PEER Veterinary Students Make a Splash with STEM Education

PEER The CVM PEER program is committed to enhancing STEM education for K-12 students while empowering veterinary students to share their knowledge and expand the boundaries of their education. PEER veterinary students have presented to over 1800 students this summer, teaching over 20 different topics in STEM and veterinary medicine fields. In addition to traveling across Texas presenting at schools, camps, museums, and libraries, PEER veterinary students enhance their own education through shadowing veterinarians, visiting veterinary practices, and touring animal facilities such as SeaWorld San Antonio and the Southwest National Primate Research Center.

As part of the Animal Day hosted by the Larry J. Ringer Library in College Station, PEER veterinary students organized an educational room that attracted over 700 community members who came to learn about pet care. PEER provided stations where visitors explored pet nutrition, common parasites, dental health including a live cat tooth brushing demonstration, and a coloring station that emphasized how to interact with animals and the importance of regular veterinary care. PEER stations included English and Spanish brochures that families took to use as reference materials.

PEER’s educational room was well-received by the community. Maddie Wiersig (3VM), who managed the coloring station, said the event was a “roaring success!” Clarissa Root (3VM), who managed the parasite station, commented, “Many people, including adults, before they visited PEER’s stations did not know that mosquitoes can transmit heartworms. These families are now better equipped to protect their pets’ health. I enjoyed being able to provide pet care education in English and Spanish to our community.” Cindy Oser, the Youth Services Librarian who organized Animal Day, was impressed by PEER’s contributions. Oser wrote, “Your students did an amazing job of teaching kids at our Animal Day event. We had 744 attendees which was a record for a Tuesday program at our library. The kids and teens really loved working with your students…You guys are awesome!”

PEER impacts many students beyond the Brazos County. PEER veterinary students recently spent three days in San Antonio presenting at TAMU San Antonio, the San Antonio Humane Society, and Mission Public Library. TAMU San Antonio was a great success as many of the students were enrolled in pre-engineering programs through their schools, so they had great interest in STEM careers and professional school in general. Presenters Aurash Behroozi (3VM) and Maddie Wiersig (3VM) spoke on how to get into veterinary school, their inspiration for wanting to become veterinarians, and tips for college success regardless of career path. Pam Massey, the director of the event, called the presentation “Wonderful! Informative and entertaining!”

Massey also applauded Wiersig for encouraging students not to allow gender norms to stand in the way of their careers. Wiersig highlighted how people told her growing up that she could not be a good large animal veterinarian because she was a small female and not a big, strong male. “I think it was so wonderful for all the girls to hear that gender should not play a role in what they should be when they grow up, no matter what people tell them!” Massey exclaimed. The pre-engineering students peppered Behroozi and Wiersig with challenging, in depth questions about inspiring role models, adversities encountered on the pathway to veterinary school, and personal experiences that the PEER speakers believed led to their veterinary school admission.

The PEER veterinary students concluded their San Antonio journey with a trip to Sea World, but this was not an average, everyday visit to the popular theme park. PEER veterinary students seized the opportunity to go behind the metaphorical aqua colored curtain and view a part of Sea World not visible to regular park-goers. The PEER students met with Dr. Steve Osborn, one of the three resident veterinarians providing care to the mélange of creatures residing in the land-locked oasis. Dr. Osborn spoke of his unconventional beginnings as a Purdue Boilermaker who started practicing in a small animal hospital. He spoke of the good fortune and healthy amount of elbow grease that landed him the ever-coveted position as a Sea World veterinarian.

Dr. Osborn offered the PEER students a chance to get their hands wet and onto some of the eternally smiling bottle nose dolphins. Each of the four students took turns approaching the pool to place their hands upon the muscular back of a beautiful female bottle nose dolphin. Osborn explained to the students that dolphins have blood drawn at the tail vein and pointed out this important structure gliding down the underside of the dolphin’s rear fin. Osborn then led the students away from the crystal blue, cool waters of the dolphin pool and into an air conditioned laboratory filled with cutting edge equipment intended for reading various samples collected from Sea World’s animals. The PEER veterinary students also toured the cavernous surgery suite intended for everything from walruses and seals to penguins and flamingos.

SeaWorld San Antonio offered a unique opportunity to supplement PEER veterinary students’ knowledge of marine animal medicine. The standard veterinary curriculum is fairly threadbare regarding sea animals. Dr. Osborn discussed the many challenges of marine animal disease control and marine animal transport in captivity. It became quickly evident to the PEER veterinary students that the Sea World veterinarians must really adapt and learn on the job! There is a dearth of research literature currently published on the animal species that are housed in Sea World, but SeaWorld veterinarians are working hard to advance our knowledge of these fascinating species!

To learn more about exciting opportunities through PEER, please visit PEER’s website or email Dr. Larry Johnson.