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New grad built connections, embraced opportunities to make most of college

| Judy Berthiaume

Like many high school students who tour UW-Eau Claire, Monica Dickson was awed by the beauty of the campus.

While the beautiful campus was a draw, it was the professors she saw chatting with students during her campus visit that convinced her to become a Blugold.

“When I took my tour, I noticed that professors knew the students who were walking around the campus,” says Dickson. “Seeing that really appealed to me. Now, after almost four years here, this is still my favorite thing about campus. The professors actually know you and will talk with you about whatever even if you aren’t in their class anymore.”

As she prepares to graduate this spring with a major in biology and a minor in chemistry, the Wild Rose native says UW-Eau Claire’s supportive campus community is a big part of the reason she can pursue her dream of becoming a veterinarian.

“I am excited to enter this new chapter of my life, but I will miss the amazing community that Eau Claire has shown me through my four years here,” says Dickson, who will begin veterinary school at University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign in the fall.

While she is confident she has the knowledge she needs to succeed in veterinary school, the path to get here wasn’t always easy, Dickson says.

She knew coming into college that UW-Eau Claire’s strong science programs would both challenge her and prepare her for veterinary school. Still, she was surprised to find herself struggling in some of those core classes.

A foundations of biology class she took as a freshman was especially challenging, a concern for her since it is the base for all other biology courses, Dickson says.

“I think anyone who has been in college knows there often are bumps in the road in regard to academics,” Dickson says. “For me and many biology students, Bio 221 is an intimidating course given all the content you learn as well as the intensity of the class.

“Early in the semester, I thought I did really well on an exam since I studied a lot for it, but I ended up getting a 52%, which is the lowest grade I’d ever received on an exam. At first, I felt defeated, upset and doubted my academic abilities.”

After working through her emotions, she did something that not only helped her be more successful in her biology class but in all aspects of her college career — she asked to meet with her professor.

That initial meeting with Dr. Julie Anderson, associate professor of biology, was the first of many, Dickson says, noting that Anderson has been a valued mentor ever since.

“I could tell from our first meeting that she has students’ interests in mind,” Dickson says of Anderson. “She pushed me to push myself academically and always seemed to have the best advice, whether it was for academics or just life.”

Anderson also helped her see the value of getting to know faculty outside of a class, Dickson says.

“Meeting with professors to talk about questions became my approach to all academic difficulties,” Dickson says. “The professors here care so much about their students and genuinely want to see them do well, so they are willing to meet and help you.

“There always was someone to help me when I got stuck or felt like I couldn't do it.”

While her professors offered academic and other support, they also helped her find new opportunities on and off campus, Dickson says.

For example, during a Winterim session, she enrolled in a UW-Eau Claire immersion class taught by Dr. Todd Wellnitz, professor of biology. She and other Blugolds spent two weeks with Wellnitz in Belize studying the country’s ecology, cultural geography and history.

“That class helped me decide to do research with Dr. Wellnitz since he was such a fun and passionate-about-the-earth man to be around,” Dickson says.

Since March 2019, Dickson has worked alongside Wellnitz and other student researchers on a project that documented for the first time that microplastics now are in the popular Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota.

Dickson also has found a variety of other ways to involve herself in the campus community, including working as an intern in the Dean of Students office and being a leader in the Pre-Vet Club.

Her many on-campus connections also have led to off-campus opportunities as well.

One summer, Dickson was an intern at Irvine Park in Chippewa Falls, taking care of the petting zoo animals and helping the zookeeper with the exotic animals such as tigers, bears and hyenas.

She also worked at two veterinary clinics, gaining experience that will help her in her future career.

“Ark Animal Hospital helped me get my foot in the door in Eau Claire,” Dickson says. “A bulk of my experience was at Chippewa Veterinary Clinic in Chippewa Falls where I spent many hours shadowing talented veterinarians. I am very grateful for both establishments.”

She found still another opportunity by volunteering at Bob’s House for Dogs, a nonprofit organization that moves senior dogs out of the kennels and into a home environment.

“All of these things together have added value to my time in Eau Claire and make it especially hard to leave this great community,” Dickson says. “I am just so incredibly grateful for everyone I met during my time in Eau Claire. Between classes, jobs and volunteering opportunities, I know I have made many lifelong friendships, which is a very rewarding feeling.”

Photo caption: Monica Dickson credits supportive professors with helping her prepare to pursue her dream of being a veterinarian.