New Major Profile: Animal Behavior

Matt Rogers


Freshman transfer student Kayla Paratore likes to joke that she is the guinea pig. It really is not too far of a stretch.

That’s because Paratore is the lone student in Utica College’s newest major, animal behavior, which debuted this fall.

“It is a bit weird to be the sole student,” she said. “But then again, I also get to get hands on with my major and have more opportunities.”

The one who got the ball rolling in regards to the new major was Professor of Biology and Dean of Arts and Sciences Dr. Sharon Wise. She describes the new major as interdisciplinary, meaning that it draws on the expertise of both the biology and the psychology departments.

Dr. Bryant Buchanan, professor of biology, said the process began about ten years ago, when members of the biology department talked about the fact that there were a number of researchers working on animal behavior, neuroscience, and sensory biology.

“We decided to take advantage of the wealth of animal behavior researchers in both the biology and psychology departments to develop [the new major],” he said.

The major is only offered by a few schools in the northeast. That, along with the fact that there will be a course in zoo animal behavior, training, and husbandry run in collaboration with the Utica Zoo, make this an appealing major according to Wise.

She says that although she doesn’t plan on the major continuing to have just one student, Wise does say that the major is expected to remain small, with just a few students.

“It is very specialized and should be attracted to students really wishing to pursue areas associated with animal behavior or animal care,” she said.

Paratore was just the student they were looking for.

She says her goal after graduation is to help end animal cruelty, especially against elephants. She believes her studies at UC will help her attain those lofty aspirations.

“I want to open my own wild animal resort, and help take in animals who were abandoned after animal testing, being abused from circuses, and from other organizations like zoos, who cannot properly care for them,” she said. “I know by graduation I will truly be a scientist with experience and will be beyond ready to take on the world.”

Wise said the major has not yet been advertised for, and that she expects some students to come in next fall. She also made sure to note that despite the small number of students in the major, animal behavior majors will still have classes with a traditional number of students, as they will be integrated with the biology and psychology majors.

Buchanan explained that the idea of animal behavior is a very broad area, and that it is essential for students to be equipped with knowledge of specific biological processes.

“Behavior is the way that animals interact with their environments and with each other, so it’s a pretty broad field,” he said. “Our goal is to understand the origin, mechanisms, functions, and effects of behavior.”

Wise said that the major can appeal to a variety of different students with different career goals. “This major will be a good option for those students interested in veterinary medicine or graduate school in areas such as animal behavior, behavior ecology, and wildlife biology,” she said. Wise also said it would be an appropriate major for those interested in working at a zoo or an aquarium.

Though the semester, like the major, is in its infancy, Paratore, the guinea pig, has had nothing but great experiences so far.

“I absolutely love this program,” she said. “Professors are very enthusiastic here, and are eager to help me get into as many