A UNT Pre-Veterinary Club event led Allison Duquaine to her calling – and an interesting stint at the Dallas Zoo

Allison Duquaine

Allison Duquaine

Senior biology major Allison Duquaine can take on difficult academic courses and deal with grumpy animals.

But then, Duquaine has always been determined. She didn't feel challenged in her high school classes so she attended Collin College in Plano for her senior year. When she transferred to UNT, she took a variety of courses, but didn't choose her major until a member of the UNT Pre-Veterinary Club encouraged her to observe surgeries being performed at a local animal clinic.

She was so fascinated with the visit that she decided to major in biology and pursue a career as a veterinarian.

"I loved watching the surgery," she says. "I had to do it. It just grabbed me."

Now she's done volunteer work at the Dallas Zoo in pursuit of that goal -- and she can thank UNT for leading her to those opportunities.

Hands-on learning

To prepare for a job as a veterinarian, she's taken numerous science courses at UNT, including microbiology and medical bacteriology. She also has been able to conduct research as  an undergraduate as part of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute program.

She studies the physiology of mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell. Specifically, she is looking at the different rates of mitochondrial respiration in the cells of chickens and ducks. She is working with Ed Dzialowski, associate professor of biological sciences, and nine undergraduate and graduate students on the project.

"When no one knows the answer and everyone is working together to find it, it's an amazing experience," she said.

Dzialowski says Duquaine is "hard working and inquisitive," and Duquaine has been equally impressed with the faculty members in the biology department.

"They are very interesting and engaging and all the professors are very open to answering questions and meeting with you if you don't understand the material."

She says her classmates are just as committed and friendly.

"I like that most of the friends I've made in the biology program are just like me in that they take their classes seriously," she says. "It's been nice meeting people who are willing to go have a study group, which has helped me stay on track. It's good to have that base to help make sure you're keeping your nose in the books."

Beyond the classroom

Support services at UNT have helped her succeed. Duquaine received financial assistance with a scholarship from the UNT Parent Association. And, because UNT provides flexibility with credits, she's been able to take 16 to 18 hours a semester in conjunction with a correspondence class. Thanks to UNT's proximity to Dallas and Fort Worth, she's had many opportunities to pursue.

Allison Duquaine

Allison at the Dallas Zoo

One of those opportunities was volunteering at the Dallas Zoo. A veterinary school admissions counselor told her that varied experience would look good on her application, so she researched different volunteer opportunities and saw an opening at the zoo.

She began giving tours of the African Savannah exhibit there and networked her way into a year-long position as a volunteer, shadowing a veterinarian at the zoo's hospital. She learned how to do procedures and basic technical work during her 8 to 10 hours a week, which earned her an internship credit at UNT.

She worked with elephants, cheetahs, lions, tigers, camels and naked mole rats.

She now works at a small animal clinic in Lewisville, where the pets are less exotic but just as challenging.

"There is nothing more terrifying than an angry domestic cat," she says. "They don't want to be there and they will let you know."

But, she notes, "It's amazing how forgiving animals can be."

Duquaine also is active in various organizations, including the Pre-Veterinary Club, Beta Beta Beta National Biological Honors Society and the UNT Feral Cat Rescue Group.

She expects to graduate in May, and then plans to attend a veterinary school with an excellent zoo and wildlife program. She prefers working at a zoo or wildlife sanctuary because the level of care is not dictated by cost.

Plus, she says, "I find it a lot more challenging if I have to know 15 different species off the top of my head. You have to know the basic physiology of the animal and how to fix the problem."

She's prepared, thanks to the hands-on experience and coursework at UNT.
"It's been very rigorous, which I needed because vet school is supposedly one of the hardest programs you will ever go through," she says. "The level of intensity the UNT program is providing has really helped me prepare."

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