Julie Horvath-Roth spent her middle school summers in the back woods of Wisconsin trying to train chipmunks and birds. Her early questions about why animals behave in different ways would be ones that she continues to ask and seek answers to during her career as a researcher. I was able to sit down with her and chat about her childhood dog, what it was like to have a dad who was an expert in lie detection and beer hats.
Lea: Were you in any clubs, have hobbies or extra curricular activities?
Julie: I spent a lot of time playing outside with my friends…trying to save a nearby forest that was being torn down to build houses.
What were your favorite subjects in middle school?
Math and Science
Why? What made those subjects so special?
I loved nature and exploring the world and being around animals. I thought animals were fascinating and the natural world was so interesting and beautiful.
“I thought animals were fascinating and the natural world was so interesting and beautiful.”
Did you ever think you would become a scientist?
I wanted to be a veterinarian to help save animals. I thought scientists sat in a lab and did boring work all day – who knew it would be fascinating and I would love it?!
What was science like for you in middle school?
What made science so fun?
It was so interesting and exciting! I mostly remember my 7th grade science teacher, Mr. Collins. He organized a time capsule dig and he had a huge scar on his shoulder. I believe it was from a surgery, but he told us he had been bitten by a large shark!
What did your parents want you to be when you were in middle school?
I don’t think they wanted me to be anything – just do what I wanted. They were really supportive and great. My dad loved science and outdoors, so he’s what got me interested in science – because he was always outside playing with animals and doing stuff, you know science-y and natural world-ish. And I knew I wanted to be a veterinarian, so I imagine that they supported that because that seemed like a good career. I didn’t want to do something crazy like be a pop star. So I think they were just really supportive of me, I don’t remember them gearing me one way or another in certain directions.
What did your parents do? You mentioned that your dad got you into science.
Well, we had a cottage. We would go to the cottage in the summers and it was very remote and in the back woods of Wisconsin. It was a 12-hour drive up there and we’d drive up there at the beginning of the summer. My dad was a college teacher so he would get the summers off. Then, depending on what job my mom had, we’d take 2 weeks and go up there. And we’d get up there and it was literally the back woods. The town was 10 miles away, it was on a dirt road, so it was a half an hour drive to town. And there really weren’t any other kids around, so usually there were kids down the way, but a lot of times it was just me – I’d go out and play.
You were an only child?
Yeah, I was an only child, but I had a dog. I’d go outside and play with the dog or play with the animals. That’s where I got interested in animals. I’d try to tame the chipmunks and squirrels and the birds; I’d hold my hand out and see which animals would come to me. Then we went fishing all the time because we were on a lake. That sort of got me immersed in nature, right? I didn’t have people to play with so I played with the animals. That got me interested and curious about nature and the environment and I knew I wanted to do something to help animals.
I didn’t have people to play with so I played with the animals.
Did you ever feel lonely when you were a child? Did you feel like you were the only person like yourself when you were in middle school?
I had three friends who I got to be friends with in elementary school and that sort of continued through middle school and high school. I still keep in touch with most of them now. So I think in that sense I felt like I had friends, and I wasn’t alone. But, you know, I was an only child. So when we’d go on trips or things that felt kind of lonely. Sometimes, when I got older, I got to take somebody with me. I had a cousin (who was really my third cousin, but I called her my cousin) and she used to go on trips with me because she was an only child too. She was sort of my confidant, but she lived in Chicago and I lived in Michigan, so it wasn’t always like we saw each other a lot. We saw each other at holiday time. I had some people around, but my dog was a good friend of mine.
Is there something you learned in middle school that has really stuck with you?
I enjoyed a lot of my classes… wood working, sewing, baking, science dissections of frogs.
Did you get voted “Most Likely to Something” by your peers?
The only thing I remember getting voted anything was when we did this dig. It was 7th Grade Block, and Mr. Collins was sort of in charge of this dig. We got in groups and we made a secret society with a new language and different gadgets in it and then we’d bury