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COSAM World-Traveler Finds Passion for Surgery

Published: 11/19/2018

By: Carla Nelson

Nikki Panzica spent most of her life planning to be a veterinarian, but after a surgical lab in high school her plans changed.

She said she has worked at an animal clinic in her hometown of Birmingham for the last six years and has loved it.

“I have always loved the environment and watching the surgeries and all of the procedures,” Nikki said. “I always thought I loved that because I loved the animal part of it, but my junior year of high school I did a human cadaver lab and I realized it wasn’t the animal part I liked, it was the surgery and the procedures.”

Nikki is currently a pre-med junior in the Auburn University College of Sciences and Mathematics (COSAM) studying Biomedical Sciences. After touring numerous colleges, Nikki said she chose Auburn because it felt “homey and safe.”

Nikki serves as an ambassador of COSAM, or a COSAM Leader. She said she has enjoyed getting to know the other COSAM Leaders.

“Most of the members of the group are Biomedical Sciences students, but we all have such different approaches to it and it shows the diversity of the field,” she said. “There’s so many ways you can expand on that major and it’s really interesting to see the different ways people have done that.”

She also works part-time as a COSAM Peer Advisor and said she enjoys the job because she loves talking to people.

“I really like sitting down with the students and helping them with their schedule,” she said. “I remember when I was a freshman, I probably wouldn’t have approached somebody asking for help, but having someone approach me offering help would have made a world of difference. I really want to be that for someone and it’s really encouraging knowing I can help them.”

When not involved in COSAM studies and activities, Panzica spends time as vice president of the Humans of Auburn project. Derived from the Humans of New York photo project, Humans of Auburn showcases different people in Auburn with a photo and interview.

Nikki said she feels that the project has had a “really cool” effect on campus.

“I think a lot of people, when they think of the South or they think of Alabama, they think there’s not a lot of diversity. They think that if you look into a crowd and you can’t see the diversity that it’s not there,” she said. “But with Humans of Auburn, you get the chance to realize that every single person is diverse, especially at Auburn. You realize that we’re all completely different or have a lot more in common than we think.”

During breaks from school, Nikki spends time traveling to Brazil and Italy. She speaks both Portuguese and Italian.

“My Mom is from Brazil and my Dad is from Italy,” Nikki said. “I go to Brazil once a year and Italy a little less than that. It’s really a big part of who I am.”

Nikki plans to attend graduate school at the University of Alabama or The Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine. She said she feels being a COSAM student has prepared her well for the next chapter of her education. She said she has thrived by being surrounded by students that have the same dedication as she does.

“I found that in order to succeed in COSAM, and in order to survive, you have to love it,” she said. “It’s very difficult, and a very heavy load every semester, and if you don’t enjoy it, whether you try to convince yourself you do or not, you will figure it out before you graduate. You won’t finish school here and then realize that you don’t like science. It forces you to discover if you’re meant to be here or not.”

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