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Senior hitches self-improvement goals to love for animals

The summer after Emma Zaicow graduated high school, she had a revelation while standing in the barn among horses. This was her happy place. She felt no stress, no expectations, and most of all, no judgment. As contented as she felt around the horses, the self-described “shy girl” wanted to find that kind of comfort with people too.

“But where do I begin?” Zaicow thought to herself.

Zaicow, now a senior animal sciences: biosciences major from Brownsburg, Indiana, knew in that moment that going to college was going to be a way to reinvent herself. In high school, she recalled how she would just go to school, sit in class quietly, and wait for the chance to come home to her horses. But she knew she wanted more. Zaicow wanted to stand out, to lead, and to conquer her shy past with an outgoing future.

Emma Zaicow uses a microscope to look closely at bacteria. Emma Zaicow, a senior animal sciences: biosciences major from Brownsburg, Indiana, uses a microscope to look closely at bacteria. Zaicow has used her college experience to push herself beyond her comfort zone. Photo by Jalee Wondercheck.

“I began working with horses my junior year of high school. At the time, I was not involved in the slightest with extracurriculars. Though I had my sights set on getting into vet school, I was not motivated to get out of my comfort zone.” Zaicow shared.

And Zaicow knew that going to Purdue meant she would have to get out of that comfort zone right away.

Zaicow saw Purdue as a fresh start to be the outgoing, humble leader she had always desired to be. She began her journey in the animal science department to eventually become a large-animal veterinarian.

“I desired the ability to be a leader and to communicate better with people,” she said.

But before Zaicow could reinvent herself, she first had to overcome some challenges. Zaicow worried whether she would fit in. She didn’t have an agricultural background, so she believed her peers would not accept her. She said she felt she had to fit in to succeed, but what she really had to do was be herself and she would stand out.

“My main concern when coming to Purdue was the fact that I knew next to nothing about agriculture,” Zaicow said. “I grew up in a suburb and was finally able to get experiences working in a barn my junior and senior year. I believed that my peers would come in with a lot more experiences with animals and with agriculture in general, and that I would be at a disadvantage.”

So, to embark on her journey to make herself into an outgoing, humble leader, Zaicow joined clubs in the College of Agriculture — including unfamiliar ones. She first joined the Dairy Club to gain more experience with livestock and loved it.

“Dairy Club members were kind and never blinked an eye when I mentioned that I didn't know a thing about dairy cattle,” Zaicow said. “The club created opportunities for members to tour farms, visit the Purdue ASREC Dairy, prepare cows for showing, and most importantly, to create lasting friendships with one another.”

The student organization brought new-found friends and as she increased her involvement, Zaicow was eager to be involved even more. This boosted her confidence to then become an Animal Sciences Ambassador, a student organization that represents the department by communicating with potential students, alumni, employers, and the public.

Being around students who shared the same goals showed Zaicow that no matter how little experience she had in the field, everyone is at the same level. She found that all students in a new environment are experiencing everything for the first time. This allowed Zaicow to relax and be herself.

“I was proud of myself for breaking down the walls I had put up, so I could avoid feeling uncomfortable and unsure. Having confidence in myself allowed me to find friends in fellow vet-hopefuls, who I had previously (and foolishly) seen as competition,” Zaicow shared.

With Zaicow’s new-found confidence in both networking and leading, she also completed internships at the Columbian Park Zoo in Lafayette, and at the swine unit of one of Purdue’s farms. These experiences opened the door for Zaicow to gain experience in both leadership and responsibility.

Zaicow stepped out of her comfort zone to find her strengths, and now believes she can do whatever she sets her mind to.

“I realized through my experiences that I can be a people person and offer something to incoming students.” Zaicow explained.

Find out more

Purdue Animal Sciences

Animal Sciences Ambassadors

Purdue ASREC Dairy Unit

Purdue Dairy Club

Apply to Purdue

Explore Purdue Agriculture Majors

Visit Purdue

Jalee Wondercheck is a student writer majoring in agricultural communication in Agricultural Sciences Education and Communication

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