Meet Linda Nong:
Linda Nong is going into her fourth year at the University of Guelph, working towards a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Zoology. Linda has been very involved in work-integrated learning on and off campus thus far in her academic career, having been a Career Education Peer Helper at the U of G Experiential Learning Hub, volunteering with Wild Ontario to work with non-releasable raptors, acting as Co-President of the STEM Fellowship Club and as the OUA Badminton Team Manager, and most recently, working as a Research Assistant this summer on an island in New Brunswick. Linda shares more details about her various experiences, and shares tips for staying organized while keeping busy. She also shares her best takeaways and favourite memories from her Experiential Learning participation, and her tips for current students.
Tell us about your experience with Wild Ontario. When did you join as a Wild Ontario Volunteer and what do you do there?
“I joined Wild Ontario in my first semester of undergrad and it has certainly been one of the highlights of my time at U of Guelph so far. As a volunteer, my primary role is to perform health checks and conduct training sessions with the non-releasable raptors at the facility to build trust and positive behaviours with the birds. This has taught me an incredible amount about animal training using positive reinforcement, proper husbandry practices for captive birds, and learning how to pay attention to the changes in body language of the animals. Additionally, I've had the opportunity to bring some of the birds out to educational outreach programs, which helped improved my public speaking skills and drastically built up my confidence as a person.”
What's your favourite part about working with birds? What's the biggest thing you've learned so far from this experience?
“This is a very hard question to answer! There are so many things that I love about working with birds. Each of them have unique personalities and funny quirks that you get to know the more you spend time observing them interact with different things in their environment. I also find it very rewarding to work on training a certain behaviour in small steps, such as having a bird willingly step into its crate, and after many hours across many weeks, finally being able to accomplish it.”
What is the STEM fellowship club? What's your role in this organization?
“STEM Fellowship is a national student-run organization that aims to educate and provide resources, such as workshops and networking events, to help students succeed in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields. As the co-president of the Guelph branch, I've organized a team of U of Guelph students to run a few small-scale events targeted at university students to help them be more aware of different opportunities in STEM. Our most successful event involved several U of Guelph professors briefly presenting their most outstanding research projects, followed by a question and answer period where students could ask questions about entering various fields that interest them.”
Tell us about your role as the OUA Badminton Team Manager. What skills have you gained from this experience?
“As the team manager for the university's OUA Badminton team, I was responsible for leading team practices, maintaining our budget, strategizing the best team roster for tournaments, coordinating sponsorships and equipment orders, and so much more. This role showed me that, as a team leader, it is very important to be willing to step outside of your comfort zone and take on a wide range of tasks that you might not have experience in doing. Aside from getting a physical workout, I also exercised my organizational skills in managing a team of 24 student athletes and learned how to motivate others by leading by example.”
In your role as a Peer Helper, you meet many students and give them advice on their job searching materials. What's your best advice, or the most frequently asked question you receive in this role?
“My best advice to students in their job searching journeys is to remember to be your authentic self. Many times, students are so focused on not saying the wrong things or giving off a poor first impression that they forget to be themselves and don't get to show off the amazing and unique things that make them who they are.”
Tell us about your fieldwork as a Research Assistant on an island in New Brunswick. What do you do for this?
“This past summer, I was a research assistant working with a PhD student from one of the university's Integrative Biology labs. Over the course of 2 months, we collected a remarkable amount of data on a population of Savannah Sparrows, which have been studied on this island for several consecutive decades. I learned how to search for sparrow nests in the grass, set up mist nets to be able to catch and put ID bands on the birds, and also collected blood, feather, and fecal samples from more than 200 birds. Ultimately, this data will be used to assess how different levels of local population density affect the stress response and microbiome of the birds.”
What has been your biggest takeaway from the research position?
“My biggest takeaway is that ecological fieldwork is not easy! In nature, things are never exactly the way you expect them to be, and it is important to be patient and adaptable, and be able to quickly adjust to new changes that arise.”
How do you manage your time with all your extra curriculars?
“It's always very overwhelming at the start of a semester to look at all my courses and extracurriculars that I have committed to, but once the semester starts, I'm able to quickly get a sense of how much time I have to allocate to each activity. From there, I like to create schedules and task lists so that I have blocked out times for each commitment that I've made, and I know exactly what needs to be done on which day. I'm a huge fan of the timetable charts that the library offers - I use them every semester to help me visualize my time across an entire week."
How has your experiential learning helped you with your career goals?
“Experiential learning has given me the opportunity to explore a wide range of activities and develop skills that are difficult to practice in a classroom setting. Personally, I have never had very clear and direct career goals, and all these extracurricular activities have helped me learn about my personal strengths, values, and interests. For instance, fieldwork helped me realize that I love being outdoors and on my feet all the time and being a Peer Helper showed me that I find it very fulfilling to build one-on-one connections with other people.”
What's your favourite Experiential Learning memory?
“My most outstanding Experiential Learning memory is at Wild Ontario when a hawk stepped onto my gloved hand for the very first time. To be able to build up enough trust with an animal like that was a truly rewarding process and set me up for a lifelong appreciation for raptors. As a child, I always thought that the people who brought in falcons and hawks sitting on their arms for school programs were the coolest people on the planet, and it is a moment I have always dreamed of to one day become one of them.”
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
“Advice for all students reading this: it's never too late to get involved with as many things as you can on campus! You never know what you might learn or who you might meet, and these are the experiences that will leave you with the fondest memories.”