This future doctor to focus on patients of four-legged variety06/20/2014
With a love for animals and a talent for science, Rachel Rielinger was set on her career path even before she finished high school. Now, the newly minted UA graduate is about to make her dream of becoming a veterinarian a reality.
Rielinger, who graduated in May with a B.S. in Biology and Pre-Veterinary Studies, summa cum laude, has been accepted into the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University. She begins her degree work this fall.
Earning a spot in veterinary school is highly competitive — there are less than 30 programs accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association in the United States.
Rielinger, who has worked at a veterinary clinic in Willoughby Hills on school breaks for years, believes the skills she gained there, paired with her undergraduate research experience, gave her a critical edge with admissions officials, as she recently told the members of UA's Board of Trustees during a presentation on her Akron Experience.
Benefits of undergrad research
“Veterinary schools like to see pre-veterinary students do some research, which was a major reason why I decided to work in a biology lab at Akron,” says Rielinger, a member of the Honors College who also minored in chemistry and psychology. She was still a sophomore when she first approached biology professor Dr. Brian Bagatto about working in his lab.
Bagatto, in turn, encouraged Rielinger to read the papers written about the work that had been done in his lab and think about her own interests. Then, together, they designed a research project she could work on over the next two years.
“One of the most important things to consider in undergraduate research is that students are not only learning techniques, they are not only designing projects, they are creating knowledge,” says Bagatto, whose own research is focused on the relationship between environmental and genetic effects during development. The animal models he uses range from alligators and armadillos to mud minnows and zebrafish.
Rielinger chose zebrafish for her research, which was related to the possible effects of climate change. She wanted to determine how water temperature would affect the ability of the fish to learn and retain memories.
Rachel Rielinger is pictured here after her presentation to the Board of Trustees with, from left, Student Trustee Ryan Thompson, Dr. Brian Bagatto and Student Trustee Garrett E. Dowd.
The hypothesis was that zebrafish would actually be more efficient in the learning and retention of a trained response — entering a clear cup to feed — in warmer temperatures, compared to those living in average temperature water,” explains Rielinger. “This was based on previous research in which zebrafish raised in higher water temperatures developed muscle fiber ratios that allowed for increased aerobic swim speeds.”
What her research revealed is that the fish in warmer water learned more slowly and forgot more quickly, which may be a result of less oxygen in the water.
Rielinger’s conclusion? More research will be needed.
Well-rounded time on campus
As she looks back over her years at UA, the Regina High School graduate says she is not only grateful for the research experience she gained, but for the time she spent in campus activities.
For example, Rielinger balanced all those hours in the lab with time spent at the Student Recreation and Wellness Center training for and participating in triathlons sponsored by the Rec Center. She also was a member of Akron Against Cancer, serving on the committee that plans Relay for Life events to help raise funds for cancer research.
“I’m a quiet person, and I really had the opportunity to open up and try new things because the University offers so many diverse opportunities,” notes Rielinger.
“I also found that I love research more than I thought I would,” she adds. “It’s a lot more involved than I thought and I definitely will do more of it in the future. I like the school experience and research gives you another way to keep on learning.”