Gretchen Hamernik-Winters is a pre-veterinarian student at Northland College, who has set big goals for herself. “I would love to work as a zoo vet with the potential of opening my own rehabilitation center for zoos that close as well as for wildlife that can no longer live in the wild,” she said.
Gretchen was born and raised in Neenah, Wisconsin, where she grew up with dogs, including two Siberian huskies, cats, snakes, turtles, hamsters, and fish. She chose Northland College, located at the top of the state, for the small size of the campus and the surrounding city of Ashland, the one-on-one opportunities with professors, and the potential for traveling abroad to study.
The Wisconsin Tuition Grant played a critical role in her decision. “Financially, I never thought I could attend a private college—until I realized that with grants and scholarships, it was possible,” Gretchen said.
Doctorate programs require a minimum of two-hundred recorded hours of hands-on time with animals. Gretchen has accomplished this and beyond through internships—at a zoo, a sled dog kennel, and a veterinarian office. In addition to these internships, she carries a full course load, makes the dean’s list every semester, works at Kwik Trip, and plays soccer.
“Gretchen works incredibly hard to incorporate internships into every semester, and she does an outstanding job at each opportunity,” said Coordinator of Applied Learning Stacy Craig. “She does this while juggling work, school, and athletics. Her dedication will be an excellent asset to her chosen profession of veterinary science.”
Last summer Gretchen worked as a biology intern at the Menominee Zoo, where she was responsible for the care and enrichment of educational animals. She also assisted the zookeepers with the exotic animals and the barn animals. She led tours around the zoo, helped with special events, and presented at educational programs.
“Gretchen learned that not only was she skilled at caring for various animals, but she was exuberant in overcoming specific challenges of the internship—effectively educating the public about zoo animals,” said Northland College Biology Professor Wendy Gorman.
This past winter, Gretchen took a position at Country Care Pet Hospital in Washburn, Wisconsin, where she continues to work, and she interned as a dog handler for four months, earning credits while working at an 11-dog recreational kennel of Siberian and Alaskan huskies.
On her first day at the kennel, she met the dogs, scooped the kennel, learned the basic commands (gee=right; haw=left; on by=keep going straight), then clipped into cross-country skis for the first time ever and hooked herself to a dog, called skijoring. “That is a ‘can do’ attitude,” Gorman said.
Over the next four months, Gretchen learned general dog care, equipment, grooming, and eventually she got behind the sled. First, with one dog, then two, and then she ran three dogs in the six-mile family run at the Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race in February—and had the winning time.
“She showed an incredible amount of needed confidence, bravery, and skill,” said kennel owner Julie Buckles, who raced five dogs. “She’s so thoughtful and gentle with all the dogs and they respond to that.”
Gretchen ended her internship with a solo run with a four-dog team.
“From my internships, I know that the pursuit for my doctorate in veterinarian medicine is indeed the right path for me,” she said. “Northland has allowed me to achieve my goals, graduating a semester earlier as well, and I am hoping to be accepted into vet school on my first attempt.”