Academics

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.

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.

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. 

 

This Fairytale House

by Moises Hernandez-Rivera

View from Spring Valley Farm

Disbelief, that is the first thing that I think of on most mornings. As I face the rising sun, I am reminded that I live in a fairytale. Everything is scenic here, from the fall foliage framed perfectly by my window, to the rolling hills beside the farm fields. This place has it all, trails, thickets, pine stands, spring and rivers. Spring Valley Student Farm is my home.

We are a great community, eleven-strong, we work here, we play here, and most importantly, we live here. When it’s hot and sunny, cool or muggy, snowing or raining, it is always perfect here. This place grows on you.

I moved here in January of 2018; that spring I saw my very first chipmunk, first owl and spent the rest of that year with a group of amazing people. Each of us was brought here for a different reason, some could set up solar panels, some were expert gardeners, and some were community healers–all of us tied up in a perfect union. My job was fish. I studied at a vocational high school for four years training on aquaponics, the fusion of growing plants and fish for consumption.

Greenhouse at Spring Valley Farm

Everyone here wears many hats: neighbor, roommate, housemate, workmate, we all do our part. The system of weights, however, works different here. Our tasks and weeks are very fluid; one day you’re leading tours; sometimes you’re mulching, weeding, or picking. We’re often manning the farm stand selling our produce on Fairfield Way, giving away plants, or delivering food to the Bistro, Towers, or Whitney. We run a very productive and demanding agricultural operation. We count and pick our next year’s seeds, we plant and weed our fields and tend to our own farm projects. Even the harsh Storrs winters are no trouble, with hundreds of thirsty little plants in our greenhouses, seed planning meetings and plenty of snow and ice to clear from our solar panels; we’re busy all year long.

The primary focus of the farm is education. You don’t need to be from a major in the College of Agriculture, Health & Natural Resources to be here. You don’t even have to know how to water a plant. The farm is a self-selected team of very different people. What one does not know can be taught by another, and what no one knows can be taught by our farm manager, Julia Cartabiano; she’s our queen bee! Everyone comes in with different skills, and the farm finds a way to weave those skills into a perfect blanket.

Our population is always changing, from semester to semester. Sometimes one person graduates; sometimes six people graduate. Spring or Fall, we’re ready. Everyone helps and teaches and ensures that when it’s our turn to go WOOF, join the Peace Corps or graduate, the farm keeps chugging.

As students we maintain our growth through interaction with the greater UConn community, from EcoHouse to the many clubs and cohorts, our different majors and approaches keep our gates open to any and all. From Farm Fridays to Summer Bug Week, we make sure to tap into the fabric of the community and pull from all sides: campus students, parents, transfers and commuters, that’s what makes our community so resilient and strong. Around these parts, be it through the Dean or freshmen, local farmers and residents, we make ourselves known.

Finding Myself in Landscape Architecture: Tuning into Myself

By Ely-Anna Becerril

Storyboarding/Presentation Project! Sketched drawings of different areas in Versailles garden. Scanned and laid out on a big poster.

I had everything planned out before I would set foot at UConn. I knew I would work in the environmental science field, measuring water quality in water bodies all over the world and conserving our forests. I was so set on my plans and knew exactly what I wanted to do, and I found absolute comfort in that. It wasn’t too far into my freshman year that I decided to rethink everything and tune in to things I’ve always been drawn to. The environment, of course, but art and storytelling as well.

Growing up, I loved drawing, painting, and writing my own little books. I dream’t I’d be an author someday. However those beloved interests of mine slowly dissipated over the years. I hardly ever painted, drew, or read for fun  anymore. A big factor was that I lacked confidence in my skills, and lacked time to dedicate to creative pursuits; therefore, they were abandoned.

However, my artistic side demanded attention again. I missed my creativity and was sad, ultimately, that my science-filled schedule had no room for art. I desperately wondered if I could ever have a career that involves both of my dearest passions, art and the environment. After hours of researching majors, courses, and careers, one title caught my eye: Landscape Architecture. At first I was terrified of the word architecture, since I never imagined myself as an “architect.” But I discovered this field was a perfect combination of everything I wanted to study: art, beauty, environmental conservation, and science. As a natural resource major, I found myself very pessimistic about the role of humans in this world, considering all the damage we’ve done to the environment. As a result, I wanted to focus solely on the environment for the environment and not for humans. However, I started to realize that we humans play an integral part in conservation, and we need to factor ourselves into the topic if we want to make real change.

Revitalized High Line in NYC

It is possible for us to coexist in harmony with the environment and that is exactly what landscape architecture strives to do. I knew this major would allow me to affect the world and make real change for the environment and for people.  It will give me the opportunity to create meaningful spaces for communities, places that will make people happy and relaxed.

After visiting the tight knit and supportive studio they have, taking classes towards that major, and growing closer with the landscape architecture faculty, not only did I find the perfect major for me, but I also found my little niche in this enormous college. Tuning into my longtime interests has led me to a place that I am so grateful to be in. It feels good to revisit old hobbies that made me happy as a child.

It’s always important to do things that have always made you happy. It’s no wonder that many people base their career choices off of longtime interests or things that have always had a special place in their heart.  I think if you ever find yourself in a career crisis, or re-thinking your major, tune into yourself and remembers the joys of childhood pursuits. Lastly, always set time aside for things you enjoy doing, have confidence in your abilities and give your passions a try.

Recent project/may desk!

Why is Agriculture Education Important?

By Sarah Ammirato

Why is Agricultural Education important?

To answer that question, let me tell you a little bit about my experience.

I went to Wamogo Regional High School in Litchfield, CT where I was enrolled in the Agriculture Education program. This program, and 8,630 others across the United States focus on teaching students about all aspects of agriculture, food, natural resources and leadership.

An Ag Ed experience is nothing like the traditional high school experience. One of my favorite memories was during peak maple syrup season. It was February and there was about a foot of snow on the ground. That did not stop our class from getting bundled up and heading out into the woods to collect sap and repair lines. We then boiled the sap into syrup, bottled it and enjoyed it over pancakes on the last day of class.

My senior year, we traveled to Yellowstone National Park in Montana/Wyoming over Spring Break. We hiked the Yellowstone Canyon, visited the famous Old Faithful geyser and saw wildlife at every turn. We were immersed in nature in its purest form. It was truly a life changing experience, and I cannot wait to go back there one day.

Moreover, my experience at Wamogo would not have been what it was without my advisors. They are the reason I chose to pursue Agriculture Education.

I decided to continue my agriculture education at the University of Connecticut where my major is Agriculture and Natural Resources. Through the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, I have been given so many hands-on experiences both in and outside of class. Hands-on education remains a large part of the courses I have taken, from halter breaking an Angus heifer to touring local vegetable farms, there is no lack of agricultural experience here. As for leadership opportunities, I serve on the executive board for UConn Block and Bridle and as a College Ambassador, where I have been able to build my skills as a leader.

It is my dream to be a high school Ag teacher, so I can bring my students incredible experiences and give them an appreciation for the agriculture industry.

So back to the question, why is this so important?

To start, everyone relies on agriculture. Food, fiber and natural resources are things we need every day. Agriculture education programs not only teach students how to be farmers, but also train tomorrow’s scientists, nutritionists, teachers and so much more. A combination of classroom instruction and applied agriculture experiences outside of the classroom build the foundation for educated consumers and agriculturists.

Leadership is the final aspect of these programs, and the most universal. Public speaking, job interview techniques, professional skills and knowledge of parliamentary procedure. Students in agriculture education programs have the opportunity to serve as student leaders at the school, district, state and national level. High school students have the opportunity to attend leadership conferences, meet and converse with legislatures at the State Capitol, and achieve awards based on involvement.

So what does it look like in Connecticut? There are twenty high school programs, with about 3,350 students enrolled in agriculture education courses. The student to teacher ratio is one of the lowest in the country at 30:1 across the state. There are four post-secondary schools in the state that offer programs/certifications related to agriculture with undergraduate majors including all areas of agriculture except for education.

The opportunities within these programs, both secondary and post-secondary, are endless. Students who participate in agricultural education programs graduate with the skills necessary to become productive citizens who will succeed in postsecondary education or the workforce.

Why the Pre-Veterinary Track May Not Be for You

By Justyna Cieslik

Do you love animals and want to work with them on a daily basis? Do you  love Animal Planet and enjoy watching celebrity veterinarians do their jobs? Do you want to help animals and make sure they aren’t in pain? Even if you answered “yes” to all of these questions, that just means you sound like every animal-loving student out there. So how do you really know if you want to be a veterinarian? Well, here’s how I, a lifelong animal lover, learned that being a veterinarian may not be the job for me after all.

Like many students in high school with an interest in animals, I considered becoming a veterinarian. I loved working with animals and had a passion for the medical field. I initially thought that by combining my two passions, it only made sense to be a veterinarian. However, like many, I did not do the research and relied simply on Animal Planet to learn about the profession. As senior year hit in high school, I had to make a major decision (literally). What was I going to study at college? What colleges would help me towards my dream job? Who was going to provide better financial aid so that when I take out loans to veterinary school, so I will not have too much debt? All of these questions and their answers are the reason I came to UConn. UConn was going to help me towards my goal by providing good financial aid and having resources that allowed me to work hands-on with animals. I was, however, a little naive about the job itself and all the prerequisites, so I began college will a false sense of hope.

As I met with my advisor at UConn, I came to the realization that the pre-vet track was much harder than I had ever expected. I knew being a vet was not a simple task, as they performed surgeries and were responsible for animals’ lives, but I was unaware of the realities of the preparation involved. When my advisor gave me a list of classes that I had to take in order to be considered for vet schools, and then the list of classes I had to take in order to graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science in Animal Science, I lost my breath. The amount of organic chemistry, the extra math classes, the extra English courses, and all the biology requirements were extremely overwhelming. I came from a high school where I was in the top 10%, so it was not as if I did not know how to work hard, but I felt completely unprepared. On top of all of these course requirements, vet schools also expect you to be engaged in extracurricular activities, and most definitely get you feet wet in the profession through internships or work. I could not comprehend how all of this could be possible in just four years.

Now, I’m not saying all of this to get students who want to be vets afraid of not succeeding. The reason I provide all this information is so that people realize that becoming a vet requires specific rigors, many of which you may not have considered. The work load starts early on and only goes up as you get closer to your goal.

A lot of people also do not realize how many jobs there are in the animal field. Many people think that the only animal-related job is a veterinarian. That is a complete misunderstanding; there are hundreds of career paths you can chose if you want to work with animals. SOME of these jobs include: pet grooming services, veterinary technician, zoo curator, animal trainer, animal behaviorist, animal nutritionist. You could also conduct research, become a professor, run your own farm, doggie daycare, dog kennels, and more.

Some of the things I hope you learn from this are:

  1. Be passionate about what you do.
  2. It’s ok to change your career path.
  3. You can always go to school again.
  4. There are MORE animal related jobs than you think.
  5. Being a vet is not for everyone.

Expanding My Horizons: To UConn and Beyond

By Julia Assard

 Since I was a little kid, I had always wanted to go to UConn. My parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and almost all of our family friends attended this university. In addition, my dad is employed by the university, so that was always an obvious financial incentive. When applying to colleges as a senior in high school, I considered UConn to be my only serious option and applied to other schools as an afterthought. The day I got my acceptance letter in the mail, I sent in my deposit.

 The only down side of attending UConn for me was that it is only a mere twenty-four minute drive to my house. In addition, from my tiny high school with only 400 students, about fifteen people from each grade go to UConn. While many of my hometown friends were going here, I knew that I wanted to branch out as much as I could. I know people here now that only hang out with people that they went to high school with, and while I love spending time with my old friends, I craved something new. I wanted to be around people that I hadn’t known for the past eleven years. The idea of being in a lecture hall of 500 people I knew nothing about was both scary and exciting for me.

The author (center) with her “new” friends

For my freshman year, I decided to choose a random roommate who is now one of my best friends. On the second day of school, we sat with a random girl in the dining hall who quickly became the third in our trio. While I did have one person from high school that I was close friends with all of freshman year, I made it a goal to try to seek out new people and create new bonds. I wanted to be able to have the “Big Chill Weekend” that my parents and their college friends have every summer in the Cape. Finding new friends in college can be difficult, but I have been lucky enough to find people and make new connections and groups every year that has truly made the phrase, “you can always make a big school feel small,” true to me.

Looking beyond (from the Homer Babbidge Library)

 Choosing a college is a daunting task, but it seemed an obvious choice to me. While I have been lucky in that manner and love the school I chose, it is important for people to go somewhere that challenges them in some way. My challenge was entering a school that was about seventy times larger than my high school and being in a place where I didn’t know every detail  about every person’s life. In addition, my first semester of college I took the dreaded CHEM 1127, CALC 1131, and BIOL 1107. This course load was overwhelming, and my first exams came back with lower scores than I had hoped for. The transition from high school classes to college courses was a shock, and it scared me that I may not be cut out to be a physician assistant as I had always hoped. It took dedication, a lot of studying, and good friends, and now I find excitement in being challenged by upper level courses on the path to my future career.  In order for people to gain new knowledge, they have to do things that are scary and run the risk that it might not work out, but if it is a goal then hard work and perseverance will bring you to where you need to be.

Attending graduate school to become a physician assistant is now within my grasp. In my search for programs, I am now looking for schools much further away from home. While I rarely go home other than for breaks, I still have the comfort of knowing I am close and can always visit my dad at work, of course, if I need anything. The idea of being somewhere far from Bolton, CT is a scary thought but a necessary step to take. Attending a graduate school away from home will provide more independence, experiences and connections with new people.  After three years at UConn,  I am excited to be thinking about the next step.  In the words of Bilbo Baggins, “I think I am quite ready for another adventure.”