Junior biology major Alexandra Norton ’22 started her college journey when she was just 13 years old. Being homeschooled, she had the freedom to push her love of science to the limits to prepare for a career as a veterinarian.

A Meteoric Rise

Long before it was a graduation requirement, Alexandra Norton ’22 was doing research in the field. The 17-year-old junior biology major was homeschooled growing up, which meant that the traditional rules of school didn’t apply.

“The funny thing was, we weren’t at home very much,” said the Bolton, CT, native.

Photo of Alexandra Norton '20, an ElmSTEM scholar and biology major

Instead, Alexandra and her mother would visit local museums and community organizations that offered classes. Before she knew it, Alexandra was a scientist in the making.

“It’s always been science for me,” she said. “My mom started me off with zoology, and I loved it. That’s when I realized that I’m definitely a science person.”

Catalyst for Vet School

Her love of animals continued to develop over the years, even leading her to take a junior zookeepers class at the Lutz Children’s Museum in Manchester, CT, where she worked with exotic animals.

Having the freedom to explore subjects at her own pace catalyzed Alexandra’s path to college. When she was only 13, she enrolled at a community college in Connecticut to take math classes that were at her level.

Photo of biology major Alexandra Norton '20, presenting a poster at the 2019 PVMS conference.
Alexandra presenting her research at the 2019 Pioneer Valley Microbes Symposium.

Earning her associate’s degree in liberal arts and sciences set the stage for her to transfer to Elms in 2018. As an incoming junior, she was awarded a highly competitive ElmSTEM scholarship from the National Science Foundation.

“I like being challenged,” she said. “When I was researching colleges, I looked with the intent of going somewhere that would help me get to veterinary school.”

Alexandra ultimately chose Elms over UConn because she knew that the smaller environment would give her more opportunities to work closely with faculty mentors.

“Another reason I came here was that I knew I could do research right away,” she explained.

Independent research was appealing to her because it constitutes one of the American Veterinary Medical Association’s primary recommendations for students considering careers in veterinary medicine.

‘When I was researching colleges, I looked with the intent of going somewhere that would help me get to veterinary school.’

In collaboration with Prof. Janet Williams, Alexandra is investigating different aspects of the microbiome of horses. To better understand the effects of probiotics on equine health, she is conducting experiments and analyzing data to see whether probiotic products deliver on their promise of digestive tract health.

Between studying for her ecology, genetics, and organic chemistry classes, Alexandra can be found in the research lab in the basement of the Lyons Center, perfecting techniques like gel electrophoresis and polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Even when she’s pushing herself to her academic limits, she finds the routine of work soothing.

“Sometimes, I can be the only one in the lab working,” she said. “It’s very peaceful.”

Biology majors at Elms blend theory and research to prepare for careers as teachers, research scientists, and more. If you share Alexandra’s ambition, contact us or schedule a campus visit to learn more.