A Foreign Perspective on College

Singapore
Singapore

The idea of “home” has always been an ambiguous term for me. Before arriving at UConn, I had lived in four different countries, attended five different schools, and was basically always on the move. The thought of making yet another move to college did not intimidate me in the slightest, which in hindsight, was extremely naïve of me. As every high school student does, I had a preconceived notion of what college should be like, and some may say, very unrealistic expectations of what the next four years of my life were going to look like.

I made the move to America alone, with my family being 10,000 miles away in Singapore, and suddenly it all hit me. I didn’t know a single person in this country, I hadn’t decided on my major, and I most importantly, I didn’t have any winter clothes for the upcoming frost.

First Winter in the US
First Winter in the US

Although the first few weeks were without a doubt miserable, I slowly started to find myself, and I realized that the “college experience” doesn’t just happen on its own, it is something you have to build for yourself. It became very clear that putting myself out there and talking to as many strangers as I could was a necessity if I was ever going to meet people that I liked. I realized that I had very little interest in any of my Economics classes (the major that I had intended on pursuing), but rather that I was truly passionate about the Environmental courses that I was enrolled in. Being on my own helped me discover my passions and helped me figure out what kind of people that I want to surround myself with.

College is what you make of it. As cheesy at it sounds, I have found this to be the most accurate representation of my past two years here at UConn. Put yourself out there, meet as many people as you can, and take as wide a variety of classes as you possibly can, because there is no way of knowing what you’re truly passionate about if you do not let yourself explore the options.

Passing Organic Chemistry 101

Every day after class, I always went to the study room in my residence hall to review and practice the material taught in class. All that’s necessary is a whiteboard (to save some paper), molecular model set, textbook, class notes, and determination to not fall behind!
Every day after class, I always went to the study room in my residence hall to review and practice the material taught in class. All that’s necessary is a whiteboard (to save some paper), molecular model set, textbook, class notes, and determination to not fall behind!

Going into my sophomore year, like all the other pre-med and pre-vet students, I was absolutely terrified of taking Organic Chemistry. Notoriously known as the “weed-out class”, it is without a doubt one of the toughest courses students must take to prove themselves “worthy” of working in the healthcare field. Talking to other students that took the course already didn’t help much because all I heard at that point was that it was such a difficult course. I was certain I was going to have a hell of a year- and I was definitely right.

The funny thing is though, looking back at it, I don’t think it was too bad.

Passing organic chemistry requires study skills that transcends the ones learned in high school. It demands true dedication and extensive self-discipline. Most importantly, it honestly depends on how badly you want to succeed. I probably spent 6 hours at a time every day, locked in the study rooms in my dorm or at the library. My social life obviously became non-existent but I had decided that sacrificing leisure was worth it if it meant getting an A in the class.

The key is taking time out of your day to solve all the problems provided at the end of the chapter. As they say, “practice makes perfect”; there is no other way to learn the material. It’ll take hours to do the problems and understand how and why each reaction takes place and there will be moments when you question why you’re even going through all of this and if it’s even worth all the trouble. However, when that test day comes, you’re not as nervous as half your classmates and it turns out that you know the answers to all the questions because you already did them while solving all the practice problems.

Another thing to definitely do is go to your professor’s office hours. Even if your professor is not around, the organic chemistry professors on campus are all great and extremely helpful. I went to Professor Bailey’s office hours before class each day to review the materials and ask questions and got so much out of it. It’s also great because you get to have a faculty that knows you and is willing to write you a letter of recommendation.

Although it sounds like grueling work and perhaps even discouraging to know that there is no easy way out, it’s definitely worth all the trouble seeing that A on your transcript and seeing that you basically now know half of biochemistry!

How Agriculture Shaped Me into the Person I am Today

Ambassador Katy after conducting her last FFA meeting as Chapter President
Ambassador Katy after conducting her last FFA meeting as Chapter President

Agriculture has been a huge part of my life since I was in the 4th grade. I joined a local 4-H county, and had my own farm with three Nubian dairy goats. After 10 years of raising and showing dairy goats and dairy cattle, I look back and see how much of an impact agriculture made on my life. If you told me when I was 9 years old that I would be pursuing a career in the agricultural field, I would have thought you were kidding. Little did I know back then by joining 4-H and being influenced by agriculture would change my life.

Ambassador Katy and Desire, her first dairy cattle 4-H project at the local 4-H Fair
Ambassador Katy and Desire, her first dairy cattle 4-H project at the local 4-H Fair

I have been a member and advisor of my local 4-H county for 11 years, and 4-H has taught me about leadership, responsibility, and work ethic through agriculture. I raised and dairy goats and dairy cattle as my 4-H project on state and regional levels. Working with animals not only has taught me many valuable qualities for animal husbandry, but it has taught me the importance of agriculture as a whole. Another organization that is very similar to 4-H is the FFA. I joined FFA when I was in high school because the high school that I attended had an FFA chapter. By being an involved member, I learned more about the agriculture industry, and realized that my future career had to involve agriculture. Going through the agricultural program at my high school was very beneficial to me because I realized that I wanted to pursue a career in agriculture. I had always dreamed of being a teacher, I just never knew what subject I wanted to teach. I realized that being an agriculture educator was a very important career, and that has been my career path ever sense. When I started looking at different colleges to go to, I knew that only going to UConn would be the best choice for me. Continue reading

From Cows to Confidence: Personal Growth in Undergraduate Research

Some of the members of Dr. Govoni’s lab and Dr. Reed’s lab explored Baltimore after conference sessions! (Left to right: Veronica Pleasant (UG), Mary Wynn (G), Dominique Martin (G), and Helen Ianniti (UqG)).
Some of the members of Dr. Govoni’s lab and Dr. Reed’s lab explored Baltimore after conference sessions! (Left to right: Veronica Pleasant (UG), Mary Wynn (G), Dominique Martin (G), and Helen Ianniti (UqG)).

One of the scariest parts about being a freshman in the Women in Math, Science, and Engineering (WiMSE) learning community was the constant encouragement to explore undergraduate research. I also knew that as a pre-veterinary student, finding a place in a laboratory would be a really helpful experience. Fast forward to end of freshman year: I was panicking, emailing professor after professor looking for a place in a lab. After many unanswered emails, someone pointed out to me that the Faculty Director of WiMSE, Dr. Kristen Govoni, would be the perfect person to ask! I’m very grateful that I did! About 18 months later, I’ve been approved for two Supply Awards from the Office of Undergraduate Research, assisted in a project involving young ram lambs, a project involving dairy calves, and travelled to Baltimore, Maryland for the American Society of Animal Science Annual Meeting and Trade Show. I presented my first poster at the Fall Frontiers Convention this month, in fact!

Although the above laundry list of small accomplishments is something I’m very proud of, I am infinitely prouder of the skills and confidence I have gained from this laboratory. When I first began, I had no idea what an actual research lab does all day! The graduate student and the post-doctoral fellow in the lab taught me everything I needed to know to assist a much larger project. When I first began sectioning on a cryostat (it looks like a mini deli meat slicer), I was nervous, seeking approval. As time progressed, and the sheep study last spring began, I grew more confident. I gained inches in confidence, not miles, but I still view that as progress.

Last spring, Dr. Govoni asked the undergraduates in the lab (three of us, at the time), to each write an OUR grant proposal. It’s an application for undergraduate project funding from the Office of Undergraduate Research at UConn. This was my first experience in scientific writing, and it was pretty rough, at first. As I began to understand what we were doing in the lab and how it could be applied to real life situations, farmers, and animals, I realized the potential maternal nutrition research could have on the public. Throughout the proposal drafting process, I learned how to take constructive criticism, and write scientifically in a way that still emphasized the importance of animal research.

I think the hardest part of being an undergraduate in a fully functional research laboratory is feeling stupid or ignorant. As undergraduates, we’re almost naturally going to be the least educated person in the room, and the scientists we work under are experts in their fields. However, we also have to remember that they were undergraduates once too, and that we can better ourselves learning from them. The biggest take-home from my experience is this: never stop just because you have no idea what you’re doing; you never know who might help you realize your hidden potential!

A Tale of Two Avocado Trees

Figure 1: Avoseed® is a buoyant tool that lets your avocado be  exposed to water and allows for easy visual of the germination and  growth of the seedling
Figure 1: Avoseed® is a buoyant tool that lets your avocado be
exposed to water and allows for easy visual of the germination and
growth of the seedling

Last year I decided I wanted to grow an avocado tree in the UConn Floriculture greenhouse. My friend, Aisha, gave me a seed from her home in southern California, where her family has about a dozen avocado trees in their backyard. I started Aisha’s avocado seed in water (Figures 1 and 2). People often do this because it is interesting to see how the seed germinates and puts out a stem and a leaf. I decided to grow a second avocado seed from an avocado that I got at the supermarket. I planted the supermarket seed in soil. So, it was a bit of an “experiment” to see which one grew better based on each different type of growing medium.

They’ve both been growing for almost a year now, and since then have successfully germinated, emerged, and grown into sizable plants. I have also since put Aisha’s avocado seedling in soil. Check out the photos of the avocado trees (Figure 3), and take a guess at which one you think is the healthier one. You may be surprised to find out that the shorter one is actually healthier. The health of the plants can be tracked back to the original growing conditions.

Figure 2
Figure 2

If you were to take a closer look at the leaves and the structures themselves, you’d see that the shorter one has much darker, more turgid leaves (Figures 4 and 5). The lighter green leaf color of the taller plant is a potential sign of nutrient deficiency. The turgidity of the leaves is also important. The taller tree’s curl up around the edges, and exhibit moderate wilting. This contrasts with the leaves of the shorter tree, which have the ability to remain firm. This is a result of the tissues of the shorter tree being filled with water.

Figure 3
Figure 3

These differences derive from their original growing conditions. The shorter tree started in a soil medium, and the taller tree began in a water medium. The oxygen concentrations in these two types of media are very different. The water would have had a much lower oxygen concentration than the soil, which has many pores filled with air. Plants, like us, need oxygen. In their case, it’s important for their root and root hair development. In the absence of oxygen, plants can experience poor development of these underground structures. As a result, plants with these characteristics will have a hard time taking up water and all of the nutrients dissolved in that water.

Figure 4: Leaf of taller tree (left), leaf of shorter tree (right)
Figure 4: Leaf of taller tree (left), leaf of shorter tree (right)

If you don’t care about any of this science stuff, I totally understand. You’re probably wondering ‘when can I make guac?’ Well, funny story. Neither of the avocado trees may ever produce fruit, and if they eventually do the fruits will probably be very oddly shaped. They probably will not be like the ones you see in the supermarket or even the ones you might find at Aisha’s house. This is a trait particular to avocado trees and some other tree species as well. Avocado trees cannot self-pollinate to produce fruit, so they must out-cross given the pollen of a complimentary avocado tree type. So, although, the avocadoes from which I obtained the seeds, in the first place, were normal-looking, the trees that they are developing into are unlikely to produce your typical looking avocadoes.

Figure 5: Leaf of taller tree (left), leaf of shorter tree (right)
Figure 5: Leaf of taller tree (left), leaf of shorter tree (right)

There is a way to evade this biological characteristic of avocado trees that farmers use all the time. It would be through of an ancient practice called grafting. You can think of grafting as a way of gluing the canopy part of one type of avocado tree, which produces desirable fruit, to the branch of another avocado tree variety that does not produce desirable fruit. The outcome, then, is a tree that produces desirable fruit.

That would be way too much work though. Unfortunately, I’m too broke and busy to do that. So, I’m hoping, however, that (without any sort of modification) if the trees do fruit, I hit the genetic lottery. Ideally for me that would mean a tree that produces seedless avocados. But the chances of that happening are probably around 1 in billions. Wish me luck!

My visit to the Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine

Ambassador Kelly standing in front of the Universidad Mayor de San Marcos
Ambassador Kelly standing in front of the Universidad Mayor de San Marcos

Over winter break 2017, I visited La Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, faculty of Veterinary Medicine. After 7 years, I got to go back to my home country and visit some places I never got the chance to see before. One of my uncles that knew I was interested in Vet medicine took me to this university and gave me a little tour around.

This University is located in my home country Peru, in the capital of Lima, in the district of San Borja. San Marcos was founded on May 12, 1551, it was the first University founded in the Americas and considered the oldest university in America. The University Mayor de San Marcos has about 28,645 undergraduate students and 3,447 graduate students.

Kelly next to an Alpaca
Kelly next to an Alpaca

The faculty of Veterinary Medicine is one of the 20 faculties this University offers. Other well know faculties are the Faculty of Human Medicine, Faculty of Pharmacy and Biochemistry, Faculty of Dentistry, Faculty of Psychology, etc. In Peru, a faculty houses students interested in pursuing a specific field/degree, it’s like our colleges on campus where each one houses students interested in Liberal Arts or Sciences. A faculty is a bit more specific because only students who are interested in a particular field are in that faculty.

Walking around this University gave me the opportunity to see how staff, doctors and students interact with each other. They have veterinarians that work at the University and outside people can bring their pets to be seen which I thought was very interesting. There were also alpacas outside the University campus which I thought was very cool.

Alpacas walking around campus
Alpacas walking around campus

Overall, I had a great experience visiting there in the winter, the weather was great since it was summer back in Peru. I definitely recommend everyone who is interested in pre-professional programs such pre-med, pre-vet, pre-dental to visit Universities like this one whenever they have the chance or whenever they are on vacation in another country.

Source

 

Venturing Down Under

This past summer I was fortunate enough to travel a whopping 25,000 total round trip miles following my lifelong dream to visit Australia and its neighbor, New Zealand. I was one of 21 students from colleges across 13 U.S states, Singapore, and the local Cairns, Australia to be part of the School for Field Studies (SFS) rainforest management summer study abroad program. It all started on the morning of May 22nd, 2017 when I was driving to JFK airport about to embark on a journey I never imagined I would undertake. The six-hour flight to Los Angeles seemed like nothing compared crossing the Pacific. 14 hours and seven movies later I touched down in Brisbane, Australia, pronounced “BRIS-BIN” as I quickly learned. Next a short two-hour leap to Cairns (“Cans”), Australia- a city where one of the seven wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef, and the oldest rainforest in the world, the Daintree, meet.

I started out my month and half long trek on my own. I spent one week exploring the local tourist areas and taking advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity to scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef. For someone who has spent countless hours of their free-time memorizing and studying reef fish and watching planet earth documentaries, being surrounded by the very scenes I’ve only seen on a screen was incredible. I was directly connected to the ecosystem that had inspired and continues to inspire the masses.

After my brief “vacation” in Cairns and Port Douglas – it was back to the airport to meet the rest of the SFS clan I would soon become family with. I had thought my first interactions would be awkward or uncomfortable, but not with these people. Almost immediately we were cracking jokes on our winding travels up into the mountains and into the rainforests of Yungaburra, Australia. Our station was tucked away from civilization in an area with a variety of snake, marsupial, bird, and terrestrial-leech (yes- terrestrial leech) species. This very plot of land became our home for weeks to come. We learned about effective rainforest management techniques, about local environmental policy, and the local agriculture economy.

For 10 days between our stay in Australia we ventured 2,250 miles southwest to the north island of New Zealand. We traveled through picturesque rolling hills and ocean views all while studying the local flora, fauna, and how local environmental issues were being addressed. During one of the most influential parts of the trip we got to live with a Maori family. Maori being the name of the indigenous people of New Zealand. We were exposed to a totally new language, culture, and way of life. We learned about the roles the Maori play in protecting native species and ecosystems as well as how they keep their traditions alive in a modernizing world. New Zealand was the most beautiful place I have ever seen and was that much better, for me, because it was a birders paradise. I got to pet the only Kiwi the general public is allowed to have contact with in the world as well as Continue reading

Eight Countries and Twelve Cities Later…

Florence, Italy 2017
Florence, Italy 2017

Last year at this time if someone told me that I should study abroad I would have told them that there is no way. I would have said that it is a huge financial commitment, cuts into time that I could be working and is too much time spent away from family. Flash forward a year and I can genuinely say it was a life-changing experience that I wouldn’t hesitate to do again.

I did a very specialized UConn study abroad program in the summer that was only with landscape architecture students. We traveled to 8 countries and 12 cities across Europe. I was one of 14 students with two professors teaching us along the way. We spent on average three days in each city where we would have half a day of class and half a day of free time to explore. We were able to experience different cultures, expand our landscape architecture skills and socialize with many people we had never met before. Don’t get me wrong, it was the most exhausting month of my life, but I will always look back at it with only fond memories.

As a College Ambassador I am always looking to improve as a person. I look back on my study abroad experience and have realized it allowed me to do just that. I am now more confident, independent and culturally aware. This transformative experience is something that everyone should absolutely try. UConn makes it particularly attainable by offering several different scholarships that can help fund your trip.

 

Here is a list of the places I visited! Continue reading

My Summer Internship in D.C.

Alyssa attending a seminar on food policy at the Washington Post.
Alyssa attending a seminar on food policy at the Washington Post.

If you ever want to step out of your comfort zone, my suggestion is to go from working in a barn and an animal shelter for years, and then going to intern in the United States House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. for a summer. Last May, I left UConn and drove seven hours down to our nation’s capital to spend the next few months interning for Congressman Joe Courtney.

I heard about the opportunity to go to Washington during fall semester of my junior year. I wasn’t sure where I wanted my path to take me, but I had been considering a career in agriculture policy. When I learned that the American Society of Animal Science (ASAS) awards stipends to students interested in interning in government each year, I jumped at the opportunity. I had to apply and interview, but eventually I learned that I was one of a few students nationwide to receive one of those awards. From there, ASAS helped me find an office to intern in. I was interested in working for Congressman Courtney because he represents my home district, which is full of small family farms. Agriculture is an important sector in Eastern Connecticut, so when I learned I was chosen to intern in his office I was ecstatic.

Alyssa with Congressman Courtney on her last day of the internship.
Alyssa with Congressman Courtney on her last day of the internship.

Interning in a big city was a culture shock. I lived in Maryland and had a 45 minute commute on the subway each morning and evening. I knew nobody, but quickly became friends with other interns who were in the same position as me. However, the biggest change for me was working in an office instead of outdoors, but I found myself really enjoying it. Each day, I spent a lot of time answering phones and speaking with constituents. They would often call in to express their support or opposition for issues that were currently being debated in Congress. Additionally, I helped the legislative staff do research for letters that would be sent out to constituents, as well as for upcoming legislation. Since the staff knew I was focusing on agriculture, many of the topics I researched for them involved Continue reading

Junior Year as Told by a Premed Student

My reaction after watching a birth for the first time! I want to be a neonatal doctor, so getting to see a birth was very exciting.
My reaction after watching a birth for the first time! I want to be a neonatal doctor, so getting to see a birth was very exciting.

Junior year is notoriously very difficult, regardless of major or pre-professional program, there is a lot at stake. Students are tasked with gearing up for their last two years of college by planning classes, making sure to meet all requirements, and thinking about what their next step will be. Whether you plan on attending graduate school, entering the workforce, or taking time off, there is a lot to consider and it can be extremely overwhelming. I am an Allied Health Sciences major, beginning my junior year, and I plan on attending medical school following graduation. I do not plan on taking a gap year before going to medical school, so a lot is happening this year, and it’s happening very fast. I have spent a lot of time preparing for this year, and now I am working on how to manage classes, study for the MCAT, and find ways to improve my application to be the most competitive.

First, the MCAT. I plan on taking it in early 2018, and to do this, and do well, I have a lot of studying. It is important to think about your own study habits and how comfortable you are with the material when preparing for an exam of this magnitude. You must find what will work for you to be successful, because everyone learns and takes tests differently. Personally, I have found it helpful to enroll in an MCAT prep course through Kaplan. This course includes guided online sessions for three hours each week, study books, and personalized assignments that are geared to help you in areas you need improvement. This is just one of the many ways people go about preparing for the MCAT. Find what will work for you and make you successful. Additionally, make studying a priority along with all of your other classes!

A second thing that can be stressful about applying to medical school is the application itself. While this is many months away, it does not hurt to think about what you can do now to improve your application, makings yourself a more competitive applicant. What types of things are you involved in? Do you have any volunteer or clinical work in a hospital? These are a couple of questions you can ask yourself, and if you find that you are missing something, try to search for opportunities to fill the gap. For example, this past summer I traveled to Spain where I was able to shadow doctors in a hospital for a month. This was great exposure to the medical field, and I learned a lot about Continue reading