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Cornell University School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions

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Student blogs


Scarsdale, NY
Animal Science: Captive Raptor Management
Summer College 2010
Hey, my name is Margot and I am a rising senior at Scarsdale High School in New York. I have two older brothers and many pets. Throughout my life I have always been passionate about animals, and want to become a veterinarian in the future. My family and I have been active with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, an organization which trains guide dogs for blind people. We have socialized several dozen puppies for the organization, and have raised 3 dogs long-term. (I am in the process of convincing my parents to let me raise another puppy when I return from Cornell.) I have decided to attend the Veterinary Medicine: Small Animal Practice program at Cornell Summer College, and am thrilled to spend 3 weeks of my summer on campus at the university. Animals are not my only passion; I am also a member of my high school’s varsity Field Hockey, Skiing, and Lacrosse teams, and will be the captain of the Ski team this winter. I am very excited to explore the intramural sports at the Summer College during my stay. I can’t wait to be in Ithaca next week to begin an incredible summer!

I finished my last final of junior year not quite an hour ago, and needless to say, I’m thrilled! Thoughts of summer have filled my mind since the last ended, and one could imagine the relief I feel to finally be free of school’s multiple pressures. I will be leaving for Ithaca in only four days on Friday, and strangely enough, I am not dreading the return to academia—quite the opposite in fact. I have not previously attended Cornell Summer College, so I can only venture to guess that it is completely different from the high school setting. Obviously one must attend classes and take exams, etc., but I do not expect the rigid monotony that high school classes seem to be as the end of the year approaches. I cannot wait for my program to begin, and have been anticipating this part of my summer since I was accepted this spring. Over the next few days at home, I expect to be frantically preparing myself for Cornell, as I have never been particularly skilled at packing, something which I will undoubtedly start (and hopefully finish) just hours before departure. Overall, my excitement for the summer is immeasurable and I’m ready for it to finally start.

The first week of Summer College has concluded, and thus far I have had only good experiences. My daily class schedule consists of a lecture from 9-12, and then a lab from 1-3. I absolutely love the professor, Dr. Hermanson, and the teaching assistants have been extremely helpful. I am fascinated by the coursework with relevant veterinary biology and anatomy, while the labs have given me insight into what vet school will be like, with dissections, virtual microscopy, and radiography.

My friends and I have done a fair amount of exploring in Ithaca, going to the Commons several times, and of course, to Collegetown Bagels. I have found my bus pass to be invaluable, me not willing to wake up earlier each morning to trek all of the way to the vet school. The buses also can take you all around Ithaca for a small price, and run regularly. This past Sunday was Independence Day and most of the students had Monday off, so my friends and I went to Buttermilk Falls State Park for the day. We arrived before the lifeguards were on duty, so we followed the exhausting gorge trail to the top, and cooled down in the swimming area afterwards. So far, I love Summer College, and can’t wait to see what this upcoming week entails.

With only one week left to go of Summer College, I feel as though I have much to accomplish before I leave. My friends and I have yet to climb the 161 stairs to the top of the clock tower, I still have not explored the A.D. White Library, and so far I have not had the pleasure of tasting ice cream from the Dairy Bar. And, of course, I still have my final quiz and paper on pancreatitis to round out the academic portion of Summer College.

Unlike during the school year, I have twice been ready to return to classes after a long weekend. My class and teachers still captivate me, and the labs are absolutely phenomenal. Who else can say that she looked into an elephant’s heart, examined a tiger’s limbs, and had the chance to dissect a hawk and an owl? The experiences that I have had so far at Summer College are rare and exciting opportunities that may only present themselves once in a lifetime. Our second professor, Dr. Maza, returned this past week from assisting in a spay-and-neuter clinic in Mexico, and his vibrant teaching style only accentuates the classroom experience. Part of my motivation for attending Cornell this summer was to see whether or not I would want to pursue veterinary medicine in the future, and because of this course, I now see that career choice as not only possible, but viable.

As for extracurricular activities, my friends and I visited Treman Lake on Saturday... The water was cool and refreshing, and the trip was definitely worth the $18 cab ride. On Sunday, we enjoyed the free movie Shutter Island at Cornell Cinemas at Willard Straight Hall.

With much to finish in these last few days, I must say, three weeks is not enough. I look forward to the possibility of attending Summer College again in the future, or even attending Cornell University for my undergraduate or graduate education.

After successfully placing 4 items in my duffel bag on Friday, I impulsively decided that I would stay at Cornell for another 3 weeks. Of course, I was not positive that this would be possible, so I disappeared for an hour to make the appropriate calls. Once it was confirmed that I would stay, I tried to spend as much time as possible with my friends who were leaving.

The last week of the first session was a whirlwind of final assessments, midnights at Collegetown Bagels, and fireworks that we watched from the Balch courtyard. Watching some of my close friends leave was devastating, and I can’t wait to see them again. Since the new students didn’t arrive until Sunday, I found myself with nothing to do on Saturday night, as most of the 6-week students were out with their families. I must say, one does not expect to find herself completely alone at a place like Cornell, but there I was, the only person on my floor in Donlon.

Class was enjoyable and educational as usual, and we finally had some animal contact! As students in a veterinary program, we obviously would love the maximum amount of animal exposure; however, it upsets me to say that in 3 weeks I only saw 3 dogs and 1 cat over 2 hours, split between 40 students. Unless, of course, you count the 2 dogs that I had petted while visiting Treman. Needless to say, I was disappointed, but I understand that the class mimicked what a true vet school class would be like, and overall it was an incredible experience.

Today, I began the Captive Raptor Management course. Contrary to popular belief, raptors are not dinosaurs, but birds of prey. Oddly enough, in one day I encountered more animals than in the past 3 weeks. I was able to hold and interact with a Red-Tailed Hawk, a Harris Hawk, a Great Horned Owl, and three Barred Owls. My favorite was Buddy, one of the Barred Owls that I handled. Even though it was only the first day of class, I feel as though I already have a much better handle on the world of raptors. I am anticipating a very educational experience in this class, and I cannot wait to handle more raptors!

My 4th week at Cornell has concluded, and I have finally adjusted to the second session. This session has been vastly different from the last, with new friends, a new class, and new experiences. Thus far I love Captive Raptor Management, and I can really appreciate what a unique and rare opportunity it is to be able to interact with all of the raptors. The morning lectures are fascinating, as are the afternoon labs, when we go out to the “Hawk Barn” where the raptors are housed. As the name implies, the course is centered upon the care of raptors in captivity, so the lectures mainly focus on their care, with mentions of veterinary aspects and natural history. At the facility, my fellow students and I first take out the birds and put them on perches, and then complete the chores necessary for the day. These include cleaning the aviaries, food preparation, bird inspection, and a plethora of other important tasks. We are only required to go to labs twice a week, for me this means Monday and Wednesday. Even so, I have chosen to attend labs on alternate days as well, for both more experience and because it is so intriguing. Some of the rehabilitation cases at the facility are extremely interesting, for example a juvenile bald eagle who broke a wing. On Saturday, we observed Dr. Parks and one of the teaching assistants, Kristin, put jesses on the bird, which are leather straps essentially used for easier control of the raptor. Of all of the birds I’ve handled so far, I’d have to say that my favorites are Buddy, a Barred Owl; and Banshee, the Peregrine Falcon.

Much of the adjusting I have done this week is social. Many of my friends from first session went home, so with few familiar faces I had to start fresh. Luckily, I have found a great group of friends so far, and I also have a great relationship with my new roommate. Additionally, I have become much closer with other 6-weekers who I did not know well during the first session. This past weekend was very relaxing, and on Sunday, my friends and I went to see Inception at the mall. It was an excellent movie, one that I would definitely recommend. So far, I have been thoroughly enjoying myself this past week, and I am sure that I will continue to love my time at Cornell!

My final week at Cornell has descended, and this time I am extremely aware that I cannot just make a call and stay for longer. It will definitely be an odd feeling to return home and possibly even sleep past 7 a.m. on weekdays, and I am not eager to experience that change of pace. This week passed similarly to the others, yet I still have not grown bored of the schedule; in fact, being bored here seems quite impossible. It seems too good to be true that I have the opportunity to handle all of the raptors as part of my course. Upon returning home, I will certainly miss caring for the raptors on a semi-daily basis. I have definitely embraced the opportunity that I have been given here at Cornell, and I am hoping to prolong my raptor experience by potentially working with raptors at my local nature center. If I end up at Cornell sometime in the future, I can see myself volunteering at the Hawk Barn on my own time.

There is slightly more coursework in this session than last, but it is still very manageable. So far I’ve had a quiz, a lecture exam, and a 6-page written assignment on West Nile Virus, and I have a factual presentation tomorrow on "Amazing Raptor Facts." Even though I am doing schoolwork during the summer, I find myself completely absorbed in everything I have thus far learned. I appreciate all of the knowledge that I have gained in high school and prior, but I absolutely love having the capability of aiming the courses I take towards something I want to achieve in the long-run, being a veterinarian. Additionally, I love the college structure of classes, with the once-a-day course and plenty of free time. With this, time management becomes essential, so one does not put everything off to the last minute. This extra pressure aside, I enjoy being in charge of my own schedule without being pressed for time.

On Wednesday, my class had an optional field trip to Treman State Park, where my professor Dr. Parks and our TAs presented Cornell’s raptors to the public. Before the presentation, we went hiking through the park, finding a playground where we spent a considerable amount of time on the seesaws. The presentation was fascinating as usual, and it drew quite a crowd, especially young boys. Even after witnessing the same presentation a week before, I cherished the experience of watching the raptors which I have worked with dazzle a large crowd. It is interesting working with raptors at my level, in the sense that several of the wild birds would cause you bodily harm without a second thought, yet you develop an interpersonal respect and bond despite these circumstances. On Saturday, my class had another field trip, this time to the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse. It was a relatively short trip to the zoo, with an entertaining car ride. I always love going to the zoo, and this time was especially fun with all of my Cornell friends. My favorite part of the day would definitely be petting the Asian Elephant that the zookeepers presented. With an animal such as that, one can easily sense the intelligence, and when one looks in its eyes, he can almost sense that the animal is trying to understand him as well.

So far, my time at Cornell has been an incredible life-changing experience, and I’m sure that the last week will live up to my high expectations as well.