Commencement 2015: URI senior examining signs as she explores career choices

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Burlington, Conn., resident considering vet school, sign language career

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 21, 2015 – Courtney Walker has known since she was 6 that she wanted to become a veterinarian. The Burlington, Conn., resident has had a long fascination with animals and a strong desire to save and protect those injured or in ill health.

But it wasn’t until she enrolled at the University of Rhode Island that she expanded her career horizons from becoming a traditional dog-and-cat vet to perhaps working with farm animals or even marine species. The eye-opening moments began at URI’s Peckham Farm, where she cared for sheep, goats and pigs, among other species.

“Getting to watch a 1,200-pound sow give birth to 12 piglets, one right after another, was probably one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever seen,” said Walker, an animal science and technology major who will graduate from URI May 17. “And last year I was put on lamb watch and got a call one night to go down and help the sheep give birth. That was pretty special.”

A class at Mystic Aquarium opened her eyes to even more possibilities. “I always loved swimming and I just about lived in the water as a kid,” she said, “so to have this whole aquatic world opened up to me was amazing. I especially loved working with the beluga whales.”

But Walker’s experience at URI wasn’t confined to studying animals. She’s a member of three honor societies and a member of WOWW – We’re Offering Women Wisdom – a campus group that serves as mentors for freshman women and organizes volunteer and philanthropy projects. And she has been a leader in the annual campus performance of The Vagina Monologues, getting her favorite role her junior year and becoming director of the show as a senior.

“That’s something I never thought I would ever do. I couldn’t have even said that word in high school,” Walker said. “But when I saw the show as a freshman, I fell in love with it. It gave me the confidence to be who I really am. I’m a totally different girl now.”

Perhaps her greatest role at URI was as the founder and president of the University’s American Sign Language Club. “I started learning sign language in high school, and I’ve been fluent for six years,” she said. “I talk with my hands a lot anyway, so I figured why not literally talk with my hands.”

Walker teaches sign language to whoever is interested in learning, and she serves as a translator for anyone on campus who is deaf. She is even working with the University administration to add sign language classes to the curriculum. Her growing interest in sign language is even making her question her career path.

“I’ve always wanted to be a vet, but as soon as I learned sign language, I thought that was another career I could pursue,” she said. “I might even want to be a full-time teacher and spread my joy and enthusiasm for sign language to anyone and everyone I can. It’s very rewarding.”

As Walker prepares for graduation and waits to hear about veterinary school admissions, she is wishing her undergraduate days weren’t coming to an end so soon.

“People told me that college was going to be the best time of my life, but I just wanted to grow up and become an adult,” she said. “Now that I’m a senior, I’m saying the same thing. You don’t realize how fast it goes by.”

Photo by Nora Lewis