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Howling Success

Howling Success: Jess Schinsky

This month's Howling Success is a fourth-year student studying Zoology who takes pride in her work as an Office of Undergraduate Research Ambassador, helping other students discover their passions for research.

Jess Schinsky and her beagle, Delta.
Jess Schinsky and her beagle, Delta.

Tigers, elephants and rhinos, oh my!

All of these are exotic animals that Jess Schinsky, a fourth-year student studying Zoology, has gotten a chance to study through opportunities provided by NC State’s Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR). 

Schinsky, who will graduate in May, hopes to move on to vet school and is also an ambassador for the OUR. She credits those experiences as foundational to her college experience. 

“I am so grateful,” Schinsky said. “Not only did they provide me with grant money, but I’ve also been able to really grow by working in their office. I’ve learned so much about research, so much about being a professional in academia.”

Studying Wildlife

Schinsky said she’s loved animals since she was a child and has always dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. 

When she was about six, Schnisky’s family moved from St. Louis, Missouri, to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. With her interest in veterinary medicine, it was only a matter of time before she was drawn to NC State. 

Jess Schinsky and her cat, Bug.

In high school, she attended an overnight “vet camp” hosted by Animal Science Teaching Professor Shweta Trivedi, staying at University Towers and getting a chance to explore campus. 

“I wasn’t really thinking about NC State too much before that camp, and then after, something really pulled my heartstrings and I said this is definitely the place for me,” Schinsky said. “I’ve been a State fan ever since, and this is one of the only schools I applied to because it’s the place I wanted to be.” 

In her first year, Schinsky started doing online research on captive tiger populations throughout the United States. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, much of his research was remote and involved calling zoos and wildlife centers throughout the country to speak about their tiger populations. 

The following year, the OUR gave Schinsky a travel grant to do research at the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro. There, she worked with a team studying elephant stereotypies, repetitive movements and sounds driven by stress. 

“Elephants are very intelligent and require very special care,” she said. “They can have really bad mental health issues when kept in captivity. Sometimes they’ll sway their heads or pace. It’s really common for a lot of active animals. It’s really noticeable with elephants because of their size, and people can relate to elephants.”

Through the research study conducted by a graduate student, Schinsky and other undergraduate students continually monitored the behavior of the vocal elephants, and determined that their head swaying before meal times was in anticipation of being fed. 

“The North Carolina Zoo does a very good job with their animal husbandry and welfare, but research is very important to make sure that everything is kept up to date,” Schinsky said. 

Jess Schinsky rides a helicopter in South Africa.

The summer after her junior year, Schinsky headed across the ocean to continue her research with an opportunity to study in South Africa. There, she shadowed a wildlife veterinarian, following him out on calls with a focus on pre-vet work. 

She also took blood samples from rhinoceroses that were anesthetized for dehorning procedures and, upon returning to NC State, spoke about her experience at a graduate research symposium. 

“I think my trip to South Africa was my favorite college experience,” Schinsky said. I’m never going to forget that. I applied to vet school last summer, so it’s nice having an experience like that to write about and talk about in vet school interviews. It’s nice because it’s like you’re reliving the experience every single time you talk about and write about it.”

I’m never going to forget that.

Leading as an Ambassador

Beyond her own research work, Schinsky enjoys helping other students discover their passions through research. 

She’s been working as a student ambassador for the OUR since the summer before her third year, holding office hours to help other students answer questions about how to get started with their research as well as finding mentors and opportunities. She also said one of her favorite parts of the job is giving presentations about the OUR and the opportunities it offers. 

“That’s really rewarding because research has been so integral to my experience in college,” Schinsky said. “So it’s nice to be able to pay it forward and be able to give other people that opportunity too.” 

It’s nice to be able to pay it forward and be able to give other people that opportunity too.” 

Catherine Showalter, the OUR’s associate director, has been working with Schinsky for about two years. 

Showalter said that Schinsky has a knack for connecting with incoming students and helping spark their interest in research.

“I think she radiates excitement for her own work and is able to communicate technical topics, processes or other aspects of research. She’s really able to help students navigate what that process looks like, and also catch the research bug,” Showalter said. 

For Showalter and the other OUR leaders, having a peer-to-peer connection like the ones Schinsky is able to establish with students she meets with is critical, and gets the message home in a way a staff member may not. 

“Hearing a student’s perspective on what the experience is like, what some of the struggles might be, what happens when there are successes is invaluable,” Showalter said. 

Jess Schinsky helps out a baby turtle at the vet school’s turtle rescue facility.

Staying Involved on Campus

In addition to her work with the OUR, Schinsky is involved with Omega Phi Alpha, a service sorority that organizes various charitable events at NC State. Schinsky is the sorority’s mental health chair, and she’s currently planning a 5K called “Outrace the Stigma.”

All of the proceeds from the race, scheduled for April 14, will go to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. 

“It means so much to me,” Schinsky said. “When I was in high school, I did a lot of volunteering, and I was worried I wouldn’t have the time in college or it wouldn’t be as accessible. But this organization has been so amazing, because I’ve not only met friends, but I’ve still been able to do a lot of volunteer work on campus and in the community. It really means a lot to me. This organization in particular, mental health is a huge problem, and I feel very strongly about it.”

Schinsky is also the vice president of NC State’s Zoology Club, an organization that meets biweekly. She’s in charge of finding guest speakers to address the club at these meetings. She also volunteers with the vet school’s turtle rescue team.

Schinsky is also a part of the University Scholars Program, and works as a veterinary assistant at Bowman Animal Hospital.

When it comes to fun and relaxation, Schinsky said she enjoys working out, calling Wellness and Recreation’s Carmichael Gym her “safe space” to unwind and destress. She also enjoys hanging out with her friends on campus and trying new restaurants in Raleigh. 

“I have an amazing group of friends,” Schinsky said. “Hanging out and spending quality time with them has been really important to keep me happy and keep me going.”

Future Plans

As she prepares to finish her undergraduate track at NC State, Schinsky has applied to several vet schools and is now waiting to hear where her next chapter will take place. 

While she’s loved her time in Raleigh, Schinsky said she’s looking to expand her horizons and experience a new place on the next step of her journey. 

Schinsky said she’s not sure yet what type of veterinary medicine she wants to specialize in, but one thing’s certain: animals will continue to play a central role in her life, as she said she hopes to live on a farm with a variety of animals, including dogs, cats, goats, chickens and rabbitts. 

“I really would love to work with any and all animals,” Schinsky said. 

Thanks to her experiences at NC State through the OUR, she’s already well on her way to doing just that.