has made that goal a reality. 

Just the other day, I visited the Bronx Zoo as part of one of my classes to study mammals. I learned more than I ever could in a classroom, and got to do so out in the fresh air, face to face with amazing animals. Through this experience, I learned about the role of zoos in conservation, while also learning about feeding habits, social structures and many other biological facts. For example, did you know that rhinos are odd-toed ungulates, meaning they are actually related to horses, zebras and tapirs? As a student within the Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation concentration of NRE, it was fascinating to see how conservation is woven into the mission of the zoo. Since my primary interest within NRE is wildlife, I have helped widen my experience and knowledge with a minor in animal science. My interest in animals is purely wildlife, not livestock, which is why I chose NRE over Animal Science, but my minor has helped fill out my understanding in topics such as genetics and reproduction. My experience within the Animal Science minor has also allowed me to work with my dairy heifer, Leah, for a semester and show her in the Little I show! 

As a NRE student, I view my major as one that allows me to get hands-on with everything I am learning in a classroom, while preparing me for a future in wildlife research. I am interested in both animal behavior and human impacts on wildlife, and hope to educate the public on how to better improve the world for humanity and the species that coexist with us. The experiences I have gained have helped to shape my goals for the future, and have helped me expand my worldview.