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Prema Nissinen riding horses on farm

Pre-vet student embraces horses, livestock and life on campus

By Srila Nayak

Prema Nissinen, honors biology student and OSU presidential scholar

A biology major with a concentration in pre-veterinary medicine, Prema Nissinen is a first-year Honors student who has been grooming herself for her major for years.

Nissinen is experiencing a demanding yet enjoyable first year at university. While a course on animal sciences and one on German dictatorship broadened her intellectual horizons, it is her avid participation in events hosted by the Pre-Vet Medical Association in the Honors College, involvement with the OSU Sheep and Horse Centers and the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship that is opening her eyes to how exciting, varied and dynamic life on campus can be.

Prema Nissinen feeding lamb
Prema Nissinen at the OSU Sheep Center

She is the recipient of OSU’s most prestigious award, the Presidential Scholarship, which is awarded to the highest-caliber high school seniors in Oregon with a record of academic excellence (a 3.85 GPA or above) and impressive SAT or ACT scores, among other accomplishments. In 2017, 34 OSU students, including nine College of Science students, received a Presidential Scholarship. At $10,000-per-year, the Presidential Scholarship provides $40,000 for students’ undergraduate education.

In addition to an outstanding education, Nissinen would like to acquire leadership experiences and skills through her involvement with student clubs and organizations.

Nissinen has been riding and caring for horses since she was a five-year-old in Norman, Oklahoma. After moving to Condon, a small farming community in Eastern Oregon at age seven, Nissinen started raising and training animals while participating in 4-H activities in her county. 4-H offers young animal enthusiasts like Nissinen opportunities to work on science, agricultural and livestock projects as well as other creative endeavors and hobbies.

Prema Nissinen riding horses at county fair
Prema Nissinen with her 4-H leader at the Gilliam County Fair. Photo by K Lynn Lane

Over the years, Nissinen has raised market lambs and trained horses for the Gilliam County Fair as part of various 4-H projects. She spent summers running and exercising lambs on rolling pastures to condition their muscles before the fair. Her enjoyment of biology labs in high school and her volunteer experiences at a local veterinary clinic, where she has worked with many dogs and cats, solidified her desire to study biology in college.

“Becoming a part of 4-H and other activities made me fall in love with science and made my childhood dreams of becoming a veterinarian more tangible,” said Nissinen, who is also a photography enthusiast.

The Presidential Scholarship helped Nissinen, who had also gained admission to the University of California-Davis, decide in favor of studying science at OSU.

Nissinen is the only child of a father who is a retired aerospace engineer and an OSU alumnus, and a mother who is an artist. “My father has always pushed me academically and my mother always inspired me to do what I love,” laughs Nissinen. Securing financial aid, she says, helped her decide to study at OSU.

“Cost, proximity and academic variety and flexibility brought me to OSU. I am focusing on pre-veterinarian studies. But I also wanted to make sure I had the option to switch and do something else if the need arose,” observed Nissinen. “OSU has a great variety of academic options if I want to study in a different field."

Among her plans are to gain a broad exposure to different subjects. She would like to enroll in business and computer science classes, and pursue a minor in animal sciences. Nissinen is also keenly exploring research labs on campus related to biological and animal sciences, and is looking forward to getting a head start on her honors thesis.

Her goals for her undergraduate career include securing summer internships in veterinary clinics in different parts of the country and even abroad.

“I realize that’s a lot. I probably have to narrow it down at some point,” says Nissinen, as she gets ready to meet with a researcher at the Center for Genome Research and Biocomputing to explore the possibility of a research assistantship.

As she progresses through her first year at university, Nissinen is excited about embracing the many opportunities that are available to her as a science student at OSU.

Top image: Biology major Prema Nissinen with her lamb at the Gilliam County Fair. Photo by K Lynn Lane.