Heading West--Food-animal production tour introduces students to West Texas
Posted June 20, 2018
Michelle Morelli and Pamela May
Summers are crucial for students, as evidenced by the
internship, externship, technical, and professional development
opportunities that fill students’ email inboxes and job boards in
the months leading up to spring semester final exams.
Summer opportunities sometimes help students discover particular
challenges of a specific field of work, while leading others to
their dream job.
Last summer, two students from the Texas A&M College of
Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) took on the
West Texas winds and had an experience they will never forget.
As part of a new program created by Dr. Dan Posey, academic
coordinator for the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Center (TVMC)
at West Texas A&M University, and Dr. Dee Griffin, TVMC
director, third-year veterinary students Pamela May and Michelle
Morelli participated in a food-animal production externship in West
Texas. The program was developed for students who have completed
their second year of veterinary school.
Posey tailored the program to fit the interests of program
participants, but its goal is to expose students to the needs of
rural West Texas food animal production.
May said the program revealed to her the stark contrast between
veterinary practices in rural and urban areas.
“It’s very different in a rural area versus a teaching hospital
or any of the private practices that are in Houston or Dallas,” May
said. “It’s all very, very different. This program was a very big
exposure to that.”
A South Padre Island native who is on the CVM’s food-animal
track in order to pursue beef-production medicine,
May did not grow up with a food-animal background, but
discovered a passion for food-animal medicine as Posey’s mentee, as
well as through her experiences on the production tour and summer
externship program Posey developed.
May began her summer working at a 50,000-head beef cattle
feedlot and then finished with two-week rotations at mixed-animal
practices. She said her experiences exposed her to a different
world of food animal production that she had yet to experience.
“Before I went on the production tour in May, I had never been
to a feed yard, and it was different from what the media portrays a
feed yard to be,” May said. “I got to learn how it works from the
ground up. They taught me how to work cattle, a lot of the basics
you don’t learn in school.”
Morelli’s experience was tailored to her interests in the dairy
Growing up in the Philadelphia area of Pennsylvania, Morelli
conducted small livestock projects in high school, but found her
love for agriculture, and specifically dairy production, as an
undergraduate at Penn State University.
Morelli spent three weeks at two different mixed-animal
practices and rotated between two consultant veterinarians who have
contracts with farms, mostly dairies. She said she experienced a
wide range of cases and learned how to apply her classroom skills
to real-life situations.
“At the mixed-animal practice, in the mornings, we would go to
different dairy farms,” Morelli said. “In the afternoons, we would
go back to the practice and we would see mostly small-animal
patients. Sometimes farm animals would come in, so I got to see a
lot of everything.”
Though their summer activities varied, May and Morelli both said
the summer was invaluable to their education. Morelli said she
faced challenges throughout the summer, but the growth she
experienced made the challenges worth it. She encourages other
students to not fear taking a risk.
“Getting up at 4 a.m. isn’t exactly the most fun, but putting
yourself out there gets you a lot of really invaluable experience,”
Morelli said. “There were a lot of things I did that I had never
“I did a lot of first things. Was I necessarily ready to do them
in that moment? No, but the veterinarians understood that and were
there for me,” she said. “Taking those risks is what’s really
May enjoyed the program location and hopes to return to the West
Texas area to practice veterinary medicine.
“I do think that I will end up back there,” May said. “My main
goal is making a difference in how producers view women in
veterinary medicine, especially in food-animal medicine. There are
a lot more women coming into the field, and I want producers to
know that women can do what male veterinarians can do.”
As a student on track to become a food-animal veterinarian,
Morelli said she hopes to repair the disconnect between consumers
and producers in the conversation about food-animal production.
“I want to try and show people that the people who do produce
animals that end up going to the food system really do care about
the animals’ well-being,” Morelli said. “They don’t want to see
their animals in pain or suffering, and they do everything they can
to try and fix that. We all do care about the same thing.”
May and Morelli both said they could not have done this on their
own, expressing gratitude toward Posey for all he did to create a
program that enhanced their passion for the food-animal field.
“Dr. Posey made the experience what it was, and he made it
perfect for me,” May said.
“It was great that Dr. Posey had the connections and set us up
with the people who would go above and beyond for us,”
May and Morelli said Griffin, who also is a Texas A&M CVM
clinical professor located at West Texas A&M, also played a
large mentoring role for their respective programs.
Griffin was named mentor of the year for 2017 at the American
Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) Conference in Omaha,
Nebraska. May said the award is fitting.
“They started announcing the award by telling us to close our
eyes and picture our mentor,” May said. “I pictured Dr.
Posey and Dr. Griffin. Low and behold, Dr. Griffin was the one
getting mentor of the year.”
Out of all the professional and technical development
opportunities presented to veterinary students for the summer, May
and Morelli encourage anyone to pursue the West Texas production
“It was an experience that I couldn’t get here (in College
Station),” May said. “I would encourage anyone to pursue this
“If you want to get a real, hands-on experience and figure out
how things are done with clients and how to get through the
decision-making process, this is a really great experience,”
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.
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2018 edition of CVM Today magazine.
Contact Information: Megan Palsa, Executive
Director of Communications, Media & Public Relations, Texas
A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science; firstname.lastname@example.org;
979-862-4216; 979-421-3121 (cell)
↑ Back to Top
« Back to Press Releases