Studying Abroad In South Africa

By Priya A. ’24, B.S. in Biomedical Sciences student

A young woman smiling and kneeling behind a nyala, a type of South African antelope, that is sedated.
While visiting Dinokeng Game Reserve, we transported five nyala (a type of antelope) from one side of the property to another about 30 minutes away. This is the animal I watched and monitored. The nyala is sedated.

In June 2023, I studied abroad in South Africa for two-and-a-half weeks through the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences with Dr. James Derr, a professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology. The name of the course was African Wildlife Medicine, and we partnered with South African veterinarians each day to serve their clients. The purpose of the trip was to gain experience working with African wildlife and knowledge in topics that arise with these animals, such as poaching. This course is unique because it includes both undergraduate and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) students.

In South Africa, lions, rhinos, cape buffalo, elephants, and leopards are some of the most ecologically and economically important animals. We saw and worked with some of these species, as well as others. There were two days in particular that were my favorite — the days we worked with white rhinos and giraffes.

On our first day, we worked with 11 white rhinos. Some of us rode in a helicopter with a local veterinarian while others took DNA samples, gave sedatives, and microchipped the rhinos, which helps keep track of rhinos since poaching is a major concern in South Africa. We learned how to be a team, which carried us all the way through our two weeks.

A woman sitting on a large metal trailer that is holding two giraffes wearing anti-stress blindfolds.
These are the first two giraffes we captured and transported. They are fully awake, but blindfolded and have earplugs to reduce any stress. I’m standing on the trailer that pulled the giraffes.

Later in the trip, we captured and transported three giraffes in order to help relocate them safely. This was the most physically exhausting day of the entire trip! Each of us had a particular role to ensure that both the giraffes and our team were safe.

Over the course of our trip, we worked directly with five South African veterinarians and their clients. They challenged us in our critical thinking, clinical, and communication skills. Personally, one of the coolest parts about networking with them was the possibility of getting to return for an externship with them during my fourth year of veterinary school.

As an undergraduate student, I found this experience beneficial and eye-opening as I applied to veterinary school and thought about what type of veterinary medicine I want to pursue. Those of us who were undergrads had opportunities to ask the current DVM students questions and get advice for the application process. If anyone is wanting to get more diverse veterinary experience for their vet school application, I highly recommend applying for this study abroad experience. You never know what new passions might arise!

How Veterinary Medicine Found Me

By Kathryn W. ’26, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Student

For many people in the veterinary field, becoming a vet has been their dream since early childhood and their sights have been set on having “DVM” — Doctor of Veterinary Medicine — after their name ever since. However, my path to becoming a veterinarian was a little more unexpected.

I started my undergraduate degree here at Texas A&M University in the Fall of 2017 with the plan to become a physical therapist. I knew I loved science, medicine, and health, so physical therapy seemed like a great fit. With that in mind, I began working toward my biomedical sciences degree. After completing my freshman year of college, I found myself looking for a summer job to keep me busy and make some money for the upcoming school year, so I took a position as a kennel technician at a veterinary clinic because of my soft spot for animals.

That summer at the clinic was filled with learning and experiences that I never expected to have, like scrubbing in on surgeries, filling medications, and learning what information can be obtained through diagnostics like bloodwork or a simple ear swab. As the weeks went by, I found myself drawn more and more into the hustle and bustle of the treatment area and getting involved in as much as I could. Before I knew it, I was hooked.

I had the realization that this field of medicine was fascinating to me, and I felt like I had found a career that really suited me well. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t rushing into things though, so I did my research, talked with veterinarians, and joined the PreVet Society at the university upon my return for my sophomore year. The more I learned about veterinary medicine, the more I was drawn in. I decided my love for veterinary medicine wasn’t just puppy love (see what I did there?) and I dove into all things pre-vet. Fast forward a few years and two degrees, and I’m now wrapping up my second year of veterinary school! My advice for anyone reading this is to say yes to new experiences and opportunities and don’t be afraid to chase your passions, regardless of when you discover them!

Using Exercise To Avoid Burnout

By Freya M. ’26, M.S. in Biomedical Engineering

Exercise equipment including sneakers, weights, and a jump rope against a blue background.

As a future veterinary student who has already faced burnout during undergrad, I’ve learned that it’s never too early to understand your limits and find time to step away from your academics.

Throughout undergrad, I always made time in my schedule to go to the gym and relieve stress from studying. After learning that I had a passion for fitness, I was inspired to become a fitness instructor to encourage others to do the same.

The Student Rec Center at Texas A&M offers group classes in multiple formats to all undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. Those of us who are fitness instructors often gauge how many participants should be in each class, choose the best location, and consider any feedback participants may provide that would help us improve our classes.

Every semester, there is a Fitness Instructor Training to recruit new fitness instructors and teach them how to lead a class in the multiple formats we provide. I was fortunate enough to do my training in Fall 2023 and am now teaching kickboxing and dance in Spring 2024.

When I decided to stay at Texas A&M for my master’s degree, I knew I had more time to pursue my passions and step out of my comfort zone. I started out as a very shy person who wasn’t very vocal when speaking to large groups. When I learned that our classes can have up to 50 participants, I had to work on my public speaking skills to get better at leading classes. Through teaching high-intensity class formats, I have learned how to engage the participants by having high energy and encouraging them to be as enthusiastic about the class as I am.

Becoming a fitness instructor has taught me to use my voice to help others. I was able to overcome my discomfort with public speaking and now I enjoy teaching others to become comfortable in a group setting as well. Using exercise as a personal outlet to avoid academic burnout has been the best thing I could have done for my physical and mental health. I cannot recommend enough using the campus rec center’s fitness classes or just going with a friend when you need a study break.

Getting Involved On Campus As An Undergrad

By Will ’26, B.S. in Animal Science

Coming to Texas A&M, I was told the traditions and culture here were unmatched and that the wide variety of organizations, with over a thousand to choose from, provided a home for everyone and anyone.

As a senior in high school, my Aggie dad encouraged me to attend Fish Camp; I was reluctant, but I conceded. As soon as I got to Reed Arena and saw the counselors covered in temporary tattoos, hair dye, and full of energy, I realized I was in the right place.

My Freshman Year

Fish Camp introduced me to life at Texas A&M, the traditions, the culture, and it also provided me with advice on how to succeed in school and how to get involved. To top it all off, my camp also won the Yell-Off.

A few weeks after Fish Camp, I moved into my dorm. I was living in the University Honors Living Learning Community in Lechner Hall. Even the dorms had a large sense of community. I remember having trivia nights, Layne’s vs. Cane’s chicken taste tests, and scavenger hunts around campus. It was incredibly easy to meet new people, and everyone seemed to walk around with open arms.

Then, the Freshman Leadership Organizations (FLOs) began to recruit. I met with staff members of the 20-plus FLOs, went to a couple informational meetings, and then applied for Freshman Leaders Advancing in Service and Honor (FLASH), the FLO I seemed to get along with the most. During my interview for FLASH, I ended up singing “Beautiful Girls” by Sean Kingston to them. A week later, I checked my email, and I was accepted!

Throughout my freshman year, I spent a lot of my free time with my new FLASH friends. FLASH puts on all kinds of events — service, professional, and social — and I competed on over 20 intramural teams. We had retreats, formals, LinkedIn workshops, professional headshots taken, and several volunteer opportunities.

At the same time, I became involved in Pre-Vet Society. Texas A&M offers tons of professional organizations, and being pre-vet, this seemed like the most fitting one! The meetings and seminars every week provided me with volunteer and experience opportunities, as well as input and lectures from veterinarians with different kinds of work, from avian and exotic; one speaker even got to work with the Baylor Bears!

At the beginning of second semester, applications for Fish Camp counselors opened. Though I was reluctant to apply, I did and was accepted! On “Rev Night,” or reveal night, they sit us down next to all of the other counselors in our camp, and our colors, sessions, and namesakes (the individual who is, essentially, sponsoring our camp) are revealed.

Over the next several weeks, I spent time getting to know the other counselors through lunch dates, hangouts, and even study nights! Through the summer, our camp had two road-trips, two work weekends, and then camp! I ended up winning the Yell-Off again! The feeling of winning alongside some of my new best friends was one of the most incredible things I have ever experienced. I’m definitely going to go for round three once applications open this year!

My Sophomore Year

Going into sophomore year, I knew I wanted to stay involved. I applied to be a staff member for FLASH and was chosen to be a mentor for the Community Outreach committee, which handles service opportunities with external organizations.

As a staff member, I now have the opportunity to provide the freshmen with the same experience I was granted. It’s an incredible feeling to know that I’m not only making a difference in the lives of others, but I am also giving back to the community that I get to call home for the next few years.

I’m also a member of the university’s Animal Welfare Judging Team. For this year’s competition, we are flying to Wisconsin to judge farmed bison, non-caged laying hens, and zoo tortoises! The international competition is hosted by the American Veterinary Medical Association, and it provides competitors not only a chance to develop their knowledge of welfare and public speaking skills but also to meet professionals in the same industries we are interested in. 

Texas A&M has a place for everyone, regardless of your background. The organizations available provide excellent opportunities for students to meet others and develop in all aspects. It’s incredibly easy to work alongside an organization to fit your schedule, your classes, and your other priorities. No matter what you’re interested in, there is a place for you. My involvements have shaped my experience in college, and it has definitely assured me that I made the right choice in coming to Texas A&M.

Developing A Passion For All Animals

By Matthew ’26, B.S. in Animal Science

One of the great things about being an Ambassador in the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (VMBS) with undergraduate, graduate, and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine students is that, like the school itself, the Ambassador Program attracts students from a variety of backgrounds and with many different interests.

Some Ambassadors come from a rural background and others come from a city, including myself; some share my major of animal science and have spent their whole lives participating in livestock shows, while others had no large animal experience before coming to Texas A&M.

I am one of those people who had no prior large animal experience before coming to Texas A&M. I grew up in Dallas and have lived in the city my whole life. My love for animals developed at a young age from all of the pets my sister and I had over the years — we had two hamsters, two lizards, two guinea pigs, and four dogs. Over the years, our house began to look like a zoo!

Some of my favorite memories from childhood also occurred at our local pet store, Petland. The interactions with the animals there sparked my love for animals. Even though I went to Animal Science 107, which is the first animal science course you will take at Texas A&M, with little knowledge of large animals, I made up for it. I studied and worked hard to earn an A in the class.

My undergraduate experience also has been filled with great relationships with fellow pre-vet students and with faculty, which I’ve developed by demonstrating a hard work ethic in each class. I have met some great people in animal science by participating in internships, such as at the Houston Livestock Show and by joining organizations such as the Pre-Vet Society, and by becoming a VMBS Ambassador.

Becoming an Ambassador has provided me with great advice from current veterinary students, leadership opportunities, and the chance to meet VMBS faculty. It has also allowed me to work with wonderful people and gifted me with a support system. Everyone on the team is kind, caring, and wants you to succeed in life. My undergraduate experience would not be what it is without making that decision to apply to become an Ambassador.

Davy, Inspiration and Service Dog in Training

As a biomedical sciences student (BIMS), I have become active in organization that sparked my interest for a long time—Patriot Paws of Aggieland, the College Station branch of an group whose mission is “serving those who have served” by training and providing “service dogs of the highest quality at no cost to disabled American veterans and others with mobile disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorder.”

I have always wanted to join an organization that has to do with animals and, more specifically, training and raising animals for a good cause.

Patriot Paws is one of my favorite organizations because their mission appeals the most to me. However, because of my schedule and limits with transportation, I could not join the organization until my junior year of college.

In the fall, I went through the entire training for the whole semester to become a puppy raiser. And, now, here I am, qualified as a puppy raiser.

As a puppy raiser, I was partnered with two other puppy raisers, and we all share the responsibilities of housing, taking care, and building on the training foundation of that puppy.

Our first assigned service-dog-in-training is a puppy named Davy, an adorable and intelligent 3-month-old Labrador Retriever.

Currently, my partners and I are focusing mostly on Davy’s behaviors at home and playtime, as well as working on simple cues such as “sit,” “down,” “touch,” and “leave it.” He learns very quickly; I was actually able to teach him three cues in two days!

Sometimes, it is very amusing to see how he tries to fix his mistakes. Whenever he realizes that he did something wrong—often when he gets really excited—he backs up, sits down, stares at me, and then looks back and forth to see what he can do to make up for it.

It melts my heart every single time because I know he is just a baby who is constantly trying to please me.

As I have been trained, every time that happens, I immediately redirect him and give him a cue that he was supposed to do, and if he does it right, I will give him a treat.

Working with him makes me feel like a proud mom! He amazes me so much by how fast he is catching up and learning new things. We also are trying to work on his biting habit that results from his teething; he is getting better at it, which I am very happy about.

Working with other raisers and being a part of Patriot Paws have taught me so much as a pre-veterinary student.

I have become so much more organized and better at time management. I am also consistently improving my communication skills as I work with my partners and our trainer every week to make sure that Davy is getting all of the training and care that he needs.

Another thing I have seen is an increase in my confidence; thanks to the way Patriot Paws operates and the strong connection among members, I now feel so much more confidence knowing that they will always be willing to help me. Additionally, I have learned to be more patient and dedicated during this experience.

Raising and training a puppy for Patriot Paws makes me feel great, not only because it is for a great cause but it also gives me a new spark of happiness in my life.

When he is not working, Davy always has a blast playing with my roommates and me, and we also enjoy playing with him because it is very fun and helps us to destress from school work.

Patriot Paws is not only a good experience for a pre-vet student but also a person who loves animals and wants to get more involved like I did.

I am very grateful to have an opportunity to work with this amazing team and incredible dogs, and I am looking forward to learning more from the others and the dogs, as well as to see the dogs grow.

Last but not least, I am definitely looking forward to the day these amazing dogs graduate and get matched with their veterans!

Adventures at Aggieland Safari

Because most of my animal experience is centered around small animals, I am constantly seeking opportunities to diversify my knowledge of veterinary medicine to prepare me for veterinary school and the application process.

Over the summer, I finally had the chance to enter the world of exotic animals!

With the opening of Aggieland Safari, an interactive, drive-through zoo, I jumped at the opportunity to work with a plethora of different species. As a veterinary intern, I assist the veterinarian in surgeries, treatments, and observation of the zoo animals.

Six months later, I have worked with an assortment of animals, including, oryx, zebras, reptiles, macaws, silver foxes, camels, and so much more!

A typical day at the park consists primarily of medicating animals. Additionally, I will walk around exhibits and examine animals to make sure everyone looks OK. Finally, I will help zookeepers feed animals and clean enclosures.

Through this education, I have also become more comfortable with these animals. Although I always practice caution and awareness around all animals, I am no longer as apprehensive of animals I interact frequently with, such as binturongs and African grey parrots.

Speaking of binturongs, my favorite animal to feed is a binturong named Poppy. She received her name because a chemical in the urine of binturongs smells like buttery popcorn!

Binturongs look like a combination of a small bear and cat. However, they are actually civets and are originally from Southeast Asia.

Although they are carnivores, Poppy loves her strawberries and watermelon! During hotter days, we will freeze a variety of fruit in water and give her these popsicle-like creations. It provides a source of entertainment for her and cools her down!

In fact, because she is so motivated by food, medicating her is a lot easier! All I have to do is treat her with a strawberry and she happily takes her medicine.

As my journey through veterinary medicine continues, I am so excited to continue to learn with amazing animals, like Poppy.

Later this winter, I am travelling to Belize to intern at the Wildlife Institute and continue my studies of exotic animals. I can’t wait to see what the future has in store!

Adventures in Thailand

As a senior biomedical sciences (BIMS) major, I am currently in the middle of “test week.” Anatomy, biochemistry II, and animal nutrition have proven to be very difficult classes and the tests all fell on the same week.

Although my undergraduate career is sometimes overwhelming, I have also made memories that I will never forget.

This summer I had the amazing opportunity to participate in a four-week study abroad program in Thailand. I am in awe when I think back on the experiences I had.

During the pre-veterinary trip, I got to work with elephants, horses, cats, and dogs. I learned about the heartbreaking abuse elephants in Thailand are experiencing and joined in the protection efforts.

I also served at an elephant sanctuary that houses more than 40 elephants that have been rescued from abusive conditions. These elephants are allowed to live their lives freely at the sanctuary and simply be elephants.

It was an eye-opening and inspiring experience that reminded me of the importance of advocating for animals that can’t advocate for themselves.

Apart from the animal experience, I also loved learning about Thai culture, interacting with local people, and eating the delicious food. I got to tour extravagant temples, take a cooking class, hike, zip line, scuba dive, and experience so many other once in a life time moments.

Throughout my time in Thailand, I developed new passions and adopted a more global perspective. It was a very unique trip and one that I will never forget. I am so thankful for the memories I made on this wonderful adventure.

Stepping back into reality, I spent the rest of the summer taking classes, working, and completing my veterinary school application. But I was able to draw on my experience abroad when going through the motions of everyday life.

Now a few tests, football games, and an Aggie ring later, I am almost halfway through the semester. I am hoping that throughout the rest of my senior year, I will stay motivated but also continue making lasting memories.

Tales from My Class at the Wildlife Center

As a pre-veterinary student, I am always looking for opportunities to get more hands-on experience with different animals.

At the end of last semester, I got an email from the Winnie Carter Wildlife Center announcing a two- to three-credit course for the fall 2019 semester. I immediately signed up and was very excited; I’ve been waiting for the semester to start since the beginning of summer.

The experience so far hasn’t let me down. For the past six weeks, I have learned so much from Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon, veterinary students, volunteers, and staff there. I get to work with exotic animals that I have never seen before, or do not see on a daily basis, such as lemurs, llamas, sulcata tortoises, African dwarf goats, emus, savannah cats, deer, rheas, and more.

Besides learning how to handle and work with these animals, I also get to learn a lot of gardening skills. I had never used or even touched a mower or weed-eater before, but after spending three weeks at the Wildlife Center, I can now operate them easily and change their gas and oil.

We all have an assigned pen with specific animals in it and we have to complete the tasks that are assigned weekly, including washing the water troughs, food bowls, and shelters; clearing weeds; watering and creating a compost ring around the base of the trees; eliminating ant mounds; picking up sticks; and raking feces for the compost bins or dumpsters.

But there are other activities that we students get an opportunity to observe or participate in, including helping to care for a goat. I was so lucky to be there when they took care of the goat, who had a wound, and then help out as they were cleaning it.

His sister was there, hanging around in the exam room because they are inseparable. She was very happy to get to eat Cheerios just for being there and being a good girl.

Don’t worry! We also treated her brother with a lot of Cheerios once the procedure was done. That was my very first hands-on clinical experience that I have had with animals and I am very excited for my next opportunity!

In addition, I got to witness two of our bucks rubbing off the velvet layer on their antlers. We often refer to them as our “old men.” They are such majestic creatures. I am always in awe while looking at them.

We were not allowed to touch their antlers or head because we do not want to develop a habit of rubbing their antlers against us; it could be very dangerous. Therefore, I always admire their antlers from a distance, and I love how soft and adorable they look.

However, their antlers have a completely different aura as they rub off the velvet layer; they look so “manly” right now. I am very grateful to be able to witness a phenomenon such as this!

The rhea at the Wildlife Center is the sweetest bird I have ever known or met! She loves to cuddle, just like a human.

However, she only loves to cuddle while laying, rather than standing up. You can easily signal her to come and cuddle by just sitting or kneeling down on the ground and she will approach you. She sometimes simply lays next to me and lets me pet her or she lays directly on my lap.

Just a blog is not enough to describe my amazing experience that I have had so far; I can probably write a book from it.

I am extremely grateful to Dr. Blue and everyone from the Wildlife Center for giving me this incredible opportunity and letting me be part of an amazing team that I would never have imagined that I would be a part of. I am very excited for the rest of the semester and my learning journey as a pre-veterinary student.


Summer Plans

Hannah JSummer is so close I can almost taste it! This semester I will be finishing up my sophomore year at Texas A&M as a biomedical sciences (BIMS) major, and looking back, I just can’t believe how incredibly fast it has gone by.

A piece of advice that I would give to any student starting college would be to make every semester count. Get involved in things you love doing and gain as many new experiences as possible.

That’s something I plan to do this summer!

Angelica, a fellow Ambassador, and I will be leaving the United States in a little over a week to travel to South Africa! Ever since I was a child, going to Africa has always been something I knew I wanted to do, specifically to be able to interact with the wildlife there.

Angelica and I heard about a program through Pre-Vet Society that offers a two-week trip to Chinsta, South Africa, that enables us to have this experience.

The program is offered to any pre-vet student from anywhere in the world! It will be exciting to meet other students from different countries who are also interested in veterinary medicine.

The program is split into three parts, each working with different animals, including wildlife such as zebras, antelopes, and giraffes and at the zoo located close to town; cattle and equine; and small animals at a few clinics in the area.

We have known we wanted to go on this trip for probably over a year now and I can’t believe it is finally almost upon us!

Neither Angelica nor I have ever traveled outside of the country before, and there was a lot to do in order to be prepared for the trip. We had to get our passports, book our flights, and receive the recommended vaccinations, as well as buy all the recommended items for the trip.

The travel time to Chinsta will be quite long—in total, about 25 hours! South Africa is also seven hours ahead of Texas, so I’m sure we will be facing quite a bit of jet lag!

Since it will be the first time out of the country for the both of us, we plan to document every detail we can!

I bought a Nikon camera last summer and will bring it with me on the trip with. I love using it and am really into photography; I even joined the photography club this past year!

Angelica also bought a camera recently that she plans to take on the trip! We hope to take photographs of the wonderful animals we see, as well as the beautiful landscape. Chinsta is located close to the coast, so we may even get to visit the ocean!

It will be fall time there, so we are planning to dress in layers that we can take off as it gets warmer as the day goes on. It will be strange to go from this Texas heat to cooler weather and then come right back.

I am glad not to be taking any classes this summer and plan to come back home and work at the veterinary clinic I worked at in high school for the rest of my summer break.

I wish you all a relaxing summer and hope to share with you all the fun I will have on my trip!