Erica Schmidt

Erica Schmidt will be graduating in spring 2023, completing a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Science with a concentration in biotechnology and research. Being from Connecticut originally, Erica wanted to stay in the New England area for college. Erica was originally drawn to UMass for its pre-vet major which had such a great reputation and high odds of getting accepted to vet school but that soon changed when she was introduced to the biotechnology industry and found she was really interested in how research is driving us forward to solve present and future problems. Animals have always been a major part of Erica’s life and she wanted to make sure that her future career still involved the research of animal health while keeping in mind the idea of One Health. After thinking long and hard about what she wanted for her future after her four years at UMass Erica decided to apply for Ph.D. programs with a focus on population medicine. She has been accepted at and has committed to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medicine Ph.D. program through their veterinary school.  This is an incredible personal accomplishment especially since Erica is a first-generation student and the first one in her family to work towards a doctoral degree.

It wasn’t until Erica’s junior year that she started her research experience with Dr. Arcaro and the Canine Tumor Team. Erica took Dr. Arcaro’s veterinary oncology course where Erica was introduced to cell culture and learned the basic skills needed to run our canine tumor lines and understand the importance of how canines can be animal models for breast cancer in humans. From there Erica and the rest of the team assisted an honors thesis student in analyzing SNPs in six different canine tumor lines which they demonstrated through RNA extractions, PCR, and gel electrophoresis. In her senior year, Erica took a break from the Canine Tumor project and worked on the BRCA study where she touched on microscopy ranking the intensity of biomarkers CXCL8, OPG, and RANKL found in tissues of women that have the BRCA mutation. This was then compared to a previous study done by a graduate student looking at the levels of the same biomarkers presented in breast milk. Erica presented her findings during the ICORE poster day and the VASCI Science Day.

During the summers of 2021 and 2022, Erica had a wonderful experience interning as a research animal specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Comparative Medicine in the transplant research department. She had the eye-opening experience and  privilege of working with lab animals. She obtained hands-on experience working with and managing Non-Human Primates and swine. She saw firsthand what goes on in a lab setting from a veterinarian's perspective on caring for the animals' well-being and a researcher’s perspective by finding new solutions to increase survival rates by creating better immunotherapy drugs. Her daily tasks consisted of animal husbandry, she also gained a lot of technical skills along the way that helped her perform IM injections, SQ injections, and femoral blood draws. Erica is honored by the fact that her internship projects have made such a big impact through this organization to organize animal enrichment that this is now being implemented across all the Mass General campuses. Hopefully, implementing visual controls, Standard Operating Procedures, and a new board design will make a difference in prioritizing the health of these animals.

During her years at UMass, the classes that Erica enjoyed the most were the multiple animal management classes she took. Freshmen year Erica was part of the Bay State Livestock Classic class where she was paired with a Belted Galloway cow named Gemma which helped Erica learn showing skills for the Live Classic Show that happens every April. In her senior year, she took both Belted Galway Management and Lab Animal Research Management. Some of the highlights from taking the Belties class include working hands-on with the moms and the calves, getting the calves ready for the Bay State Livestock Classic, and a better understanding of how the beef production cycle works. The Research Animal Management class was Erica’s favorite. In this class students cycle through all the labs on campus and work with all the different species used in research while also getting experience on how an animal research facility is run. Students also got to practice skills including ear clipping, injection routes, and pharmacology which prepared them for performing surgeries that you would typically see in a research setting. Taking these animal management classes with a wide variety of species has provided Erica with a direction to focus on during her Ph.D. rotations. This has helped her to narrow down her first rotation focusing on dairy calf health management, behavior, and welfare to predict and detect disease. While Erica’s second rotation is looking at the 3Rs to guard the cumulative experience of animal subjects and improve model validity for Nonhuman primates as diabetic disease models. Erica believes that taking management classes at UMass has helped her realize what she wants to do in the future especially since for a long time it was always vet school.

Erica has also been active in clubs including peer mentors and club running. She has taken a lot of undergraduate students under her wing and has shown them the ins and outs at UMass while also being there as their support team when they needed it. When she’s not in classes or helping an undergrad you can catch her running on campus with the rest of the avid runners training for races. Erica has had awesome opportunities to compete against many schools across New England and even got to run at NIRCA Regionals during her freshman and junior years.

During her free time, Erica tries to get outside as much as possible. She loves to run, kayak, paddleboard, hike, ski, and horseback ride. She has a personal goal to visit all 60 national parks in the U.S. having visited three so far: Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Tetons. Erica is very excited to travel to Ireland this summer and indulge in the Irish culture with a whole equestrian excursion across the emerald isle with a lot of sightseeing. Erica has a bunny named Magpie that she rescued with thoughts of the many more to be recused in the future and the hope to personally own a bunny rescue farm.

Even though Erica’s time at UMass has come to an end she is excited to start her next adventure in Minnesota. Erica thanks all her professors especially Dr. Minter and Dr. Arcaro who have watched her grow and pushed her to achieve her goals. Lastly, Erica shares a big shout out and thank you to her parents and her brother who have been there for her since day one. They are her biggest supporters and will continue to be during her years at graduate school.