By Christie Kosecki
Being told to “get involved” in organizations and clubs around campus is common advice for college freshmen. How one gets involved, however, is completely up to them. University of Connecticut offers various clubs, sports and events that students can join to meet other students and staff and network throughout the college. Personally, there was a part of me that dreaded the part of college that required me to move to an entirely new area and be surrounded by people I didn’t know. I was an extremely shy and quiet child growing up, and social anxiety was a very real thing for me.
I didn’t always live in Connecticut. Growing up, I lived in a large suburb of Syracuse NY, and because I had been raised there and knew everyone in my class, I had never really had to integrate into a new school or setting before. That was, until I moved to Connecticut my freshman year of high school. Considering the type of person I was, moving away had been a hard but good thing for me. It forced me to go out of my comfort zone and meet new people. However, at that time in my life (due to some injuries, family illness and housing issues), I did not get extensively involved in the community or my schooling, other than participating in some extracurricular sports. Although slightly terrified, I saw college as an opportunity to grow and to discover my own potential. I wanted to stop living my life in fear, and so I took the leap and forced myself to go to both the involvement fair on Fairfield Way and the Ice Cream Social that the Department of Animal Science was hosting that fall for new students. It was in front of the George White Building that I had talked to some of the sisters from Sigma Alpha, a professional sorority for women in agriculture, and also to members of the equestrian team. Although I was nervous (since I had only been riding for a year at that time), I went to the equestrian team tryouts and tried out for Walk/Trot. A few days later, I was surprised to find out I had made it on the team! About a week later, I also decided to attend a recruitment week event that Sigma Alpha hosted in the East Campus dorms, and found myself joining a sorority. Within just a month of being on campus, I had found myself both on a team and joining a sorority, both of which I never would have expected of myself back in high school.
Never at that time would I have anticipated the team or the sorority to have much of an impact on my life. Being on the equestrian team helped me to befriend many great people, and through it I learned not only how to improve upon my riding and better care for horses, but also how fun horse shows can be. The lessons helped me to get into better physical shape, and gave me something to look forward to when classes became stressful. Unfortunately, due to health reasons as well as a very busy schedule, I no longer ride on the team itself, but I hope to participate in the riding practicum again this upcoming fall once I’m back in good physical shape and my schedule is freer. Although I am unable to ride this semester, I still find myself visiting the barns to see the horses and to help plan for this year’s Sigma Alpha Horse Show.
Had anyone told me back in high school that I would join a sorority, I would have laughed. When I thought of sororities back then, partying and socializing came to mind and I never really enjoyed large crowds. Sigma Alpha, however, was different in that it was a professional sorority that promoted fellowship in a way different from going to large parties. I was able to talk with many of the sisters one-on-one and realized that this organization was a good fit for me and could potentially help me achieve my goals of becoming both more involved on campus and less socially anxious (or at least better able to manage my social anxieties). So many opportunities have come my way since joining this sorority.
It all began when one sister helped me get a position on the Academic Integrity Hearing Board. The next semester, another sister had told me that Dr. Safran in the Department of Animal Science was looking for Teaching Assistants for her introductory nutrition class, so I followed-through and got a position. Then, when discussing how I needed more internship/shadowing hours at a veterinary clinic, another good friend and sister recommended I intern at North Windham Animal Hospital during the summer, which is now where I work as a Vet Tech Assistant and Receptionist. Another sister told me about the College Ambassador Program, which I likely would not have known about or applied for had I not been in Sigma Alpha and built up my confidence.
This Ambassador program in turn has not only helped me to become more confident in my presentation and leadership skills but has also opened up a completely new and exciting opportunity for me. Had I not become a college ambassador, I would not have been offered the opportunity to work with Dr. Bushmich to plan a One Health seminar, which turned into a One Health Class, for which I am currently a Teaching Assistant. A few of the other ambassadors and I started up a Students for One Health Club on campus that, since its start this past semester, has gained over 50 members on UConntact! Now I have found myself becoming the vice president of a club and helping to give presentations every other Tuesday, something I never would have expected from myself in years past. Lastly, the sorority elected me to become this year’s Horse Show chair, thereby handing me the responsibility of planning and running the annual horse show. Planning for this show has not only allowed me to utilize the skills learned from previous leadership opportunities but has also taught me quite a bit about event planning, advertising and the importance of clear communication. Had I never joined this sorority, I would have never gained the skills and knowledge that I have now, and I would have never met the people who hold such an important place in my life.
Finally, there is one more club that has thoroughly changed me and my life for the better. It was in April of 2017 that I finally worked up the courage to sign up for a tandem skydive through UConn’s Skydiving Club. Skydiving had always been something I found intriguing but I was always too terrified to attempt. However, when I found out that the club hosted a tandem weekend with discounted tandem skydives, I knew that if I didn’t try it now I would probably never try it. Unlike some of my friends currently on the team, I never saw myself jumping out of airplanes for fun until I did my first tandem skydive and realized I absolutely loved the feeling of being in freefall and the views under canopy. Once I learned more about the sport of skydiving and made a second tandem skydive (just to be sure), I committed to getting my skydiving license so I was able to jump on my own and eventually jump with others competitively and for fun. Not only have I learned a lot about the sport itself, but I learned that I am capable of so much more than I ever imagined. Skydiving is not just fun to me, but also a huge confidence booster as well as a stress reliever. Through this sport I have met some of the most amazing and unique people around and have had some spectacular adventures, creating the best memories with all of them.
I write about these experiences today with the hopes that they will motivate someone with similar feelings and experiences to those I have had, to work up the courage to attend that club meeting or join that organization you may have been interested in but were either too nervous or too busy to consider at the time. Had I just said “Eh, I’m not qualified and shouldn’t even bother,” and skipped Equestrian Team tryouts that morning, I would have never made it on the team, met some of the greatest equestrians, and learned as much about good horsemanship and riding as I know now. Had I let my nervousness get the best of me and skipped that recruitment week meeting for Sigma Alpha and stayed in my dorm room that evening, I wouldn’t have formed the close ties and relationships with those in the sorority, which has given me an amazing support system as well as some unexpected and amazing opportunities to grow. Had I chickened out of doing my tandem skydive that morning, I wouldn’t have met some of my favorite people, gone on half as many adventures, or gained the confidence in myself that I have now. Had I not joined any of these three organizations, I can guarantee that I would not be the person that I am today and would not have gained the knowledge, leadership and social experiences that I now possess. It is because of these three extracurriculars that I have grown into the person I am today, and while I am far from perfect and still have a lot to learn in life, I like the person I am becoming. If you have the time or can make the time, check out that organization that has caught your attention. You never know how it may transform you and your life for the better.