How an Internship at Fresno’s Discovery Center Shaped My STEM Journey

Alicia Betancourt

By Alicia Betancourt
Junior, biology major

My pursuit of a STEM career and education wasn’t just about following a passion; it was a relentless odyssey marked by late-night study sessions and groggy early mornings as I grappled with the intricate dance between mitosis and meiosis.

There were moments when it all felt like a Sisyphean endeavor, each flashcard and study session failing to deliver the academic triumph I desperately sought. 

The road ahead seemed arduous, lined with a litany of exams, each one a stepping stone toward that elusive degree. 

In my moments of doubt, I even pondered whether the prospect of working at Amazon was more appealing.

But I couldn’t abandon my quest without a fight. 

You see, my journey into education at Fresno State had been set in motion long before I had a say in it. 

My early life was a tumultuous storm. Born in an unstable home, with uncertain future.  

Our life was a fleeting existence punctuated by constant upheaval, we shuffled from school to school, neighborhood to neighborhood, in a ceaseless nomadic dance. The lack of stability took a toll on me, manifesting in poor grades and behavioral issues.

The Role my Grandmother and Uncle Played

However, fate intervened in the form of two unwavering saviors – my grandmother and uncle. They stepped in without hesitation, rescuing my sister and me from our precarious situation, oblivious to the challenges ahead.

My grandmother worked as a cashier, and my uncle was just beginning his employment as a retention counselor at a charter school, so neither were wealthy but both were determined nevertheless to provide us with the stability needed to thrive.

Compared to my earlier life, the new arrangement at grandma’s home felt like a never-ending trip to Disneyland. 

With newfound stability came a transformation. My grades soared, my behavior improved, and my outlook on life brightened. 

But another vital influence entered my life: a little pit bull named Gotti. 

Fate intervened in the form of two unwavering saviors – my grandmother and uncle. They stepped in without hesitation, rescuing my sister and me from our precarious situation, oblivious to the challenges ahead.


Love for Animals

A gift received shortly after moving in with my grandmother, Gotti was a bundle of playful energy that nestled his way into my heart and the first of several four-legged companions who brought stability and comedic relief into my life. 

As I grew alongside my dogs, so did my desire to care for them, nurtured by volunteer work with the CCSPCA and a deep empathy for abused and neglected animals.

“How could people do these things to an animal?” I often wondered.

This question ignited the dream of becoming a veterinarian, a lifelong calling to heal the sick and injured creatures of the world.

Yet, as I ventured toward this dream, it seemed to slip away. My teenage years passed in a haze, and I graduated high school at seventeen without a clear path forward. 

My love for my animals remained unwavering, but the prospect of dedicating nearly a decade to become a veterinarian felt overwhelming, like a commitment longer than most marriages. 

My teenage mind grappled with the enormity of it all, so I decided to take a gap semester before committing to anything.

During this time, an opportunity arose: an internship with the Economic Opportunities Commission in Fresno, focusing on providing work experience for underprivileged youth. 

The Fresno Discovery Center

Still harboring a passion for animal care, I underwent brief training and was selected to intern as an animal care assistant at the Fresno Discovery Center, a science museum for children and families. 

Here, I found myself working with a diverse array of animals, from pythons and corn snakes to chameleons, lizards, turtles, tortoises, and even the unsettling Madagascar hissing cockroach (my nemesis).

This role might have felt like a nightmare to some, but for me and my colleagues, it was a daily adventure.

We ensured these creatures thrived, from providing nutritious meals to administering minor veterinary care to pythons. 

We also had the privilege of sharing the beauty of these animals with visiting children on school trips. This experience reignited my passion for veterinary care, making my dream shine brighter.

As my gap semester ended, my life path became more apparent. 

Despite lingering doubts about the lengthy commitment required, I considered all the versions of myself that had led me here. 

I thought of the child yearning for stability, the teenager who found solace in raising animals, and the young adult whose passion rekindled during a three-month internship. 

A career in veterinary care seemed like the answer, a path that would heal something within each of those versions of myself. And so, my journey into STEM began.

Editor’s Note: this essay is part of a life journey story assignment for Fall 2023 Biology 118W Science Communication class with Dr. Ulrike Muller.