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Animal sciences student publishes fantasy but has real-world ambition

“When it comes to writing about animals I definitely use my knowledge from school, but my knowledge about elves and fantasy doesn’t help me much with school,” Sara Tonissen, a senior in animal sciences, laughed.

In addition to being an accomplished student, who will graduate with her degree in just three years, Tonissen published her first book in August, Cloak of Darkness, the first installment in a fantasy series.

Tonissen said writing offers an escape, a way to unwind from her busy school life but still feel productive.

“My academics always come first, but I do find creative writing restorative,” Tonissen said. “It’s a great way to decompress and disappear from real life for just a little bit. I’m lucky to have these worlds I’ve created to dive into.”

She works in associate professor of animal sciences Greg Fraley's lab on two major projects. One research initiative investigates the impact of transportation on ducks by measuring how shipping them affects their brain hormones and, consequently, their overall wellness.  Another project examines new lighting systems for poultry, looking to see if pulse lighting, which alternates wavelengths and colors, improves wellness in the animals. So far, Tonissen said, the team has observed an uptick in dopamine levels, which has a positive influence on animal wellness.

While she didn’t grow up with pets, Tonissen said she always felt drawn to animals and a degree in animal sciences struck her as practical, offering opportunities for further education and professional growth. She also likes the support provided by the department, which she feels helped guide her through a successful academic career.

Sara Tonissen with her recently published novel. Sara Tonissen with her recently published novel.
After her graduation in May 2022, Tonissen plans to attend veterinary school, ideally at Purdue. She worked in a veterinary clinic through high school, so Tonissen thought she would always work with small animals and house pets. Recently, however, with her work in Fraley’s lab, she’s gravitating towards a research related field in the veterinary sciences.

“I always saw myself as the kind of vet that works with cats and dogs, but I think that’s because I didn’t know that a path in research existed for me,” Tonissen added. “I certainly plan on having pets when I get my own place, so I would still get that connection, but then I could also pursue the research I’m really passionate about.”

Despite the demands of school and her intended profession, Tonissen said she also remains committed to her writing career and has already begun the next book in her series.

“Writing helped me cope a lot during COVID. I think it’s a good practice to maintain because then you have it to turn to regardless of what’s going on in your life,” Tonissen continued. “I am a committed student and part of several organizations on campus, so it is hard for me to understand sometimes where the time comes from. Maybe that’s part of the fantasy.”

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