January 4, 2012
Denise-Mikita-blog

Student Profile: Non-Traditional Student Returns to College for Love of Animals

I meet with faculty, students, and graduates quite a bit, and I like to share their stories. This is an occasional series.


Outside Denise Mikita’s workplace at the Denver Zoo, Cliff, a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep is baa-ing. Denise already has walked past a water buffalos, a cheetah, and other animals.

“This is what I love about my job,” Denise says. “The view.”

Denise is the hospital coordinator at the Denver Zoo. Her newly created position is administrative in nature. She makes sure the zoo hospital has the appropriate supplies, medications, and equipment on hand for the four staff veterinarians who tend to the zoo’s 3,800 animals that span 650 species.

On this day, for instance, a red panda is in the treatment room having a routine examination. For many zoo animals, they have to go under anesthesia for a comprehensive checkup.

Love for animals

As a child, Denise entertained thoughts of becoming a veterinarian. She attended Colorado State University, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in biological sciences. Graduate school beckoned, and Denise earned a Master of Science in physiology from Penn State.

Her love for animals kept pulling on her heart, even during the three and a half years she worked as an environmental toxicologist, measuring the effects of chemicals on water.

“I was still being pulled by my love for animals,” Denise says. “Front Range had just started its Veterinary Technology Program. I liked that Front Range had an externship agreement with Colorado State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.”

Return to college.

Denise returned to college part time and continued to work full time that first semester back.

“I appreciated the instructors’ sensitivity to non-traditional students because that’s what I was,” Denise says. “I was trying to work, have a life, and go to school.”

After the first semester, Denise attended full time and worked part time.

Small animal clinic.

After earning her Associate of Applied Science in Veterinary Technology and passing the national certification examination, Denise worked for Mulnix Animal Clinic, a small-animal practice in Fort Collins, Colo.

Trade association opportunity.

Denise’s next job was as executive director of the Colorado Association of Certified Veterinary Technicians (CACVT). Colorado is on the forefront of professional associations in veterinary medicine. It is the only state, for example, with full time paid staff for its veterinary technician association.

“This was a wonderful opportunity to make a difference in my profession,” Denise says. The association’s mission is to advocate for, govern, and certify veterinary technicians; promote professionalism and career advancement through educational opportunities; and collaborate with the veterinary community and allied groups.

“I met wonderful technicians all around the state,” she says. “My favorite part was to go to all the school programs to lecture.”

On her last day with CACVT, Denise made a visit to Front Range.

The Denver Zoo.

Denise says her association work prepared her for her job at the zoo.

“This job is a really good fit,” she says. “I can use my talents for organization, relationship building, plus it’s a hospital setting. I still have a huge passion for animals. And I’m pulling in my training at Front Range, particularly my pharmacology class. That was a great foundation, and I keep building on that foundation.”

And if she ever gets stressed, she can go for a walk. She loves the views right outside her door.

About the author:

John Feeley is director of public relations at Front Range Community College. He’s a retired soccer referee and newspaper editor whose subscription ran out.

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