Jacqueline Nelson, of Holmdel, New Jersey, believes in building bridges between people and wildlife and that increasing understanding between the two worlds can lead to positive change.

Nelson will earn two bachelor’s degrees this month — she’s majoring in natural resources conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment and public relations in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. She hopes to use her love of animals and outreach to educate the public about wildlife.

“I chose natural resources conservation because I wanted to work with both wildlife and people,” she said. “If someone makes an emotional connection with an animal, it changes their mindset about the issues that affect that animal. I want to use my communication skills to help people connect with the unseen world around them.”

Nelson picked Virginia Tech after accompanying her older brother on a college tour. She realized right away that it was a place where she could develop a broad range of skills.

“I fell in love with the school and the whole atmosphere. At that point, I was looking specifically at a communications major, but I knew whatever I did, I would get a good education,” she said.

Throughout her time at Virginia Tech, Nelson has sought ways to blend her two passions into valuable, real-world experience.

During summer 2015, she worked as an education intern with Roanoke’s Mill Mountain Zoo, where she informed the public about the zoo’s various exhibits, conducted public presentations, and helped train and mentor volunteer high school students.

In 2017, a second internship took her to Audubon Sharon in Connecticut, where she gained experience developing camp curriculum as a head counselor and working in the organization’s wildlife rehabilitation center.

Nelson has also taken advantage of study abroad opportunities offered through Virginia Tech and partnering universities. As a sophomore, she traveled to Switzerland for a two-week communications program. And she just returned after spending the fall 2017 semester at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand.

“I was out of the country for five months,” Nelson said. “I went to New Zealand with no friends and no idea what was going to happen, but I threw myself into the experience, and it was absolutely incredible,” she said.

While in New Zealand, Nelson took courses in community engagement, animal behavior, and even Antarctic studies. She toured wildlife sanctuaries and observed the country’s approach to wildlife and marine conservation.

Nelson has also developed close ties with the on-campus community at Virginia Tech. She has served as president of Lambda Pi Eta, the national honor society for communications, and as education co-chair for the Virginia Tech Student Chapter of The Wildlife Society. She is a member of Xi Sigma Pi, the international honor society for forestry and related sciences.

She has offered her talents as an independent videographer to several student groups, including Humans of Virginia Tech, which publishes stories and videos similar to those seen on the popular Humans of New York website and Facebook page.

“A lot of the highlights for me came from being education co-chair for the Virginia Tech Student Chapter of The Wildlife Society,” Nelson recalled. “The other education co-chair, Mel Skirkanich, and I had both done internships with Mill Mountain Zoo, so we reached out to our supervisor there to ask if we could train the other chapter members to become volunteers. We spent the whole semester training our fellow students to work with the education animals and make presentations for local schools. It was amazing to share my educational passion with others.”

After graduation, Nelson will be heading to Hawaii to begin a position as a wildlife rehabilitation technician at the Kauai Humane Society, working specifically with the state bird, the nene. In addition to providing basic medical care and husbandry to the birds, Nelson hopes she will be able to educate others on the importance of endemic species like the nene.

“I’m going to miss living with my best friends and being a part of the Virginia Tech community,” she said. “It’s an experience you can’t get anywhere else.”

Written by Jessica Stanley