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Saya Says Yes!

Saya Says Yes!

Take A Chance to Find Your Groove

by Tim Erickson

You would be right to call Saya Zeleznik, senior biology major at the U, a scientist. But you would also be right to call her a violinist. And an accomplished visual artist. She even founded the Japanese-American Student Association at the U, where she was instrumental in hosting actor and activist George Takei’s blockbuster visit here in 2022.

In short, Saya’s awesome. Saya contains multitudes. And so do you. Saya has found resources and support at the U for nearly everything she has an interest in or been curious about. And so will you.

Let’s connect the dots of Saya’s involvement path at the U. In her first year, Saya applies to the College of Science’s Facilitated Internship Program where she lands an ecology internship with Wild Utah. Her job is simply to count toads—easy right? Well, when your job is to count toads on top of a 10,000-ft. mountain range in the middle of a torrential thunderstorm, sheltering while lightning and thunder crash around you, you might think otherwise. “It was intense,” she says of the experience, “and awesome.”

During that work with Wild Utah, she meets Austin Green, a researcher with Wasatch Wildlife Watch, who needs help setting up trail cameras in the mountains surrounding the U to study wildlife. Saya says yes. During their work together, Austin puts her in touch with another researcher, Kyle Kittelberger, who needs help banding birds. Saya says yes. Kyle mentions that his lab-mate, a professor at the U, needed help at her lab. You know what Saya said. It all circles back around to her landing an internship in bird ecologies at the Sekerciouglu Lab at the U.

But Saya’s like you: she has many interests, many passions. She’s chosen to explore those passions in a supportive university environment unlike any other. Take, oh I don’t know, music. Even though Saya has studied violin her whole life, she’d never played in an orchestra, so when someone asked her if she wanted to audition for the Utah Philharmonic, Saya said yes— and landed a spot in the violin section.

The point is not that you’re going to be a biochemist/ violinist/painter/community organizer. The point is that your U story can be an awesome mix of interests built by a winding path, no matter whether you’re a biochemist, poet, architect, or historian—or all the above! The U supports the curious. The dreamers. And we have a map—and experienced guides—for virtually any path you want to follow.

Saya Zeleznik draws her foot in her sketchbook at the center of Presidents Circle at the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, September 26, 2023.

Saya’s advice? Say YES to things that push you in interesting directions throughout your college career! This is what has led Saya to inspiring and surprising places. “But it won’t just come to you magically,” she says. “You have to look around. You have to apply.” Then you have to follow through.

The U is a big place, though. Where should you start your search for involvement opportunities? Saya first looked in her major, the College of Science, for scholarships and internships for support, which is where she found the Undergraduate Research Opportunity program (UROP). UROP provides a $1,200 stipend for students who assist with a faculty member’s research or creative project or who carry out a project of their own under the supervision of a faculty member. Look around at programs at the U that might support you. Ask an Involvement Ambassador and get in touch with leaders of clubs and organizations you’re interested in!

Saya’s story shows that if you really want to stretch your wings into a bunch of different fields, and study with some of the best faculty in the nation, the U is for you. In each area of your curiosity, at each point along your academic journey, there’s a U program to help. They’ll help you find the place to apply to. They’ll even have a leader in the field to advise it. It’s really something around here.