Gisela Soto at the Zoo

Gisela Soto LCSC biology student interns at Topeka Zoo

Whether it’s spending the summer with elephants, bears and tigers, or a week camping in the wilderness, or even a weekend traveling with her softball team, Gisela Soto has certainly had some amazing adventures as a student at Lewis-Clark State College.

“I am so glad I chose to go here,” Gisela said.

It’s easy to understand why with all the opportunities she’s taken advantage of while enrolled at the college. And it all came about sort of on a whim.

Gisela graduated from Columbia High School in Nampa in 2013, but wasn’t sure where she wanted to attend college.

“I actually never visited the campus before I came here,” Gisela said. “I really just decided based on affordability, and I heard how small the campus was and how welcoming everyone was. I just had to make a quick decision at the time and I am glad I chose to go here!”

Once she made the decision, everything worked out for her. She’s on schedule to graduate this spring and would like to go to graduate school to become a veterinarian.

“I enjoy every class at LCSC and feeling like I can go talk to any of the professors I have had or currently have if I ever need anything,” she said. “A few of my favorite professors are Jacob Hornby, Matt Brady, and Jane Finan (all professors in her major area). Every one of them is very welcoming, pushes you to do better, and I enjoy learning from them.”

That little push she has received also helped her land a summer internship with the Topeka Zoo in Topeka, Kan., an experience that she won’t soon forget.

“I wanted to do something over the summer that would be related to what I would want to do in the future,” Gisela said. “So I went to my advisor Heather Henson-Ramsey and with her help we found the website for AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums), which had all of their internship postings from zoos across the U.S. I applied to various internships, including at the Topeka Zoo.”

During a phone interview for the Topeka internship, Gisela said she was asked how she felt about animals in captivity under human care and what career field she was hoping to get into. About a week after the interview, Gisela said she received an email telling her she was chosen as one of the zoo’s summer interns.

Gisela Soto With GiraffeAs an intern, Gisela worked along with the zookeepers to care for the animals and maintain the exhibits. Eventually, she was able to interact more with the animals under supervision from the zookeepers. This included cleaning the exhibit areas, feeding and medicating the animals, and putting out enrichment items, such as leaf eater biscuits for the elephants and giraffes, toys for the otters and bears, and ice treats for tigers and mountain lions. This was repeated throughout the day.

“For more enrichment, most of the animals even know how to paint,” Gisela said. “For the elephants, paint would be put at the end of their trunk and they would blow onto canvas. For animals like the tigers and bears, paint is put on the floor and the animals place one paw in it and then put in on a canvas.”

As part of her internship Gisela also needed to make an enrichment item for an animal. She decided to make a firehose hammock for the otters, Tony and Albert. She said they were hesitant to try it, and It wasn’t until she left Topeka that they began to use it.

“My favorite part was being able to work with the vet tech they have on staff there,” Gisela said of the internship. “About a month into being there, I started helping her out and shadowing her two days out of the four days I worked at the zoo. I was exposed more to the veterinary aspect such as blood draws/work, and running different tests to make sure the animals are healthy. I was able to be present when they had to euthanize one of the animals as well as when they examined the animal. It was also interesting to watch when the vet staff put the three tiger cubs under anesthesia to basically do a heath check and give them vaccines.

“This internship was very valuable. I was able to get insight as to what it would be like if I were to choose to go down the path of a zookeeper position or just working in that type of environment in general. I do believe that this solidified my choice in wanting to go into a career field where I would directly be working with animals.”

Gisela said she became interested in animals because they are a part of everyday life for most people.

“I would like to make an impact and help better any animal I would potentially be working with, which could then have a positive impact on the people around them,” Gisela said.

The internship at Topeka, however, wasn’t Gisela’s first personal interaction with wild animals while at LCSC. She said one of her favorite times at the college was going camping at Wallowa Lake in Northeast Oregon for a week with a field experience class. It gave her a new appreciation for the outdoors and also the opportunity to get to know some of her fellow biology majors outside the classroom.

“It was an awesome time camping and such a fun way to learn about a variety of things, such as garter snakes, tree plotting, and tree identifications,” Gisela said. “I never thought I would be catching garter snakes, or any snakes at all, because that is definitely not my forte, but it sure was fun. “

Gisela said she also enjoyed the group project she was involved with on the trip.  The group went on a 6-mile hike to Aneroid Lake, located at an elevation of 7,500 feet. Between the base of the mountain, where camp was located, and the lake the group needed to plot three different areas, and then identify and count the number of trees in each plot.

Gisela also has kept busy playing on the LCSC women’s softball club team. The team is entering its third year of existence and has been very successful. It only lost two games to Washington State during its first season and defeated both Idaho and Boise State.

“I didn’t think that I would be playing after high school, but getting to do it while I finish school is awesome,” Gisela said. “I have met some of the best people that I most likely would not have met if it weren’t for the softball team.”

Gisela said she loves LC and is always encouraging others to come here.

“I would say that if they are looking for a school where they can really get personal with almost everyone they meet and have more one-on-one experiences, then this is the place to be,” Gisela said.