Meet undergraduate student Chloe Edwards

Chloe Edwards working for the Farmington River Watershed Association.
Chloe Edwards. Photo: Farmington River Watershed Association.

Taking a course in wetland habitats turned Chloe Edwards into a double major, emboldening her to add natural resources to her animal science studies. What followed were transformational experiences as she explored her deepening interest in animals, immersing herself in conservation and wildlife management internships. While COVID-19 did impact her participation in research, she was able to discover other opportunities to explore her interests. Read more about Edwards as she reflects on exploring different paths and being unafraid to travel in new directions.

What attracted you to the UConn College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources?

I knew I wanted to study animals and I had heard from people at UConn that they had a great animal science program. I like animals and I thought this was the right major for me. Although, I ended up not just sticking to animal science.

What is your major, and why did you choose it?

I’m a double major in animal science and natural resources with a concentration in fisheries and wildlife conservation. For me, there were parts of animal science I really liked, particularly animal behavior and animal psychology. But when I was looking at the jobs and careers you could do with that, I was kind of nonplussed. The more I learned about animals, the more I felt that animal science was too narrow for me. I became more interested in animals in the context of their environment.

In my junior year, I took Dr. Beth Lawrence‘s wetlands conservation class and I thought it was such cool research and so interesting. I had taken so many credits that I only had one class left in animal science, so I decided to double major. I’ve been finished with my animal science degree for almost two years now. I’m a super senior now in my fifth year.

Which one of your UConn activities, internships or jobs was the most memorable? Why?

Chloe Edwards with a tern sitting on her head.
Chloe Edwards with a tern.

It wasn’t through UConn, but last summer I interned with Mass Audubon in their Coastal Waterbird Program. I stayed on Monomoy Island, which is off the coast of Cape Cod near Chatham, MA. Monday through Friday for fourteen weeks I was camping in a tern colony. Every day, I would hike out and monitor shore birds with my crew lead and it was definitely the most memorable thing I’ve ever done. It was kind of crazy. My mom and my boyfriend said, “We know you don’t like camping, so it’s okay if it’s too hard for you,” and it just made me more committed to keeping at it.

Tell us about two other experiences that have enriched your studies.

This past summer I worked as a forest ranger at McLean Game Refuge and that was a really formative experience for me. When I met the director of the refuge, Connor Hogan, and learned about his job, that was the point where I knew I wanted that job and wanted to be him and that’s a really good thing to know — what he had done in his career to get to that point. It was pretty eye-opening for me to know that I want to manage wildlife and habitat.

The other experience that’s really been formative for me at UConn was working with my advisor, Morty Ortega. He’s really been an amazing advocate for me. I spent a lot of time in his lab last semester, which was unfortunately cut short because of COVID, but he really pushed me and opened up so many opportunities that I owe a lot of my success to him.

What has been the biggest challenge in your UConn career?

I struggled a lot in my freshman year. I didn’t have good study habits and I didn’t love my classes the way that I thought I would. I took a lot of gen-eds and required courses and I thought they were so boring. It’s in such stark contrast to what I’m doing now. Basically, every single one of my NRE classes I’m saying “this is amazing” and “this is so cool” and “I’m going to use this material” and “I love this class” as opposed to taking something where I feel like it isn’t as useful for me. Those classes aren’t as personal and they’re not as fun.

When do you expect to graduate? What then?

I expect to graduate this spring. I anticipate doing seasonal jobs with state government agencies or other research projects because I know I’ll have to go do my master’s at some point because that’s how you get the cool jobs. Basically, I just want to garner more experience doing a variety of things because every internship that I’ve gotten has really changed the way that I see myself and what I want to do in the future. It’s really important to me that I get more experience before I settle down and pick my research focus. I don’t want to pick something that I’m not incredibly passionate about.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your studies or research?

The big thing was last semester when I applied and was accepted for a Research Experiences for Undergraduates with Dr. Tracy Rittenhouse on her frog research and study of ranavirus. The research was cancelled because of COVID. It was a massive project where everyone was outside, but in close quarters. With UConn scaling down research that kind of fell to pieces and I was upset about that. It was a big thing for me and I thought I could totally just segue into a master’s degree from that research experience. But then this job posting for McLean went up in late March that Morty immediately forwarded to me. I applied the day after it was posted, had an interview the next week and heard I was being accepted into it. I feel like I received this one amazing opportunity, but then I also got a second one.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?

I’d say that one of the things I really like to do is bring nature into my home. So, I have aquariums and terrariums. I would have more house plants, endless house plants, but my cat eats plants. He thinks he’s getting a reward, so all my plants are in pretty little glass boxes. That’s what I like to do when I’m not reading or doing schoolwork.

By Jason M. Sheldon