The next time Fluffy goes in for her annual checkup, or Fido needs a thorn pulled out of his paw, take a good look at the attending veterinarian and ask yourself, has she ever performed this procedure on a kinkajou? If Emily Williams ’23, were your pet’s doctor, that answer might be yes.
(A kinkajou, or honey bear, is a raccoon-like mammal native to the South American rainforest.)
Williams, a senior from Clearfield, Pennsylvania, spent last summer interning at The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium thanks to the support of The Juniata Alumni Internship Endowment, known as the Super Internship Fund.
Through the fund, students hoping to accept internships in locations that might otherwise be cost-prohibitive may apply for up to $5,000 to assist with travel and living expenses. Williams was one of 28 students who benefited from a Super Internship award, which allows students to focus on what matters most: pursuing their dreams.
For Williams, that meant hands-on training with exotic and large animals, an opportunity she wouldn’t have had at the small-town vet clinic where she’d been assisting the past two years. And it’s exactly the sort of training that graduate schools look for when deciding whom to admit to their veterinary medicine programs.
“They like to see a breadth and depth of experiences,” Williams explained. “I mostly had dogs, cats, horses, some farm animals, so having this opportunity made my application stronger.”
Not that her application needed much strengthening: a competitive horseback rider studying biology with a secondary emphasis in psychology, Williams earned herself a spot on Juniata’s Dean’s List each and every semester. When she’s not volunteering at the Health Center, she’s raising funds and awareness for the local humane society and organizing community events like “Rescues on the Runway” as president of the Pre-Vet Animal Science Club. Being a student at Juniata has kept her active and engaged, and her Super Internship has only served to enhance her undergraduate experience.
As an Animal Ambassador Intern in the Zoo’s Conservation Education Department, Williams was tasked with a variety of duties, some of which took her outside her comfort zone. (Surprisingly, handling snakes, tarantulas, and cockroaches did not fall into this category.) She regularly hosted presentations in the Zoo’s Safari Amphitheatre, introducing patrons to various residents of the zoo and answering their questions, all while keeping a safe and proper hold on a squirmy, curious animal. These talks honed her public speaking skills in a way no classroom could. Some days she found herself standing before a room full of kids. On others, she talked to a group from a senior citizens center. “It was really rewarding,” Williams said. “It taught me a lot about myself, that I could be confident giving presentations to crowds several times a day.
“I’m definitely better now from the experience,” she added, noting “just how important it is to be a good communicator — to any audience.”
Williams is certain good communication skills will also enrich her career as a veterinarian. Williams took on a secondary emphasis in psychology, and kept with it even after deciding to fully focus on Pre-Vet. “Through shadowing different veterinarians,” she said, “I realized that sometimes being a vet is like being a counselor: You’re helping the people as much as the animals.” Working at the zoo and meeting its in-house doctor helped to reaffirm she was on the right track. “I like the idea of taking care of people’s pets because I like the human relationship aspect of it,” Williams said. “You don’t really get that owner interaction in a zoo setting.”
What you do get, it turns out, is a lot of time with turtles. Lots and lots of time. Designing their enrichment activities (brightly colored bathtub toys) developed in Williams a new appreciation for our shelled reptilian friends. She grew especially fond of an African Pancake Tortoise named Jack who, she once happily informed an enraptured crowd, “can go a staggering one mile per hour.”
When asked what one word describes her time at The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, Williams chooses “Fulfilling. It was a reminder that I am capable.” When we spoke to her, she had just been accepted into her first-choice vet school. Slow and steady may be alright for turtles and tortoises, but thanks to her Super Internship, Williams is on the fast track to career success.