Cat Bussani ’24 Draws Upon Study Abroad, Independent Study – and Soon, Disney – to Pursue a Career in Animal Conservation

Cat Bussani ’24 Draws Upon Study Abroad, Independent Study – and Soon, Disney – to Pursue a Career in Animal Conservation

Academics, Internships, Research, Study Abroad, Testimonials

May 6, 2024

Cat Bussani ’24 Draws Upon Study Abroad, Independent Study – and Soon, Disney – to Pursue a Career in Animal Conservation Cat Bussani '24

Cat Bussani ’24 has always been passionate about working with animals and wants to focus on the environmental and conservation issues that can impact them. As a biology major, she’s used study abroad and independent study opportunities to complement what she’s learned in her classes and labs. Now, she’s hoping a one-of-a-kind internship following graduation will potentially open an exciting new door to fulfilling her career plans.

Finding the upper-level classes to fit the areas of study she wanted to pursue drew Bussani to the School for Field Studies (SFS), the premier environmental study abroad program for undergraduates that offers field-based study and research initiatives around the world. Hollins is one of SFS’s 150 college and university affiliates.

Bussani spent the spring semester of her junior year at the SFS field station in Australia. Located on 150 acres, it is SFS’s largest campus. “We were living in the middle of the rain forest in the middle of nowhere,” she says, laughing. “The three classes I took were condensed into a two-month period and then during the final month we split up into groups to conduct research projects based on topics selected by our professors. My group looked at ways in which we could improve a roadside vegetation management plan that the local council was considering.”

Studying with SFS in Australia meant learning how to carefully interact on a regular basis with the abundance of wildlife that is unique to the region. “From the first day, we were taught how to address particular situations that could happen to us, such as snake bites,” she recalls. “Bugs here don’t bother me anymore after the huge ones I encountered in Australia.”

Prior to traveling to Australia, Bussani spent the 2023 January Short Term in an environment that could not have been more different: Minnesota in winter. “I did a two-week independent study tracking wolves,” she says, through Osprey Wilds, a private, nonprofit residential environmental learning center located in east central Minnesota that blends classroom instruction with hands-on research. Bussani and her group also worked with the International Wolf Center, which “advances the survival of wolf populations by teaching about wolves, their relationship to wildlands, and the human role in their future.” 

Her adventures in Australia and Minnesota augmented what Bussani says she learned through Hollins biology classes and labs such as Wildlife Disease, taught by Associate Professor of Biology Elizabeth Gleim, which provides a general understanding of disease ecology and examines both common and newly emerging diseases that affect wildlife. “We worked on a mock management plan for black bears in which we looked at current populations, studied different management plans for other animals, and determined what it would actually cost to run the plan,” she explains.

That ability to immerse oneself in the discipline, Bussani says, underscores the overall approach of Hollins’ biology department. “You believe you’re an equal with your professors. You bond with them, and you never feel like you’re on your own. And with the small number of students in the major’s upper classes, you get to know everyone.”

This fall, Bussani is going to embark on a different kind of hands-on experience. In September, she will join the Disney College Program at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando and spent the ensuing six months in an internship that, according to the program website, “allow[s] you the chance to experience, study and create the Disney magic. It’s also the time to take advantage of networking with Disney leaders and exploring opportunities available after your program through extension opportunities, additional internships, full-time roles and more.”

“I won’t find out my specific role until a week before I arrive,” Bussani says, “but I know I will get to do a deep dive into many types of fields, from food services to the hotels to working the rides.”

The program, which only accepts about 20% of the total number of applicants, may also offer her the chance to further pursue her love of working with animals. The resort’s largest venue is Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park, which is the most-visited zoo in the world and one that emphasizes protecting the natural environment and championing animal conservation, causes that Bussani cherishes.

“I loved Disney growing up,” she says, “but the possibility of ultimately getting a position at Animal Kingdom was a major reason why I wanted to do the internship in Orlando.”

In addition to her scholarship both in and out of the classroom, Bussani says she has enjoyed her time as a student-athlete at Hollins, having played on the soccer team during each of her four years on campus. “Being a student-athlete really helped with my time management, and I also appreciated the great communication I had with both my professors and my coaches. Through high school, I always thought, ‘I can’t miss this class, I can’t be late with turning in an assignment,’ but the professors at Hollins were always willing to work with me and give me an extension if I needed it because of a soccer commitment. I was so relieved that I could do both.”

Bussani is also grateful for the interpersonal relationships that being a student-athlete has helped foster. “Coming from California, I didn’t have any friends here when I first arrived on campus, and Covid of course meant having to do a lot of social distancing and interacting through Zoom calls. Through athletics, I was not only able to build friendships outside of my classes, but I could also see those friends face-to-face. That really helped me.”