People say college is a time to be on your own, grow up, get out of the house, and find yourself. So, when I told people I was planning on staying at home for college, I sometimes noticed signs of their disapproval. A few concerned family-friends even addressed my parents saying how important it was for kids to go away for college, trying to convince them to essentially send me away.
However, what those people didn’t realize is that I had already found myself. I knew what I wanted, and I knew that I could be successful at the university that was pretty much located in my own backyard.
Another argument people gave me was that I needed to go to a top-notch school with a veterinary program if I wanted to get into vet school, but I knew I could make NIU work for me. And that is exactly what I did. I found out about research opportunities from family friends that work at the university, which led me to discover this brand new program, Research Rookies. As an incoming Freshman, I knew I wanted to get involved, and I thought this would be a great way to do that. Not only would I meet students with similar interests, I would get to work with faculty, and even gain valuable research experience for veterinary school as early as my freshman year.
Once I had been accepted into the Research Rookies program, I had to pick a project to work on, and I naively decided I wanted to tackle my own project. A month prior to starting college, I became certified in canine and equine massage therapy. Having just acquired this new skill, I wanted to put it to the test, so I set out to try and find quantitative evidence that equine massage benefits horses by increasing their stride length and/or their front-leg flexion.
Even though I would not recommend that most Freshman undertake their own research project, I had a tremendous experience. I worked extremely hard, learned so much from three amazing professors, and even had a bit of fun along the way. I had access to world-class Olympic-quality software that I used for my crazy project! I received support from all three of the professors I asked to assist me. They went above and beyond for me, and I never would have accomplished the project without their guidance. Did I mention that one of the professors even came out to the horse barn with me to set up the markers for my data collection? Well, she did. She came out one morning and spent at least two hours with the horses and me!
Not only did I have a great time while working on the project, but the whole experience opened many doors for me, and provided me with even more opportunities. An article was written about my project for the NIU website, for which they came out to the barn and even got some video footage of the horses. I also quickly became known as “the horse girl” throughout campus, which was rather entertaining. Then, I was asked to speak at Academic Convocation about my Research Rookies experience. (Academic Convocation is the welcoming ceremony for all of NIU’s incoming freshman.) I worked on a speech and a visual presentation for the Academic Convocation for about five months, and it totally paid off in the end when I spoke to about 4,000 people without faltering, and with confidence. There have been a few other outcomes of my first year as a Research Rookie, including that more pictures were taken of my horses and me. One of these pictures, in particular, was then used as the cover of the alumni magazine, Northern Now.
But enough about me. The point is that because of the Research Rookies program, I had an amazing first year of college. I learned so much, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.