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Cornell University School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions

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Student blogs


Cupertino, CA
Veterinary Medicine: Conservation Medicine
Summer College 2013
Hi! My name is Marisa and I live in Cupertino, California. I've just finished junior year and I'm extremely excited to be coming to Cornell this summer for the Veterinary Medicine: Conservation Medicine program. I'm fascinated with wildlife, which has led me to volunteer at the Peninsula Humane Society and also apply for this program.

A little about me: I play the violin, I'm in student government at my school, and my favorite sports are gymnastics and cheer. Oh, and I also ride the unicycle! (or at least, I'm TRYING to ride it—it's one of many things on my bucket list!). Anyways, I'm super psyched for this program, and I'm counting the days until I hop on a plane to Cornell!


Did you know that some snakes have toes/toenails? Or that a two-toed sloth actually has three toes, not two (it's called a two-toed sloth because it has only two fingers)? No? Neither did I. On the second day of class, I listened as one of our many guest speakers told us the neatest facts about reptiles. Without question, he was definitely one of the most fascinating (and funniest) professors I had ever met, and he had loads of stories to tell us from his wildlife expeditions and specimens to show us.

I've been here for exactly one week now, and at the risk of sounding cliché, it really has been a fantastic experience so far! This is usually how my day goes: wake up at 7 a.m., head over to the dining hall for breakfast, and then meet up with some people taking the same course (Conservation Medicine) as we head over to the Vet School, where our class is held. The Vet School is actually pretty far away-- about 2 miles! Because of this, I usually take the bus that travels around campus. We usually have 2-3 guest lecturers come in and talk to us about various subjects (from birds to ecosystem services to the history of veterinary medicine). After we have lunch, we usually head over for a lab.

One lab that I have been raving about to anyone who will listen is the radiotelemetry lab we worked on a few days ago. Before I explain it to you, get a load of this: Cornell has these huge fields that span 10 acres, and they're called the Cornell Plantations. Anyway, back on topic: our professor decided to teach us about radiotelemetry, which is the process used to track animals in the wild. To do this, he hid five tiny transmitters all around the Cornell plantations, and by using the receivers (that looked like antennae), we had to find the locations of all the transmitters. This was definitely a hands-on lab, and I thought it was really neat how we were able to use this equipment to learn skills that are applied by conservationists in the field.

After class, I get back to the dorms at around 3:30 p.m., and then I head over to the lounge to do my homework, which is usually reading a couple scientific articles. At 5 p.m., I'll usually go grab some friends to play intramural sports such as volleyball or soccer, which are hosted by the RCA's (Residential Campus Advisors). Then comes dinner, hanging out with friends, and sleep! Looking back on the week, I definitely would say that my schedule is pretty packed, but I've enjoyed a lot of what I'm learning and doing.

On a side note, something that did surprise me was the diversity in this program. Initially, I was under the presumption that almost everyone in the program would be from around the Cornell area. Boy, was I wrong. During the opening night, I ate dinner with about eight other students, and no two people were from the same area. Just in case you think I'm exaggerating, in that single group we had students from New York, California, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Puerto Rico, China, Texas, and Ohio! I look forward for the next week (especially the honey bee lab that we'll be doing!) So stay tuned in for more updates from me!

Hey again! We kicked off our second week by learning about herpetology, which is the study of reptiles and amphibians. After the lecture, we had a lab where we held live snakes and touched other reptile specimens. The pace of the course definitely picked up this week, so there was A LOT of studying to do in preparation for our Friday quiz. I studied so much for this quiz that the terminology covered in reptile anatomy continually seeps into my daily conversation. A few days ago, I saw a small lizard on the grass, and instantly thought: "Toad: Class Reptilia, Order Lepidosaura, Family Squamata; Unique Characteristics: performs ecdysis (shedding), has caudal autotomy (can break its tail off), and has a transverse cloacal slit." Although this is probably pretty weird, I'm oddly proud of the fact that I know all of this information.

I've been having a blast in the labs. For example, we had a bee lab where learned about the fascinating behavior of bee colonies and how they communicate to other bees via the waggle dance, the tremble dance, the beep signal, and the shaking signal. These four signals help the colony function efficiently as the bees work to find and store nectar to create honey. We were also allowed to touch the bees (no, they didn't sting us!) as they clustered at a wooden post. I was extremely surprised that I was not scared to touch the bees, nor did I try to flee when many bees clouded around me. I usually freak out around bees, but since we had learned a lot about the behavior of bees during the lecture, and since everyone was calm around me, it was surprisingly easy to stay calm as well.

In addition to this bee lab, we also did another "darting" lab. First, we had a few lectures on the uses of darting, and how to dart to anesthetize animals. Then, we took this knowledge as we practiced darting at targets. I don't want to toot my own horn, but I'd like to think I was pretty darn good at blow-darting!

Over the weekend, I mostly hung out with friends and went to Collegetown Bagels for lunch, got lost on the way back, and accidentally ended up at the Cornell Art Museum (which had some cool pieces of art!), then went downtown for dinner.

As my time here comes to a close, I can honestly say I am glad I came -- I met a lot of great people and professors, realized what field of study I'm really interested in (animal behavior), and picked up a ton of great information And finally, in tune with my last blog post, I would like to leave you guys with a few cool facts that I've learned from this course:

Fun Fact #1: Male honeybees, which are called drone bees, have no stingers. So don't be afraid the bees with HUGE eyes (a trait unique to drone bees) because they can't sting you! Fun Fact #2: Most of the "snakes" in the Indiana Jones Movie: Temple of Doom, are not actually snakes, but legless lizards. (yes, legless lizards do exist!)

On that note, it's been great blogging here, and thanks for reading my posts! (Plus, here's a quick shout out to Alyssa for taking all these photos of me!)


Hello there! As my final post, I'd first like to say thanks for reading! I hope that this helped you gain an insight into my experiences at this summer program. As I go back into the swing of school, classes, and senior year, I realize how great this program was. A word of advice: when coming into this class, realize that you're not going to receive a full college class in these 3 weeks. However, for the 3 weeks that I was there, it was a great exploratory class that helped me realize what aspect of conservation medicine I enjoyed and want to pursue. In addition, it taught me about some great animal conservation organizations that I can volunteer at. I mean, I'm looking into an internship at the Belize Zoo or an elephant sanctuary for next summer, so that's pretty darn cool!

Finally, this course exposed me to species that I would have never thought to be interesting before. After doing the bee lab, I can honestly say that I REALLY want to raise bees in my backyard now!

Here are a few tips and advice for this course:

  1. Don't go in thinking that it'll be a breeze, and all you'll do is touch animals and do hands-on labs. Although there are definitely some labs, most of my time was spent listening to guest lectures and taking tons of notes. Granted, the guest lecturers are usually pretty interesting!
  2. Participate a lot! You'll get more out of this course if you ask questions. The professor definitely knows his stuff, and he knew the answer to almost any question I threw at him during the lectures.

Again, I thought this was a great eye-opening course, and I definitely recommend it! Thanks for reading!