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Pre-verteinarian major Anna Eickoff calls her internship caring for elephants in Thailand "incredible," while Jamie Quicho's experience helping sea turtles in Costa Rica gaver her a newfound appreciation for the importance of protecting endangered species. Thanks to Roosevelt's science programs, students like Eickhoff and Quicho are taking advantage of educational opportunities outside the classroom that can help them get into professional schools and launch their careers.
You could say that 20-year-old Roosevelt University undergraduates Anna Eickhoff and Jamie Quicho have a lot in common. The pre-veterinarian majors have had biology, chemistry and organic chemistry classes together. And as roommates in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, they have jointly cared for a pet snake and two mice, have volunteered at a nearby exotic animal shelter and have even talked about one day opening a veterinarian clinic together.
However, their experiences over the summer working with exotic animals through opportunities the students found with the International Student Volunteer organization couldn’t have been more different – or distant in location. Eickhoff was an intern at the Elephant Nature Park at Chiang Mai in northern Thailand where she learned about rescued elephants, including those abused at the hands of overzealous trainers seeking to use the animals in tourism riding or logging operations. Meanwhile, Quicho got a rare, close-up look at efforts to protect giant sea turtles from extinction as a volunteer with a sea turtle conservation project in Costa Rica.
“I knew people rode elephants in Thailand, but I didn’t realize the abuse the animals take in order to be trained,” said Eickhoff, who tended to elephants with stab wounds that had been inflicted with prodding sticks to their ears and eyes, causing the animals in several cases to go deaf or blind. The senior pre-vet/biology major and a team of pre-vet volunteers from around the globe cared for 35 elephants, including animals whose feet were blown off after stepping on land mines at Thailand’s border with Myanmar (formerly known as Burma).
“I had never seen such large animals before,” remarked Quicho of the 31, 400-pound green sea turtles and a hawksbill turtle that she helped net, tag, test and care for before re-releasing them into the wild at the Osa Peninsula off the west coast of Costa Rica. The junior pre-vet/allied health major and a volunteer team of pre-vet students from all over America caught nine green sea turtles, each resembling a “giant boulder with flippers,” in a single day – a record for the ongoing conservation initiative that seeks to improve the animals’ health and habitat.
“It’s very important for our students to have these kinds of experiences,” commented Vicky McKinley, professor of biology and chair of the University’s Biological, Chemical and Physical Sciences Department, which today has more than 400 science majors. Most of those majors, including Eickhoff and Quicho, are “preprofessional” students who after graduating from Roosevelt plan to attend medical, dental, veterinary, pharmacy or other professional health-care-related schools, including Roosevelt’s own College of Pharmacy in Schaumburg.
Field experiences outside the classroom help set our students apart when they apply for admission to professional schools,” said McKinley. “The experiences also can help students figure out the kind of setting they would like to work in for the future.”
Both Eickhoff and Quicho have wanted to be veterinarians since they were children. “I fell in love with animals when I came to the United States as a child,” said Eickhoff, a native of Germany who moved with her family at five years of age to a Kentucky horse farm where she had cats, dogs and a horse. “I found back then and still believe today that I work better with animals than I do with people,” she said.
“When I was five years old, my family took me on a trip to the Philippines,” said Quicho, who grew up in Huntley, Ill., with pets as diverse as fish, rabbits, a toy poodle, lizard and hermit crab. “While we were in the Philippines, I saw starving animals on the street and people throwing rocks at a puppy. You can’t do anything about it when you’re that little,” she said, “but from that moment, I knew I would one day do something to help animals.”
For both women, the first big step in pursuing a career as an animal doctor has been to major in the sciences as undergraduates at Roosevelt University. “Roosevelt has given me an opportunity to blaze trails,” said Quicho, who started a student Pre-Vet Club with Eickhoff in the spring of 2012. The two have been co-founders and co-presidents of the student organization since then. “It will be a good thing for our resumes and applications to veterinary schools,” remarked Quicho.
“The classes I’ve taken at Roosevelt have helped me connect what I’m learning with the real world,” added Eickhoff. “The advice I’ve gotten along the way, including the encouragement I was given to follow my dream in Thailand, has been incredible.”
Roosevelt’s pre-professional program in the sciences aims to prepare students to be accepted into highly competitive professional schools, including veterinary programs that can have 10 times as many applicants as available slots.
Roosevelt alumna Alyssa Auge (BS, ’10), now in her final year of veterinary school at the Royal Veterinary College in London, is someone who benefited greatly from the University’s pre-professional experience. “I feel like all of my best mentors are at Roosevelt,” said Auge, who credits McKinley with teaching her how to write effective research papers and Norbert Cordeiro, associate professor of biology, with helping her hone stellar research skills.
“These instructors and many others I had at the University made me think through problems and not just memorize facts. It definitely put me on the right line of thought for veterinary school,” Auge said. Kelly Wentz-Hunter, associate professor of biology and the University’s pre-professional program advisor, believes students need to do much more than simply get good grades to get into veterinary and other professional schools. “Our students are instructed in everything from filling out applications to doing face-to-face interviews for admission into these programs,” she said. “We also are encouraging them to take a global view toward their chosen field of practice.”
While Eickhoff and Quicho did the initial research and legwork that led to their securing opportunities over the summer working with exotic animals, the two were strongly encouraged to pursue the unusual field experiences by Wentz-Hunter, who also arranged for them to get college credit by writing about and making presentations on their experiences during Honors Research Day in November. “I encouraged them – as I do all of our pre-professional students – to get as much volunteer experience as possible. It helps when applying to professional schools and in this case, Anna and Jamie gained a global view about the veterinary practice, which is the kind of perspective professional schools are looking for when they consider applicants.”
As a result of their experiences, both Eickhoff and Quicho have learned to think broadly – and globally – about the difference each can make as a veterinarian.
“I’ve always been an advocate against animal abuse,” said Eickhoff, who became angry over the elephant wounds she was seeing and helping to clean in Thailand. “It made me more aware than ever before of the existence of abuse and it motivated me to do all that can to help these animals and to speak out against further abuse to animals in places like Thailand,” she said. Of her newfound knowledge about the veterinary field, Quicho said: “As a result of my experiences with sea turtles, I’ve certainly learned to be more aware of the importance of the environment in sustaining our planet’s animals. Knowing now how endangered these turtles are, makes me feel it’s the right thing to do to help them and to help save their environment as well.