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CVM to host the 2017 Student American Veterinary Medical Association Symposium

Posted February 27, 2017

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SAVMA Officers

For four days in March 2017, while the rest of campus is on Spring Break, over 1,000 veterinary students from all over the United States and abroad will flock to College Station for the 2017 Student American Veterinary Medical Association (SAVMA) Symposium. The event promises to be a landmark moment for the CVM and a chance to show the world what Texas A&M’s veterinary community is all about. The symposium will be packed with opportunities for hands-on learning and networking, with events ranging from lectures and wet labs, to zoo and aquarium day trips, to research presentations and competitions. The symposium will culminate in a lavish closing gala in Kyle Field’s Hall of Champions.

The SAVMA Symposium will be one of the highlights of the 2016–2017 school year, and none of it would be possible without the hard work of several dedicated CVM students: Chris Dolan ’17, Bethany Wienheimer ’18, Austin Hardegree ’18, Nicole Fierce ’18, Michael McEntire ’17, Caitlin Conner ’18, Garrett Crooks ’19, Justin Casares ’18, Nicole Bertolini ’18, Nicole Fierce ’18, and Lauren Thompson ’18. These dedicated Aggies compose the SAVMA Symposium Planning Committee, and they’ve spent over a year meticulously planning and organizing the event.

SAVMA Delegates: Michael McEntire, Caitlin Conner, and Garrett Crooks

The road to the 2017 symposium began in early 2014. Michael McEntire was a SAVMA junior delegate—one of two students who represent Texas A&M’s Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association (SCAVMA) to the national organization—when he was approached by Dr. Eleanor Green, the Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. Kenita Rogers, former associate dean for professional programs, with the idea that Texas A&M should place a bid to host the symposium. The answer was a resounding yes.

“My senior delegate, Stephen Marsh ’16, was just finishing up his term representing Texas A&M, so it would be up to me and my future junior delegate to place the bid,” McEntire explained. McEntire, an aspiring zoo or aquarium veterinarian from Sandy, Utah, got to work immediately, hosting brainstorming meetings with students and faculty.

Caitlin Conner, of Forney, Texas, was elected SAVMA junior delegate in November 2014, making McEntire the new senior delegate. The pair immediately leapt into action. They had until Spring Break to prepare their bid, which they would present at the 2015 SAVMA Symposium at the University of Minnesota.

“We worked all over Christmas break on the bid, then rehearsed weekly to bi-weekly leading up to Spring Break,” Conner said. Together, they came up with unique wet lab and day trip ideas and drafted a proposal to make Texas A&M stand out from the crowd. McEntire created a PowerPoint presentation and video, and Conner made a promotional booklet detailing Texas A&M’s plans.

After months of planning and practice, the big day arrived. McEntire and Conner arrived at the University of Minnesota’s symposium ready to make their case for Texas A&M in front of the SAVMA House of Delegates.

“I was nervous,” Conner recalled. “It was the first time I had really met most of these people, and I was standing up in front of everybody in a suit and talking about how much I loved my school.”

“Some of our selling points were the completion of the new veterinary education complex, the beautiful spring Texas weather, and the fun day trips we’re offering around the state,” McEntire said.

Indeed, the new facilities—which opened in August 2016—were one of the things that made Texas A&M stand out. Until now, no SAVMA symposium has been held entirely on a school’s campus.

“Symposia are almost always at convention centers,” Conner explained. “Most schools just aren’t built for that many students at one time. Our huge selling point was, ‘Come to Texas A&M. We’re going to have this brand-new building—this brand-new complex where we will hold the symposium in its entirety.’” All the labs, lectures, exhibit halls, and House of Delegates meetings will utilize the expanded CVM.

McEntire and Conner’s hard work paid off—Texas A&M won the bid. When the pair returned to College Station, planning kicked into high gear. McEntire, Conner, and SCAVMA President Chris Dolan ’17 assembled the SAVMA Planning Committee by hiring two general managers, a treasurer, and a fundraising chair. They also took charge of new planning subcommittees. McEntire chairs the marketing and technology committee, Conner chairs evening events, and Dolan is in charge of lecture and speaker planning.

Newest to the team is Garrett Crooks, a Buda, Texas, native and Texas A&M graduate interested in zoological medicine. Crooks was elected junior SAVMA delegate last fall. In the fall semester ­— when the fourth-year students phase out of the planning committee, Conner will take on McEntire’s senior delegate role, and Crooks will replace Dolan as chair of the lecture and speaker planning committee, and SCAVMA President-Elect Bethany Weinheimer ’18 will lead marketing and technology.

“Being a SAVMA delegate is a dual role,” Conner said. “We’re liaisons between the national SAVMA and the planning committee here. We also serve on the symposium committee within SAVMA, which is full of delegates from Iowa State University, who hosted the 2016 symposium, and now the University of Pennsylvania, who won the bid to host the 2018 symposium. We talk about symposium committee things and get feedback from each other.”

At the 2016 Iowa State Convention, the SAVMA delegates spent most of their time in SAVMA delegate meetings.

“It gave us the opportunity to come together with delegates from all the other schools and learn from each other,” Crooks said. “Seeing how the symposium there functioned and talking to others that attended will allow us to continue building on the foundations that have been laid by all the other host schools before us.”

As McEntire, Conner, and Crooks gear up for the 2017 symposium, each has his or her own favorite experience to look forward to. McEntire, who has served on the executive board for the national SAVMA delegation, is thrilled to be hosting the event in his final year at the CVM.

“I can’t wait to welcome all my delegate friends to Aggieland,” he said.

Conner has been focusing her efforts on planning an “Experience Texas Night” at the new Thomas G. Hildebrand, DVM ’56 Equine Complex.

“The plan is to get some Texas favorites on the menu, such as barbecue, mini chicken fried steaks, and jalapeno poppers. We’ll have a mechanical bull, roping lessons, and a live band,” Conner explained. “It’s so people from all over the country, and the world, can get a taste of Texas.”

For Crooks, hosting the symposium is all about showing attendees the best time possible.

“I’m excited about providing the highest quality experience for everyone that we can, in addition to showing everyone how great things are in Texas,” he said.

General Managers: Nicole Bertolini and Justin Casares

Nicole Bertolini and Justin Casares are the general managers, working as a team to coordinate the committee’s biweekly meetings, troubleshoot problems, and make sure everybody stays on the same page.

“Whenever there’s issues within committees on how to handle something, we try to help out with that,” Casares said. “Whenever someone has a general question, we’re typically the ones that people go to try to figure it out. If we don’t know the answer, we go find it.”

“We have our hands in everything,” Bertolini added. “So, we still try to make sure that we know what’s going on in every committee or stay up-to-date so that our two minds are on the same page. We work 100 percent as a team.”

In addition to their general manager duties, each is in charge of sub-committees. Bertolini leads the competitions and hospitality committees. She’s excited about the opportunity to inject fun into the symposium with both academic and athletic competitions. Attendees will have the opportunity to compete in anatomy and bovine palpitation contests. Bertolini also is planning a quiz bowl using Zuku, a review to help prepare students for the North American Veterinary Licensing Examination. She hopes to host the bowl on Northgate to make the event both useful and fun. When attendees want to blow off some steam and have fun with new people, they can participate in dodgeball and volleyball tournaments. For Bertolini, the SAVMA symposium isn’t just about veterinary medicine; it’s also a key opportunity to have fun networking with future veterinarians from around the world.

Casares’ committees handle host events—the opening ceremony and closing gala—and day trips. The closing gala is one event that the committee members are universally excited about.

“It’s going to be a huge event. We’re using the new Hall of Champions at Kyle Field,” Casares said. His committee is planning a fancy dinner, followed by live music and a chance for everyone to mix and mingle with new friends.

Beyond the on-campus events, Casares’ committee is planning day trips to see veterinarians in action around Texas.

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From left—Justin Casares, Dr. Anna Reddish, Caitlin Conner and Mike McEntire

“We’re organizing trips to the Houston Zoo, to the rodeo, and to Sea World San Antonio,” Casares said. These behind-the-scenes glimpses at veterinary specialties will be symposium highlights for many students. For out-of-towners who want to experience some local flavor, Casares is organizing trips to Messina Hof Winery and downtown Bryan.

Although they come from different backgrounds, Bertolini and Casares are dedicated Aggies who are excited to represent their school on an international scale. Bertolini hails from southeast Houston and earned her undergraduate degree in zoology at Texas A&M. She’s tentatively planning to go into a mixed animal practice, possibly specializing in zoo animal medicine later.

“When Caitlin and Mike won the bid to host SAVMA at the CVM, I knew it would be a huge deal and a great opportunity to work with all kinds of people,” Bertolini said. “The last time we had the symposium here was 11 years ago. To have it while I’m here at school is very exciting.”

Casares grew up on a ranch in Mission, Texas, spending his youth working with horses, cattle, and hogs. Like Bertolini, he plans to pursue mixed animal medicine, but specialize in large animals.

“I come from a huge Aggie family, so we’re very passionate about this school,” Casares said. “I wanted to get involved to be able to represent Texas A&M on a national stage.”

Treasurer: Nicole Fierce

Nicole Fierce took an unusual route to the CVM. Originally from Beaumont, Texas, she earned a degree in marketing from the University of Texas. As much as she enjoyed her business classes, she realized early on that she wasn’t destined for life in a cubicle and began snatching up science electives to prepare for veterinary school. These days, her business background makes her a unique asset to the Planning Committee and well-suited to her role as treasurer.

“I’m also the class treasurer for the class of 2018,” she explained. “Knowing how difficult it is to take care of money and [given] my background in business and finance and accounting, I wanted to be involved [with the planning committee] and figured that being treasurer fit my skill set.”

As treasurer, Fierce is responsible for managing a $400,000 budget. She has the final say on how much money goes to each program. “I set the budget and write the checks and make sure we don’t spend money that we don’t have,” she said.

It’s a big job, and Fierce is grateful to have a lot of support. She works closely with the fundraising chair “to make sure we have enough money coming in from large companies across the state and nation so that we can fund our symposium to make it the best one yet.” She also gets tips from outside the CVM, including guidance from contacts at the AVMA and the copies of budgets from previous SAVMA symposia.

Fierce enjoys her job, which has made her realize just how much she enjoys working with people. The experience has even shaped her thoughts about the future. “I think I’m probably going to do general practice for a bit, but after that, who knows? I’ve been recently thinking about getting to work with students because I’ve enjoyed being in this sort of role,” she mused.

But for now, she’s thrilled to be a part of planning the symposium and looks forward to introducing the CVM to the world. “I’ve fallen in love with Texas A&M, and I want other people to fall in love with it too,” she said.

Fundraising Chair: Lauren Thompson

The other half of the monetary team is Lauren Thompson, fundraising chair. Originally from Grandview, Texas, Thompson’s love of horses, and later, cattle, propelled her to veterinary school. But it was her love of people and networking that compelled her to apply for the fundraising position.

“I love this university. I love what it stands for, the traditions and such. Having the opportunity to have other veterinary students come down and see all that made me want to be a part of symposium planning,” Thompson said. “When I was looking at different positions, I was intrigued by fundraising chair. I thought, ‘You know, that also gives me an opportunity to network with companies and veterinarians and just talk to people, which I enjoy doing.’ I decided to go ahead and apply, and here I am!”

As fundraising chair, Thompson is responsible for raising the $400,000 necessary to host the symposium. It’s no small task, but Thompson is enthusiastic and well-organized. She and her 12-member fundraising committee plan to seek donations from companies both big and small, as well as national and local.

“I formulated a sponsorship letter and then different packages,” she explained. “We sent those, so the companies could see at which level they would like to donate. At different sponsorship levels, the companies get different booth spaces or advertisements.”

In the year leading up to the convention, Thompson and her team of volunteers took advantage of every opportunity to find sponsors. In March, she and the planning committee attended the Texas Veterinary Medical Association meeting and the SAVMA symposium in Ames, Iowa, to introduce herself and Texas A&M to potential sponsors. She followed up at the AVMA convention in August and the Southwestern Veterinary Symposium in September. As the symposium gets closer, she planned to branch out and send volunteers door-to-door to local companies and veterinary practices to get the Bryan/College Station community involved.

Fundraising is a big job, but for Thompson, it’s a key part of making this the biggest and best SAVMA symposium yet. “Everything really is bigger in Texas,” she said. “I know that’s so cliché, but I really think that’s something we can work on. We’re hoping that it is going to be one of the bigger symposia. And since it’s actually going to be at our school—which is completely different from symposia in the past that are normally held at convention centers—people will actually get to experience what it’s like to be a student here.”

Looking forward

Thanks to the dedication and enthusiasm of this team of Aggie veterinary students, the CVM is set to host what the committee hopes is the biggest and best symposium yet. For the CVM family, it’s a once-in-a-generation chance to showcase the school on a national stage.

2017 SAVMA Symposium Schedule

Thursday, March 16, 2017
8 a.m. – 5 p.m. – Diversity and wellness activities, lectures, and wetlabs held at VBEC
7 p.m. – 8 p.m. – Opening Ceremony at the MSC in the Bethancourt Ballroom
8:30 p.m. – 1 a.m. – Pubcrawl on Northgate (social event)

Friday, March 17, 2017
8 a.m. – 5 p.m. – Lectures, wetlabs, and academic and research competitions held at VBEC
6 p.m. – 11 p.m. – Athletic competitions hosted at TAMU Rec Center
7 p.m. – 11 p.m. – Experience Texas (social event) at the Hildebrand Equine Complex

Saturday, March 18, 2017
8 a.m. – 5 p.m. – Lectures, wetlabs, and academic competitions held at VBEC
7 p.m. – 11 p.m. – Closing Gala (social event) at the Hall of Champions in Kyle Field

Exhibit Hall Hours
Thursday: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Friday: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Saturday: 8 a.m. – 12 p.m.

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For more information, check out www.savmasymposium2017.com.

For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Megan Palsa, Executive Director of Communications, Media & Public Relations, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science; mpalsa@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216; 979-421-3121 (cell)



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