By Olivia Maddox
As a youngster, Alexandria Pettigrew tended her "sick" stuffed animals and patched them with bandages. As she grew, she was still interested in making animals feel better. Her first thought was to become a vet—an obvious choice for someone who loves animals. But at Purdue, she learned becoming a vet was just one of many career opportunities open to her.
"I grew up in the inner city, so I didn't know anything about agriculture," says Pettigrew, a senior from Indianapolis. "I thought agriculture was just farming, and I didn't want to farm. When I started thinking about what kind of degree I needed, I thought biology was the only way to learn about people and animals."
But during campus visits, she discovered animal sciences and was soon convinced it was the major for her. "Animal sciences is more hands-on, and that's how I learn best," she says.
Career-interest programs gave her plenty of chances to explore options in addition to veterinary medicine. "I liked animals, so I thought all I could do was be a vet," Pettigrew says. She credits the animal sciences faculty and staff for opening her eyes and helping pinpoint her interest in animal behavior. "Growing up watching Animal Planet and National Geographic, I liked the documentaries—observing animals and finding out why they do what they do," she says. She plans to get a master's degree and maybe even a Ph.D.
Interacting with livestock is now the norm for this urbanite. "I'm working with pigs a lot," she says. She joined Purdue's livestock evaluation team to learn even more about animals. During the summer, she did research with Candace Croney, associate professor of animal behavior and well-being.
Pettigrew has also followed her interest in helping people to other countries. "When I heard about the Romania service-learning trip, I knew it was for me. I wanted to go abroad, but I didn't want to just take classes. I wanted to help people.
"It was very hands-on; we were helping villagers improve their agriculture systems. So when I heard about the service-learning trip to Haiti this winter, I signed up right away."
Her self-discovery journey extends beyond academics. A student-athlete at Cardinal Ritter High School, she captained the golf team her senior year and was named most valuable golfer. "Honestly, I didn't think I would play athletics in college at all. I was just looking for academics. My freshman year here, though, I felt something was missing. So my sophomore year I walked on to Purdue's team."
This year she is vice president of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences, an organization she embraces for its community service and leadership components. "I like helping people. That's the common denominator in the things I choose."
While her path has diverged from vet school, she found a way to continue her goal to help people and animals. And along the way she learned that agriculture is farming—and a whole lot more. "Agriculture was all around me in the city; I just didn't know it," she says. "Everything is possible through agriculture."