See Gabi’s story on UConn Today
By Dana Chamberlain.
College was hard for me. I came in not really knowing what I wanted to do and am graduating still not fully knowing what’s next for me. But if there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the past four years at UConn, it’s that success isn’t linear. Some people enter college knowing exactly what they want to do, never change their mind, and end up happy in a successful career. Other people spend many years trying to figure out who they are and what they want to do, trying out a bunch of different paths until stumbling upon something they love. So, all of this is to say, you don’t need to know exactly who you are and what you want to do at 18 or even at 22. The most important thing is that you never stop learning or growing. Things will hopefully fall into place when you are honest with yourself about what you want in life and put in the work to get it.
As I reflect on my time here at UConn, there are a few things I wish I fully understood earlier on. To the incoming first-year class, here are some things I wish I knew my first year:
Mental health above all
I am no stranger to depression and anxiety. I know how hard it can be to get out of bed when all you want to do is sleep the day away or to work on an assignment when your mind is elsewhere. Trying to stay on top of your academics while maintaining friendships, participating in extracurricular activities, and worrying about your future can be really overwhelming and stressful.
At the end of the day, you are not a robot and can only do so much. It is so unbelievably important to put your mental wellbeing first. Take time each day to care for yourself and rest. Set boundaries when you can. If you have a ton of assignments all due on the same day and know you won’t be able to finish it all without depriving yourself of sleep, reach out to your professors to see if you can get a deadline extension. Or if you agreed to hang out with a friend on the weekend but are feeling drained after a particularly hard week, text them to see if you can hang out another time. Most people will understand as long as you communicate with them and are honest about when you think you can get things done.
UConn has quite a few resources to help you out too. You can reach out to SHaW-Mental Health for counseling services, the Dean of Students Office to receive extra academic support, and the Center for Student Disabilities to receive housing and/or academic accommodations to support any learning differences or different abilities you might be have. And don’t underestimate the value of a friend who is a good listener! You’re not alone and you will get through this!
Grades are important, but not as important as you might think
Grades are important, so you should try to attend all class sessions, develop good study habits, go to office hours, make friends with your classmates, form study groups, and reach out to your professor with any concerns you might have. However, your grades don’t define you, and one bad grade isn’t the end of the world. It’s more important that you continue to improve throughout the semester and your college career and develop good relationships with your professors.
If you’re worried about future jobs or graduate school, you can always explain why you received the grade you did in a cover letter or interview (whether it’s because you were attending to a personal issue or math just isn’t your strong suit, for example.) Also, having formed good relationships with your professor means that they can vouch for you when you need it. Ultimately, letters of recommendation speak louder than grades.
I know that everyone says this, but it’s so important to get involved. College is supposed to be fun! Go to the Involvement Fair each semester and sign up for any and all clubs that interest you. I met so many cool people through attending club meetings and events. Getting involved helps you make friends, learn more about your interests, and feel connected to your campus.
I didn’t really understand how important networking was until my junior year. Job hunting can be rough. Sometimes a familiar face is all you need to get your foot in the door. So, develop good relationships with your professors, TAs, advisors, mentors, classmates, coworkers, etc. You never know who might know of a great opportunity for you or who can speak highly of you in spaces you don’t have access to.
Be open to trying new things and take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way. I applied to a summer research program for undergraduates (REU) my freshman year on a whim and got in. Now, I’ve been doing research for three years, have had so many doors opened for me, and am planning on a career in research. You never know what could come from saying “yes!”
UConn has a lot to offer. Reading “The Daily Digest” every day is a great way to find out about what’s happening on campus.
Be your own advocate
Last but not least, it’s important to be your own advocate. With so many students on campus, sometimes your professor or advisor won’t notice that you’re struggling. Ask for what you need. Reach out. Remember: closed mouths don’t get fed.
Ever since I enrolled at UConn, balance has been one of my biggest mantras. Finding it has allowed me to experience a wide variety of opportunities, from networking with UConn alumni to embarking on field trips with UConn’s Wildlife Society. Likewise, I wanted my degree to to prepare me for the diverse array of situations the future will have in store. That is why I majored in Applied and Resource Economics or ARE for short. Majoring in ARE has prepared me to think analytically about problems in production, marketing and management within business firms through examples in natural resources and agriculture industries. The program grants a Bachelor of Science degree, and offers three main concentrations. I have taken courses that apply to each of the three, and all have enabled me to develop highly advantageous skills that I can carry forward into my professional life.
Business Management and Marketing will especially suit those interested in business. One course I took within this area, Computational Analysis in Applied Economics (ARE 3333), laid the foundation for me to analyze agricultural business problems and management decisions through Excel. Because of the course, I now know how to create formulas that minimize the amount of actual work needed in setting up a spreadsheet and get the necessary data I need faster. This skill in Microsoft Office and similar programs is key for communicating a presentation or data entries within a business environment. On top of this, the courses in the concentration help establish a strong understanding of consumer choices as well as profit and risk management, while also explaining how factors such as law and government policies have an impact on agricultural business decisions.
Environmental Economics and Policy is great if you are interested in legislation and the state of natural resources. This is especially true for Environmental and Resource Policy (ARE 3434), which lays out the history and procedures surrounding important environmental and natural resource issues like environmental quality, energy use, natural resource management, and valuation of natural resources. This information gave me a strong understanding how policies are crafted within the United States and provided an important context to answering these same issues in the future if I am part of a government agency or private business that provides services in sustainability, environmental, or natural resource areas.
The Developmental Economics and Policy concentration seeks to address issues like world hunger and poverty both domestically and internationally. I gained a better understanding about how national and international agricultural analysis is conducted in Food Policy (ARE 3260), while in Economic Geography (GEOG 2100), I was given a thorough overview of issues such as transportation and allocation of resources at the local, regional and global economic level. Both gave me the chance to apply techniques such as cost-benefit analysis and risk investment decision-making, which is key for careers in governmental policymaking as well as international organizations such as the World Bank and Save the Children.
ARE also offers 3 minors, including Business Management and Marketing along with Environmental Economics and Policy. The third option is Equine Business Management, which provides an overview of marketing, management, and financial principles in equine management. On top of this, there are opportunities to receive credit for approved internships and projects, which allows you to apply the knowledge from coursework to the real world. I had the chance to do so in the Farm Credit East Fellows Program through the Professional Internship Course (ARE 4991). Even though my experience was cut short due to the pandemic, it still provided an insightful opportunity into how a lending financial services provider such as Farm Credit East serves agriculture and natural resource-based businesses. Assignments given throughout the course simulated the tasks done daily within the firm, including determining the creditworthiness of borrowers, analyzing a company’s probability of defaulting, and evaluating real estate property value.
Thanks to the programs offered in Applied and Resource Economics, I have been able to balance my efforts into a specific set of skills and experiences that suit me best. Now I know how to be both analytical and constructive when it comes to information thanks to Business Management and Marketing. My time in Environmental Economics has made me more aware of how our natural resources are managed and maintained to suit our needs, and Development Economics and Policy has given me a better understanding of how logistical decisions are made here in America and abroad. These approaches, accompanied by hands-on internship experience, have set me up for a well-balanced career path as I look ahead to the world beyond college.
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:
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
by Krysten Rose Holland
Attending a large university was a great change for me, coming from a small all-girls high school. There were so many new opportunities available to me at UConn, particularly in the College of Agriculture, Health & Natural Resources (CAHNR), which is a smaller college within the very large university with a lot of academic and extracurricular support. Starting off pre-veterinary in animal science, I knew that I would have nothing short of excellent academic and professional preparation. Outside of the classroom, I decided to join a professional agriculturally-based sorority, Sigma Alpha. Through this organization, I became connected with many other students and was able to enhance my journey as a first-year university student in a field that I knew little about but wanted to explore–agriculture! Through the encouragement of my peers and advisors, I was able to try new things and discover different opportunities within the college. For example, I was encouraged to try participating in the annual Dairy Show and learn about dairy showmanship. To my surprise, I placed top in my showman class and among the top overall for fitting, which includes presentation of the animal!
Before entering college, I thought I was certain in what I wanted to do and what I wanted to study: animal science. My freshman year was a difficult transition, however, and I knew I wanted to explore my options. Through one of the Sigma Alpha sisters who was heavily involved in CAHNR activities, I was directed to talk to different academic advisors, one of which was Dr. Sandra Bushmich in Pathobiology and Veterinary Sciences (PVS). I wanted to switch my major to something that would involve laboratory preparation and focus on disease studies in order to broaden my experience in case I decided not to go into veterinary medicine. I learned that in studying PVS, I could change my concentration if I my interests changed and stay on track to graduate.
During my sophomore year, I decided to look into careers in human healthcare and public health. Although a veterinary path could be enormously rewarding, I did not necessarily know if I wanted to commit a large portion of my life and finances to a professional program when I did not know enough about the profession. Veterinary schools are among the most competitive graduate programs to get into, so the preparation in pre-veterinary studies requires a lot of dedication. I already faced a lot of stress adjusting to a new environment out of my home state.
Ultimately, I decided to pursue human healthcare. For that, I would need patient care experience. I enrolled in certified nurse’s aide programs in Massachusetts in the Greater Boston area and took night classes to earn a certificate to gain experience and make some money. Although during that time I considered myself on a pre-physician assistant route, I discovered that I loved the nursing model! From there, I decided to look into ABSN programs. Throughout the journey of navigating the healthcare field, I have worked in a wide variety of environments such as zebrafish research in Longwood Medical Center, personal care in client homes as a personal aide, managing medications at an assisted living facility, assisting doctors in facilitating patient appointments at a globally-renowned hospital, and then being promoted to a medical assistant in a private practice. Although my experience in the field were out-of-state by my own initiation and ambition, my classes in PVS (and Allied Health Sciences [AHS], another department within CAHNR) put my experiences into perspective. I took a diagnostic medical techniques class within PVS where we extracted DNA and RNA and processed diagnostic tests, histological structure and function, which is basically anatomy and physiology based on slides, and a seminar in which various guest speakers from all over the world presented their research. In AHS, courses in medical terminology and counseling and teaching for the health professions helped enhance my knowledge and further my skills.
Pathobiology and Veterinary Science is a small, close-knit department and has a variety of classes and opportunities for research for undergraduates. Due to the variety of interests that PVS can accommodate and great academic advisors willing to help me navigate the unknowns of career preparation, I did not fall behind in my studies and fulfilled requirements for programs that I explored throughout the my years as a PVS major.
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.
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.