Maria Zapetis, Biology, Class of 2012:

In the summer of 2011, Zapetis studied in South Africa on the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) program and then stayed for a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) about elephant impact in Kruger National Park.

More recently, Zapetis was awarded a McGill Lawrence Summer Internship Award and will work for Animal Angels Foundation, India’s only NGO dedicated to outreach and awareness programs in Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT). Beginning with just one (and India’s first) trained therapy dog in a special needs school in 2003, Animal Angels has expanded to provide therapeutic and educational services to both children and adults in Pune, Mumbai, and Bangalore. One such educational service is “Tails of Joy,” the Animal Assisted Reading program that introduces canines as reading reinforcement to children with autism, hyperactivity, speech impairment, or children without special needs who were chosen by their school due to poor academic performance and emotional/ behavioral difficulties. Zapetis will collect and analyze data for “Tails of Joy,” providing input on currently used quantitative assessment techniques, and helping to ensure therapeutic quality. She will also receive practical training in AAT and assist in the implementation side of reading and therapy sessions. Zapetis writes, “qualitative evidence shows that these dogs are a preferable reinforcer in children learning to read because children do not perceive the same judgment or criticism that they may perceive from adults or peers while reading out loud. By helping to facilitate and examining effectiveness of these sessions, I hope to enhance the quality of students’ lives by promoting self-confidence, positive behavioral modifications, and academic empowerment.”

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