Kathryn Mason ’14 connects her passion for animals, community service and behavioral research at the Winslow Farm in Norton, Mass.
A helping hand: Since my freshman year I have been a community service intern for the Office of Service, Spirituality and Social Responsibility. I act as a project manager and a liaison, helping to expand Wheaton’s community partnerships and getting students involved in volunteer projects. The summer before I arrived at Wheaton, I came across an article highlighting an initiative at the Winslow Farm in Norton involving rehabilitating and bringing peace to abused and neglected animals. Many students had reached out to Dean Vereene Parnell at the Office of SSSR, inquiring about an animal volunteer program. When I realized how much interest there was, I decided to pursue a partnership between Wheaton and Winslow. More than 40 students contacted me seeking to volunteer, and nearly a semester later, the majority of the student volunteers have remained consistent in their effort.
Horsing around: The same semester that I began volunteering at Winslow Farm, I also reached out to Associate Professor of Psychology Kathleen Morgan regarding my interest in animal communication and training. Professor Morgan and Faculty Associate Shari Morris in the Biology Department were planning a summer research project focused on comparative stress levels in horses using the clicker (positive reinforcement) as their primary method of training. While I was volunteering at the farm, I also began collaborating with them in planning the summer details of the project.
Good behavior: This semester, Professor Morgan and I have been working with the mini-horses at the Winslow Farm, training them in the foundational behaviors needed in order to train the more elaborate behaviors for our upcoming summer project. I have been working on modifying the behaviors in a few of the horses, specifically involving food aggression in the presence of other animals. One of the most enjoyable aspects of training has been getting other interested students involved. It has been amazing having other students to discuss these topics with, and I can’t wait to see where all this experience will take me next.
Why I love it: Working beside animals is like studying a foreign language focused solely on the use of the body. Engaging in the language, you are forced to think critically on your toes and be open to alternative solutions. Like solving a math equation, I love the challenge of understanding animal behavior.
Future plans: I may start a training business, or, perhaps, collaborate with nonprofit animal organizations to teach training techniques and alternative approaches to animal communication. I will be teaching animal training classes at Winslow Farm this summer. Ultimately, I plan on pursuing animal cognition at the graduate level.