Meet alumna Courtnay Lawrence

CLawrence headshot
Courtnay Lawrence. Photo by Life Touch National School Studios.

A graduate of the Ratcliffe Hicks School of Agriculture, Courtnay Lawrence, never touched a cow before she came to UConn. However, when Lawrence visited the yellow dairy barn, a heifer got loose. She helped catch it, and the rest is history. Lawrence bonded with the heifer, showed her at a UConn Dairy Club show and bought her five years later. The one-time heifer, UConn Zebo Trisha, just turned 18. Here is what else Lawrence said about UConn and her life in an interview.

What was your major in the College? When did you graduate? With what degree? In 2001, I got an associate of applied science degree in animal science from the Ratcliffe Hicks School of Agriculture.

What class was most useful to you? The UConn behavior and training of domestic animals class has been useful to me in my teaching. The majority of my students are on the autism spectrum and have difficulty understanding non-verbal cues. In class at the farm, I encourage them to observe the animals, and I explain why animals do what they do. The students can apply what they learn to their interactions with the animals. In addition, they can take it a step further and use these skills in non-verbal and verbal social interactions with other people.

Tell us some of your fond memories of UConn. In May of 2000, I took a seminar course in resume writing and job preparedness with one of my favorite professors, Steven Zinn. As an assignment, I had to find a job advertisement that appealed to me and do research about that occupation. I saw an ad for a therapeutic riding instructor, and I applied. I got the job, and I still work at the same place in a full-time position!

I worked at both the horse and dairy barns. As part of my job as a student employee at the Kellogg Dairy Center (KDC), I assisted in milking the cows at night. I thoroughly enjoyed the quiet evenings with the cows and the beautiful views from the KDC. The time I spent at the horse barn developed my interpersonal skills and helped me overcome a fear of stallions that I incurred from a serious accident in high school.

Lawrence teaches at the Learning Clinic in northeastern Connecticut. Photo by Jennifer Lamoureux.

I enjoyed being in the Sigma Alpha sorority and was an active member of the Dairy Club. The friendships I made in my time as a student at UConn became lifelong ones, and it was a privilege to spend my days with talented professors and staff at the University.

Please describe your current job. I am the farm manager and riding instructor at the Learning Clinic. I am certified by the American Riding Instructors Association (ARIA), and I am certified as an instructor and an Equine Specialist with Equine Facilitated Mental Health and Learning through the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship International (PATH Intl.). In addition, I am a Master Equine Manager through Iowa State University.

At the Learning Clinic, we teach about 100 elementary through post graduate students who do not benefit from the mainstream educational setting at this time. The majority of these youth are on the autism spectrum, with mood and/or pervasive developmental disorders. On our 300-acre campus, we have horses, sheep, chickens and ducks, and the students assist in all aspects of their care. In the after school program, I offer a therapeutic riding program as well.

In addition to teaching, I am responsible for the harvesting of over 50 acres of hay, with the support of the facilities crew and several students, who take great pride in joining in this task.

In my 15 years since starting at The Learning Clinic, the farm earned status as a Horse Farm of Environmental Distinction. Recently, we were awarded a grant through The Eastern Connecticut Conservation District to build a covered manure storage area to improve animal manure composting. The end product will be used in our greenhouse program.

Are you doing what you imagined you would be doing at this point in your life? I am doing more. Initially, I wanted to manage a horse farm, but I never thought I would be doing that and making a difference in children’s lives every day. Some of our students come from a difficult home or school background. At the Learning Clinic, we give them a positive, rewarding experience with animals and a safe place to learn and grow. I am lucky to be part of that.

Lawrence with one of the sheep at the Learning Clinic. Photo by Jennifer Lamoureux.

Do you have any advice for current students that will help them in the future? Do not turn away opportunities, even if they seem small. The little things turn into the biggest chances to change and grow.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? My husband works at the Kellogg Dairy Center at UConn. I have a six-year-old daughter who shares my passion for horses. My three-year-old son is sticking to tractors and operating his plastic chainsaw. My horse show career is currently on hold while I support my daughter in her leadline endeavors, but my Saddlebred horses are anxiously awaiting getting back in the ring.

I am on the board of directors for the College’s alumni association, UCAHNRAA, and I love sharing my passion for UConn’s animal science program with others.

By Patsy Evans