Alumni Feature: Nina Finley ‘12

Nina Finley

What college or university did you attend after SAAS (or what did you pursue instead?)

I am currently a sophomore at The Ohio State University.

What did you major in? Did you get other degrees?

I am pursuing a double major in Animal Sciences and Evolution & Ecology, with a pre-veterinary focus.

What unique experiences have you had since leaving SAAS? Trips, internships, jobs, etc.

My favorite experience since leaving SAAS has been my sophomore year studying abroad in South America. I started with fall semester studying evolution, marine biology, ecology, and conservation in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. As a paid blogger for IES Abroad, I uploaded thousands of photos and dozens of essays to the internet, and I have kept it up all year on my personal blog, Natural Selections.

I hiked through the Andean Paramo and watched birds in the Maquipucuna cloud forest. My class spent a week at the highly restricted Tiputini Biodiversity Station in the Amazon Rainforest. I spent three months living on the Galapagos Islands, volunteering for the National Park Sea Lion Census, and performing stable isotope analysis of sea lion skulls. I snorkeled, hiked, and scuba dove as often as possible, and I authored a paper (not published) about the epizoic algae of Galapagos green turtles. While in Ecuador, I learned Spanish and lived with a host family. It was one of the best times of my life.

In the spring, I traveled to Piracicaba, Brazil with my Ohio State agricultural and natural resources honors society, Alpha Zeta Partners. We spent six weeks studying Portuguese, Brazilian history, agricultural economics, and natural resource management. I developed a new perspective on infrastructure development, sugarcane and beef production, and Amazon deforestation. I had the opportunity to visit Itaipo Dam and Iguazu Falls (two wonders of the world), a swine slaughterhouse, an egg processing factory, and an industrial sugarcane plantation. It was fascinating to compare Brazil, an upcoming global powerhouse with Portuguese and African roots, to Ecuador, a small developing nation with Spanish and indigenous heritage.

After Brazil, I returned to Ecuador to travel and volunteer on my own. I have been to all corners of the country, from Limoncocha (a lake in the Amazon) to Cotopaxi (a snow-capped volcano on the equator) to Otavalo (an indigenous Andean market) to Mindo (the third most biodiverse birding site in South America).

I was supposed to fly to the Galapagos to complete a two-month independent research project on the symbiosis between reef fish and Galapagos green turtles, but due to complications outside of my control, I have yet to receive my Galapagos visa. That's how it is with international research! So I ended up volunteering here at Equilibrio Azul instead. I have spent a month volunteering at Equilibrio Azul, a sea turtle and shark conservation foundation in Puerto Lopez, a sleepy town on the coast.

Next week I'm going to Peru to trek to Machu Picchu. Then I will spend the month of May volunteering at Estacion Cientifica Yasuni in the Amazon. I'll be planting a rainforest garden at the research station and teaching English to the local indigenous kids.

What are your favorite memories from SAAS? What programs, teams, extracurriculars were you involved in while at SAAS? Who were your most influential teachers at SAAS?  

I think of SAAS absolutely all the time. I have too many great memories to count. The Seattle Challenge and the Senior Alaska Trip stand out as the most wonderful times.

The SAAS girls' ultimate team will always have a place in my heart, and I can safely say my participation on the 6th grade ultimate team changed the course of my life. (I played on the 2010 and 2012 USA National Teams at the World Junior Ultimate Championships. I chose Ohio State partly for its killer ultimate team, Fever, which is currently ranked #1 in the nation. Last year, I was named the 2013 Skyd Ultimate All-American Freshman of the Year for my contribution to Fever. Ultimate kept me sane as a college freshman!)

I keep in touch with Alison Ray and Melanie Reed and I consider them close friends and mentors. I recall Jason Gough's Philosophy of Love class and Alison Ray's Magical Realism class all the time. American Studies prepared me for college more than any other class.

Where are you now and what do you do? Where do you see yourself in 10 years? How did SAAS help prepare you for your job today?

This summer I will be working on San Juan Island as a lab assistant to Dr. Nick Gidmark. I will be researching sculpin jaw mechanics through the University of Washington Friday Harbor Labs Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. There, I will earn my UW Scientific Scuba Diving Certification. I recently received the NOAA Hollings Scholarship, so I will spend next summer completing a fully-funded marine biology internship with a NOAA mentor.

Next year I hope to transfer to Whitman College to major in Biology and Environmental Studies. After college, I plan to pursue a joint PhD/DVM in wildlife population medicine from Washington State University. I want to work as a marine biologist and wildlife veterinarian in the Pacific Northwest. (But my life dreams change radically every few weeks, so stay tuned!)

Check out Nina’s blog here: