Amanda Simmons loves animals, so when she was looking for a college and came across Lees-McRae's Wildlife Biology and Wildlife Rehabilitation programs, she knew she found a good fit. The small campus atmosphere was also a big selling point for Amanda, a sophomore from Cleveland, TN.
"I chose to come to Lees-McRae College because it had a lot of things that other colleges didn't offer. It offered everything that I wanted in a college," she said. "I was afraid to go to a big school; sitting in class with 150 students is kind of daunting. You really don't get to know any of your professors or anything. I liked that Lees-McRae is a small campus and it's a beautiful campus. You really can get involved in anything you want to, like outdoor programs. There's so much to do on campus."
"And of course the animals, that was definitely a big reason why decided to come here. Lees-McRae offers an experience that allows you to work with animals all four years, and that's definitely what I want to do. It's exciting to find a program that allows me to work with what I love."
Amanda has also enjoyed the personal attention she receives on campus. "Nina Fischesser [Director of the Blue Ridge Wildlife Institute] is definitely my mentor here at Lees-McRae. I'm really close to her, and I love that I can go to her about anything. She just knows so much about what I want to learn."
Amanda also admires the rapport Nina shares with her students and the animals she treats at the Institute. "Nina is such a motherly figure. She loves looking out for the animals. She pays such close detail to each and every animal. She also does that with her students. She loves to pay attention to anything that's going on. She'll remember trips that you've been on or if you're having problems in any of your classes. And it really shows in the work that she does with the animals. She pays such close attention to what they're eating or if they're hurting in any way. I love watching her work with the animals -- especially when she's working with the ambassador animals, because you can really tell that they love her back."
Outside of the classroom, Amanda has taken advantage of the many activities in which student s can become involved. "I joined the Equestrian Club my freshman year and I had actually never been on a horse before. So it was a really fun experience to get to meet all the girls who have had more experience than me and make some amazing new friendships. It's been nice to be able to go out and spend time with the horses, too. It's really relaxing to spend time with them, and it takes the edge off of a hectic week at school."
Developing new friendships has been one of Amanda's favorite aspects of college so far. "My best experiences on campus have been all the new friends that I've made. There are people from all over the world, and it's nice to see things from their perspectives," Amanda continued. "They also help you get involved in things you wouldn't have ever tried before. I just got involved with the Backpacking Club because of my friend Sarah. I just rappelled off of a 160 foot cliff the other day which is something I never thought I could do!"
Amanda also helps out her fellow students as a mentor at the Blue Ridge Wildlife Institute. "Being a mentor basically means that you've been through the two introductory courses, and you've taken the summer clinical course working with the animals all summer long and learning from Nina. So, you come in as an upperclassmen student and you're teaching new students who come into the program. It's an experience that's been really rewarding. You get to work with animals and also be in a leadership role with other students. You learn to give feedback to the people who are working under you. It's a really good skill to learn to be assertive without being overbearing. It's one experience that I've taken so much from."
As an academically gifted student, Amanda has also been able to participate in the Honors Program at Lees-McRae. "The honors program is really great. We go on trips and have special dinners. We also have our own library to work in which is really amazing when you need a quiet place to study or need upperclassmen honors students to help you with the classes you've been taking. The honors program offers a lot of higher level classes that you can take earlier in college, like the senior level course I'm taking right now on British Literature with Dr. Joslin. It's really awesome."
So, what does Amanda want to do when her studies are complete at Lees-McRae? "After graduation I really want to travel. I'd love to full hike the Appalachian Trail or maybe even go to Africa and work at a wildlife preserve. I'm also thinking about graduate school. Obviously I haven't quite decided yet!"