Ashani Hamilton

Ashani Hamilton graduates from Southern Illinois University Carbondale with a Bachelor of Science degree in animal science, and several years of research experience. He’s worked on projects involving catfish, horses and goats, and is currently conducting research on white-tailed deer. A winner of multiple scholarships, Hamilton plans to work toward his goal of becoming a research veterinarian.   (Photo by Russell Bailey)

December 16, 2015

Student wants to ‘help people who are where I was’

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. – His friends refer to him as the college’s unofficial motivational speaker. And he admits that, when he’s bored, he invents inspirational quotes. 

According to Ashani Hamilton, who graduates on Saturday, Dec. 19, from Southern Illinois University Carbondale with a Bachelor of Science degree in animal science, that’s just part of the Hamilton way of doing things. 

Hamilton came to SIU via Brooklyn, N.Y., and he came to Brooklyn by way of his native Jamaica. Both origins influence his SIU life. In Jamaica, his family had a fairly large goat farm – which, his father recently told him, was Ashani’s idea. “He told me we got goats because I wanted them,” he said. “I don’t remember, I was too little. And I wanted more and more goats, so my father decided we’d breed them rather than buy them.” 

Ashani’s family left Jamaica to join grandparents in Brooklyn when he was 11 years old. “We came to America for the same reason most people come to America – to find new opportunities for a better life,” Hamilton said. 

Initially, Hamilton, then a sixth-grader and well-established in his school, wasn’t enthusiastic about the decision, but he came to learn what it means to seek out opportunity. “My dad is a farmer at heart,” he said. “My parents live now in Queens, N.Y., and they have a garden, and my dad raises pigeons and quail. In Brooklyn we had fish. He always finds a way to enjoy something about a place, and to make the most of the opportunities available. I have that mentality from him.” 

Hamilton chose SIU out of the batch of colleges and universities that sent him recruiting material, eliminating those that didn’t have animal science or pre-veterinary programs and paying special attention to the ones that consistently sent recruiting and opportunity information. 

“There were a lot of reasons I chose SIU,” he said. “I was interested in the Midwest because of the farming tradition here. I called SIU and talked to Michelle Sullivan (staff member in the College of Agricultural Sciences) and she really wanted me to consider SIU. I felt like SIU really wanted me here.” 

Hamilton made good on his family’s tradition of discovering things to love and to seek out opportunities at SIU. The new thing he found to love is horses. And the opportunities he sought out involved research, another thing he realized he loved. 

Hamilton began researching with faculty mentors his first year at SIU when he began working with Brian Small at the Center for Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences on an i2i project. Ideas to Investigation, or i2i, is an industry-based research program in the College of Agricultural Sciences. Hamilton’s project, “The Effects on Dietary Feed Intake, Growth Rate and CCK expression in Channel Catfish When Fed Soybean Meal,” may result in publication, in collaboration with Small. 

Hamilton’s next research project focused on goats, the favored animal of his childhood. Hamilton turned to Karen Jones, chair of the Department of Plant, Soil and Agricultural Sciences, as his mentor in the McNair Research Scholarship program. 

“I told him, ‘Well, Ashani, we don’t have goats at SIU,’ but he’s really good at capitalizing on his connections,” Jones said. “He’d fallen in love with horses and was always at the SIU horse barns. While there, he made some connections with people who have goats, and that was enough to get him started.” 

Hamilton also got in contact with the American Boer Goat Association and focused on goats belonging to that breed. He conducted a survey of Boer goat breeders within a four-hour driving radius from SIU, noting their farm and breeding management techniques and using the information, and fecal samples, to study best practices for managing internal parasites. He presented his research, “Impacts of Genetic Selection on the Parasitic Immunity of Goats,” at the 2014 McNair Scholars Research Symposium, where he earned fourth place, and at the 2015 Center for Undergraduate Creative Activities and Research Forum, where he placed first out of 63 entries. 

Hamilton plans to continue his goat research at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. He’s working now with Jones to write a grant for research similar to what he’ll do with his adviser at NCA&T State University. 

Ultimately, Hamilton hopes to become a research veterinarian. “I find that I really love research,” Hamilton said. “I think I need more experience with it, and that will help me to mature academically.” 

He’s keeping goats as his focus because of their importance world-wide. He said some call goats “the poor man’s cattle,” and that appeals to him. He wants to help citizens of less-developed countries where goats are integral to agriculture. 

“My parents always told me I can be whatever I want to be,” Hamilton said. “But that wasn’t really true in Jamaica. We moved to America, and they are homeowners now, and I really do have the opportunity to be what I want, a veterinarian. I want to help people who are where I was.” 

Though his goals are serious and his dedication to achieving them sincere, Hamilton is well known in the College of Agricultural Sciences for his smile, upbeat attitude and overall happiness. He has been very active in Circle K International, the collegiate affiliate of the Kiwanis Club, serving as past president of the SIU chapter and lieutenant governor of the Shawnee division. He was a member of the college’s Student Advisory Board, the SIU Equestrian Team, the Farmhouse Fraternity and served as an Agbassador. 

He has logged volunteer hours at the S&H Stables St. Jude Tack Auction, the Marion Horse Center and the Dunnabeck Horse Trials, a nationally ranked horse event near Boskydell Stables in Makanda. In fact, Hamilton’s love of horses led him to purchase, with a friend, an “off the track” Thoroughbred horse and to compete with his horse at the Dunnabeck event. 

“I’ll miss Carbondale,” he said. “Going to North Carolina feels like me starting my life over. But I’ll find something to love there, too. I start work with the goat herd there right away in January.” 

Ashani Hamilton is the son of Fitzgerald Hamilton and Marlene Welsh-Hamilton.