Student finds perfect place for her many interests in College of Ag Sciences

Gillian Warner, a rising junior in community, environment, and development at Penn State, is a lifelong horsewoman and a member of the small and exotic animals club.  Credit: Gillian WarnerAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Gillian Warner, a rising junior in community, environment, and development, is passionate about animals, food security and learning. She found a place for all these interests -- and more -- in Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

“I wanted to get a broad range of experiences and keep all of my options open," said Warner, who also is minoring in international agriculture.

"Penn State has given me so many opportunities. I’ve explored a range of career choices, worked at internships in a variety of fields and had some really encouraging instructors. The College of Ag Sciences has been so supportive when it comes to international opportunities, too, whether that’s through scholarships, travel experiences or even courses offered at University Park.”

On the animal science side, Warner, of State College, is a lifelong horsewoman and a member of the small and exotic animals club at the University.

“When I found that club, it turned out to be a great opportunity to meet other students with similar interests in learning about and working with animals,” she said. Warner is working with a professional rider this summer to train horses and compete in different events.

Last summer, Warner completed a volunteer program at Penn State's Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center. The position lasted into the spring, and as a “townie,” she said it was a dream getting to work at the center. “I grew up going to Shaver’s Creek summer camps and being able to go back and volunteer felt like bringing the experience full circle.”

Warner and other volunteers worked with the center’s birds of prey, taking care of birds that are unable to return to the wild due to injury. As volunteers move through the training program, they are given more responsibilities and work more closely with the birds. This includes feeding and training the birds through positive reinforcement.

“There are all kinds of birds, from vultures to hawks to owls,” she said. “Having the opportunity to work with a such a varied group made the experience even more incredible.”

Gillian Warner completed a volunteer program at Penn State's Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center where she worked with the center’s birds of prey. Credit: Gillian WarnerAll Rights Reserved.

Warner also potentially is interested in working for nonprofit organizations that focus on food security issues or animal welfare someday. She completed a remote internship with Oxfam America, a global organization dedicated to ending poverty through helping people build better futures for themselves and saving lives in disasters. Although she remained in State College, Warner worked with a team based in Washington, D.C., and began a project that crossed over between the research and resource-development teams.

“I was doing research on ways to strengthen their resource-development department. I gathered data about how to make programs within that department more efficient,” she said, adding that working with a large organization with goals that closely align with her desire to give back to the community was another beneficial experience.  

Through an embedded agricultural education and extension class, Warner spent spring break during her freshman year in Belize learning more about indigenous knowledge and agriculture. The class explored nonformal and formal educational systems in agriculture and applied this study to look at how indigenous populations preserve traditions and communities while giving their children opportunities to be part of a more formal education system.

“One of the difficulties we discussed was how the students would leave the community to get an education, but if they were unable to find a job and returned to the community, they lost some of the knowledge that would have been passed down through their families and strengthened through their own experiences,” Warner said.

While in Laguna, the class spent time with Mayan families to get a better sense of their culture, history and traditions and how these things shape their communities. The class also learned how the Mayan communities are working to combine formal education with traditional ways of farming to give native students the chance to benefit from both worlds.

The trip also included tours of traditional farms, and students were able to see similarities and differences and contrast them with Pennsylvania agricultural systems. This allowed students to grow in their understanding of agriculture around the world and its role within communities.

“Whether a student is working toward an international career or not, participation in international experiences helps students grow in self-reliance, develop intercultural competencies and gain skills such as problem-solving, adaptability and leadership,” said Ketja Lingenfelter, the college's assistant director for student global engagement.

“Gillian is a great example of a student who is purposeful about making the most of her time at Penn State. She seeks out experiences that will expand her understanding of agriculture from a personal to international level.”

Warner said she is looking forward to continuing classes in the fall. “Penn State offers so many choices, and I can find a good balance between all the things I love and my future career -- whatever that may be.”

Through an embedded agricultural education and extension class, Gillian Warner spent spring break during her freshman year in Belize. Credit: Gillian WarnerAll Rights Reserved.

Last Updated July 01, 2019