If you've ever seen someone frantically chase down a CABS bus, unapologetically clad in Christmas-themed pajamas, it may have been second-year STEM Scholar Leah Dunston. She counts this as one of her most notable memories from freshman year, along with making pesto pasta at 1am and being on a noble mission to find the best bookstores, bakeries, and coffee shops in Columbus. It didn't take her long to get used to being at a new school; though she is from a small town in Virginia, she has also lived in four other states (including Ohio) and in England. She has visited countries in Europe and Central America and has been to China. As much as she enjoys travelling, sometimes it is nice to take the Floo network back home and sit down to read or watch her favorite book and movie series, Harry Potter. Other hobbies include watching television, painting, and learning about the universe.
Dunston originally planned to be an astrophysics major, but ultimately decided to focus on one of her favorite things about earth: the animals. She studies zoology and is on a pre-vet track, planning to attend veterinary school immediately after graduation and focus on either small animals of exotic medicine. She is open to the idea of private practice or something different such as working at a zoo. "I have always held an admiration and respect for the animal world," she explains. "They have been a crucial part of our past and will continue to be an integral part of our lives."
Clearly, Dunston is a scientist at heart, whether she is learning about astrophysics or animals. STEM Scholars has connected her with students and mentors who have similar interests. Her favorite aspect of Scholars is the guest speakers, who may be upperclassmen, staff, or experts from across the country. She particularly enjoyed getting to participate in a video chat with a zoo veterinarian from Busch Gardens in Florida.
For Dunston, fulfilling STEM Scholars requirements during her first year was anything but a chore. This is how she got involved in WOW, an organization dedicated to science outreach for elementary school students. Struck by the children's excitement about learning new scientific concepts, Dunston decided to continue volunteering with WOW when her Scholars requirements were met, and she is currently working on a capstone project with the program director. She hopes to be a role model for all the students by expressing her own love of the scientific world. Her favorite group to work with has been third-graders because they are beginning to learn more complex concepts but have not lost their childlike curiosity and enthusiasm.
Unlike many humans, dogs never seem to lose their enthusiasm at all, and they have always had a special place in Dunston's heart. "Since I was born I have been around dogs, which makes being in a dorm a struggle since there is no wagging tail to greet me when a return," she says. While hanging out on the Oval may be a solution on days with particularly pleasant weather, Dunston found a way to guarantee some quality canine time every week by getting involved with Partnering Up for Pets (PUPs), an organization that walks dogs at the Franklin Country Dog Shelter. This year, she became an officer for PUPs. She loves each dog for their unique backstory and their unwavering excitement about human interaction. Needless to say, she plans to adopt a shelter dog in the future. "Despite their quirks and challenges, they are able to find companionship again in people. They act like all past wrongs are in the past and look forward to the future," she says.
Dunston is also a member of Pre-Vet Club, Zoology Club, and a Christian student organization called Cru. In addition to her campus involvement, she had two exciting opportunities this past summer that confirmed her love for veterinary science. One was setting up spay and neuter clinics throughout Guatemala and helping with intake, surgery, and recovery through an organization called Vida. Though this was somewhat nerve-wracking, as it was Dunston's first experience working with surgery, it went well and she considers it an unforgettable trip. As if this wasn't exciting enough, she also got to help with husbandry and nutrition efforts at Blue Ridge Wildlife Center in Virginia…so yes, that means she had an internship feeding baby birds, mammals, and reptiles.
The next step for Leah Dunston's already enviable resume is a goal shared by many a Buckeye who has walked those dreadful stone steps next to Thompson library before her: "I want to get a picture with Brutus during my time here."
By Christina Szuch, H&S Student Staff Writer