Improving Lives, One Puppy at a Time

Emily White and puppy
Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Animal lover Emily White ’12 (sociology) of Upton, MA, has been on the prowl for a career path that involves animals and makes a difference in people’s lives. “I’ve seen how relationships between people and dogs can be mutually beneficial,” she says, “and it occurred to me that the service dog field might be what I’m looking for. I found Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto, Florida. This premiere nonprofit organization trains and places service dogs with visually impaired people.” White landed an internship for part of the summer—but the opportunity was unpaid.

“I really wanted to do something valuable with my summer without having to worry too much about financing it,” White says. Fortunately, the SBS Internship Award, funded by alumni, most notably Maryellen and Christopher McCabe ’81, Joseph Aiello ’74, and Mary J. Mitchell ’76, to support SBS students taking unpaid internships, made that possible. “The scholarship was so appreciated,” says White.

White worked full-time, spending half of each day in the puppy and breeding kennel, helping to care for and socialize future guide dogs and educating the public who came to see them. The other half of the day, White performed office tasks, called graduates of the school to inquire how they were coming along with their guide dogs, and kept graduate files up to date.

“For the most part, they gushed about their dogs,” White says. “And there were accounts of dogs having actually saved lives. It made me feel like the work was a really good thing. I developed skills that can be transferred to almost any field, and refined my ability to speak to visiting groups and to customers. In social work, the ability to interact well with new people is very important.”

When White came to UMass she was already thinking of sociology as a potential major. “I loved my high school course,” she says, and took two intro courses freshman year to make sure the subject still piqued her interest. “I’ve had some awesome professors and TAs. I really loved Prof. Papachristos’ criminology course, and I found the department to be really accessible. It was easy to set up advising appointments and there are lots of caring people.”

White’s overall UMass experience has been enriching as well. “I loved the fact that the general education courses pushed me to take classes out of my comfort zone and expanded my knowledge in areas beyond the social sciences,” she says. “Another plus is that all types of people attend and there are lots of extracurricular activities. You never run out of people to meet or things to do.”

Out of the classroom, White worked at the UMass Equine Farm and was a photographer for the Daily Collegian. She traveled to Sicily with a photojournalism class over spring break. “I love attending UMass sporting events, particularly ice hockey. And Amherst and the surrounding towns make for a great college atmosphere.”

Concerned at first about UMass’ size, White quickly found a niche and made lots of friends. “There definitely are people to help you, but you have to seek that help. You learn to stand up for yourself and become pretty independent. Even if you don’t know at first what you want to major in, the choices are so broad—and you can even design your own major. You can’t beat the price either.”

For now White is focused on getting that sociology degree, earning a certificate in criminal justice, and completing her psychology minor. “I don’t think I can fix the world’s problems, but I would like to improve lives. My experience at Southeastern Guide Dogs was great, and I hope to return there next summer.”