Graduates of “Vet Up! College” Celebrate Virtually as they Step Closer to their Dream of becoming Veterinarians

Friday, July 23, 2021

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In the midst of the ongoing pandemic, the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine successfully hosted its summer program called “Vet Up! College” this year for undergraduate students who are serious about going to veterinary school.  The six week summer program culminated in a virtual graduation celebration June 25.

Purdue Veterinary Medicine’s assistant dean for inclusive excellence, Dr. Latonia Craig, began the ceremony by explaining that Vet Up! College is designed to address two critical health professional disparities:  a national and State of Indiana shortage of veterinarians in public health and rural or food animal practice and a significant lack of underrepresented individuals entering the veterinary profession.  The goal of the program is to fill veterinary shortage areas with equity-minded individuals from underrepresented populations and rural areas.

“Today we are celebrating 26 graduates from all over the nation who participated,” Dr. Craig explained.  She noted the students represented more than a dozen states, from Indiana to Arkansas, Florida, Massachusetts, Texas and Hawaii, as well as Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico.

This year’s program featured some creative adjustments from the inaugural Vet Up! College program that was conducted in 2019 as a residential summer experience at Purdue University.  “Due to COVID 19, we had to cancel the program last year, but what that did was to give us more time to think of more innovative ways to deliver the program, without compromising rigor and quality,” said Dr. Craig.  “Our biggest concern was that if we delivered the program virtually, how could we create an opportunity for students to job shadow and gain hands-on animal experience?”

Melanie Figueroa Cordero, one of the 26 graduates in the Vet Up! College Class of 2021, was honored along with fellow graduate Kyra Holt as a recipient of the Academic Excellence Award during the virtual Graduation Celebration.
Melanie Figueroa Cordero, one of the 26 graduates in the Vet Up! College Class of 2021, was honored along with fellow graduate Kyra Holt as a recipient of the Academic Excellence Award during the virtual Graduation Celebration.

The answer to that concern involved Purdue alumni and one of the program sponsors, National Veterinary Associates (NVA).  “With the help of NVA and some Purdue alumni, we were able to place all 26 participants at a clinical site in their residential areas, even in Hawaii and Puerto Rico,” Dr. Craig shared enthusiastically.  “I am amazed at the experiences our students gained in their clinical settings.”

NVA Director of Community Development Chris Janak joined in the virtual ceremony and praised the students in the Vet Up! College Class of 2021.  “Vet up graduates – I want you to know the impact that you had on the clinics and the hospitals and the resorts that you spent time in,” Janak said.  He then read comments about the graduates that were received from the clinical sites.  “An absolute delight.” “Talented and so smart.”  “Incredibly inquisitive.”  “Bright and a beautifully positive attitude.”  One of the clinical sites even commented, “…we’re so excited they have indicated an interest in joining our team.”  Another described the student they hosted as “the Future of Veterinary Medicine.” 

Janak went on to explain, “In my experience folks in animal care don’t just give compliments to be nice. They give them when they really mean it.  So the feedback I’ve just shared, let it sink in because you wouldn’t be getting it if it weren’t true.  You are all of these things and more. You are the future of Veterinary Medicine. We are grateful and humbled that we are able to be a small part of your journey.”

Dr. Craig also acknowledged her staff in the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, for their hard work in getting the program off the ground, as well as all of the faculty who gave of their time to teach during the months of May and June.  In addition, she recognized Dr. Sandra San Miguel, the college’s associate dean for engagement, for her initial help and leadership in pursuing the Health Careers Opportunity Program (HCOP) grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which made the program possible.  Additional program support is provided by Zoetis.

Dr. Craig also praised the Purdue veterinary students who served as teaching assistants in the program: May Brooks, Akila Bryant, Keishla Marrero Acosta and Daniela Sanchez.  And she thanked Dean Willie Reed for his steadfast support of the program and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

But Dr. Craig reserved her highest praise for the graduates, noting, “We have kept our students extremely busy during the program, Almost every minute, every second was accounted for…The students were able to gain a total of 2,007 clinical hours in two weeks and over 150 hours in curriculum and assessment hours in four weeks, covering such topics as anatomy, emergency and critical care, parasitology, physiology, histopathology, bacteriology, cell and tissue biology, behavior and more.”  Additionally, the students completed the Certificate for Diversity and Inclusion in Veterinary Medicine and the first aid certificate training in mental health, engaged in four weekly problem based learning cases and even participated in a personalized Houston Zoo virtual tour with live Q-and-A.

Dr. Craig then invited one of the graduates to share her thoughts.  Giormarie Rodriguez Vélez is a participant from Puerto Rico, and described for her fellow graduates the day she received her letter of acceptance into the program.  “There I was, just like all of you.  A Puerto Rican girl, passionate about animal welfare, receiving the opportunity of a lifetime – one that would transform the way I see veterinary medicine,” Giormarie explained. 

She then shared how her initial insecurities as a participant gave way to excitement when she realized that not only had she been given the opportunity to participate, but she also was listened to with attention and interest.  “No question was considered silly or unimportant because the faculty members genuinely appreciated our interest, answered our questions, and more importantly always asked, “Is it clear now, or would you like me to explain it another way?”

Giormarie continued, “With each interaction I understood that this is inclusiveness.  I understood that this is what it feels like to be valued despite your limitations or backgrounds.”  She also said she appreciated the inclusiveness she felt amongst the students, who, instead of being competitive, sought to help each other learn.  “It created an environment where empathy and encouragement had the upper hand.  There is room for all of us to shine.”

Giormarie further explained how her clinical experience reinforced those feelings.  “To my surprise I was greeted with such enthusiasm that they made me feel like they were the lucky ones to have me instead of me to learn from them.”  She added, “I familiarized myself with what it really means to put down your toy doctor’s coat and get into a real one.”

She concluded by thanking Purdue University for providing this opportunity that changed the way she looks at veterinary medicine.  “Thank you, on behalf of us all, for not only equipping us academically, but also for empowering us to embrace diversity, inclusion and cultural competence.  Most importantly, thank you for being an active example of all of these qualities.”

Dean Willie Reed offered his congratulations to the Vet Up! College program graduates via video.
Dean Willie Reed offered his congratulations to the Vet Up! College program graduates via video.

Dr. Craig then recognized several participants with special awards.  Congratulations to the recipients of each of these awards:

Model Pre-vet Student – recognizes a student who actively participated, demonstrated discipline, and maintained a can-do attitude in the Vet Up! College program:  Giormarie Rodriguez Vélez

Academic Excellence – recognizes the top two students who were able to represent the core values of the Vet Up College program, passing their exams with straight As while maintaining a positive attitude and achieving high standards in their efforts to increase their competency skills in veterinary medicine:  Melanie Figueroa Cordero and Kyra Holt

Most Dedicated Award – honors a student for maintaining a positive attitude and demonstrating an eagerness to learn and excel in spite of any posted challenges in the Vet Up! College program.  This award was given to the student who had to be up each day at 3:00 a.m., because she participated from Hawaii:  Tyler Bright

Another component of the program involved a Capstone Project.  The participants were placed in seven groups of three to engage in a research project.  Each group had to come-up with a topic and title of their choice, and complete a literature review, prepare an introduction and complete a presentation either in the form of a PowerPoint presentation or an actual abstract or research poster.  Congratulations to the winning group of Caroline Grannum, Paola Figueroa Pratts and Bryson Satterwhite, for their project on the dairy cattle industry and its impact on climate change.

Three Vet Up! College graduates, Caroline Grannum, Paola Figueroa Pratts and Bryson Satterwhite, were recognized for submitting the winning Capstone Project, which involved choosing a research topic and making a presentation.

Before Dr. Craig concluded the celebration by introducing each of the 26 participants individually, Dean Reed addressed the Vet Up! College Class of 2021 by video, adding his own congratulatory remarks.  “I really hope you’ve had a wonderful experience,” Dean Reed said.  “This program was designed to introduce you to our college, learn more about the veterinary profession, and gain more experience working in clinical setting. And also you had the opportunity to get to know some of our faculty and veterinary students.”

“I hope this has influenced your dream of pursuing a career in veterinary medicine,” Dean Reed continued.  “I can’t help but to think about years ago when I had a similar dream of pursuing a career in veterinary medicine. That dream came true for me and so I want that dream to come true for you. All of you have worked so very hard…And you’re very close to realizing that dream.  I hope all of you will want to become Purdue Boilermakers.  We would love to see you here to pursue your dream…This is a place where dreams can and do come true.”


Writer(s): Kevin Doerr | pvmnews@purdue.edu


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