2021 Class of New Veterinarians Recognized for Their Resilience and Perseverance

Although the St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine Class of 2021’s commencement ceremony was virtual, as were some of their classes, their incredible achievements were very much real.

On June 5, SGU faculty as well as students’ friends and family members applauded the School’s newest graduates for persevering through challenging coursework and rigorous clinical training, all during a global health crisis. With the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degrees in hand, they’re now equipped to successfully embark upon their professional careers as the world’s newest veterinarians.

“What I want you to remember is this: No matter where you are in the world today, no matter what the format of your graduation ceremony, the importance, the magnitude and the relevance of your achievement are in no way minimized,” said Tara Paterson, DVM ’03, president of the School of Veterinary Medicine Alumni Association.

Dr. Paterson, a charter class alumna and associate professor of small animal medicine and surgery at SGU, welcomed the 184 graduates from six different countries who tuned in with faculty, staff, family, and friends from around the world for the celebration, as they each received their Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.

“What makes the Class of 2021 so exceptional is its resilience to persevere in the face of a global pandemic,” said Dr. Paterson. “They did what all SGU students do—they persevered, they did not give up, and made the best of what was offered to them. They are resilient and truly incredible.”

 

In her address, keynote speaker Carley Jones, DVM ’21, challenged the students to remember the joy, passion, and perseverance that got them to their graduation day. She also shared two lessons that she and her classmates had learned during their time at SGU—the value of community and adaptability.

“The sense of community that you have bestowed upon each other is the perfect reflection of the type of doctors that you have become,” commended Dr. Jones. “Our ability to adapt to the obstacles we face will make us better doctors, better leaders, and better members of every community we become a part of.”

St. George’s University graduates shined in the recent Veterinary Internship & Residency Matching Program cycle, achieving a match rate of 72.1 percent, highest among Caribbean veterinary schools.  It also compared favorably to the 53.5 percent match rate for all schools—including US schools—according to the VIRMP, a program sponsored by the American Association of Veterinary Clinicians (AAVC).

With the addition of these graduates, the SVM has now produced more than 1,900 veterinarians since the charter class graduated in 2003. Dr. Charles R. Modica, chancellor of SGU, congratulated and praised the new vets for pressing forward despite challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are proud that the country of Grenada has been part of your lives for a few years,” said Dr. Modica. “With the pandemic having impacted all of us, you have shown that you have the resolve, fortitude, and dedication to complete your studies no matter what.”

 

– Ray-Donna Peters

High-Achieving SVM Students and Faculty Honored at Spring Virtual Awards Ceremony

Screen shot courtesy of SVM student Briana Kinsey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The School of Veterinary Medicine recognized students and faculty who exhibited academic excellence, outstanding work ethic, and a strong commitment to the field during last month’s SVM Spring 2021 awards ceremony.

“Students who were named during the awards ceremony are the best of the best when it comes to exemplifying the qualities needed to become exceptional veterinarians,” said Dr. Neil Olson, dean of the SVM. “With the added challenge of learning during a global pandemic, the honorees have especially excelled, and we are so proud of their accomplishments at SGU.”

Dr. Olson, Mr. Brendon LaGrenade, SGU’s vice provost for institutional advancement, and Dr. Anne Marie Corrigan, associate dean of academics, addressed the online crowd. In addition to a wide range of traditional awards acknowledging the best students in all classes, student organizations could nominate students and faculty/staff for an award.

Two new awards were presented this semester:

  • Dean Olson’s Award for Academic Excellence, given to Term 3 students with the highest GPA (as of the end of Term 2) and who embodies professionalism. The award has a combined value of $2,000 EC, split among the nominees.
  • SGA SGU Awards of Excellence is a new award given by the Student Government Association recognizing SGU faculty and staff members who play an integral part in vet students’ success.

During the virtual event, the SVM also held its Phi Zeta Honor Society inductions as well as the traditional Term 6 student slideshow sendoff, a compilation of photos taken to highlight students’ time at SGU before they head into their clinical year. It was the first time that all three events were held together.

Dr. Rhonda Pinckney will retire on June 30 after 17 years at SGU.

The awards event also acknowledged retiring faculty member Dr. Rhonda Pinckney, a professor of veterinary parasitology within the Department of Pathobiology, and one of the longest serving SVM faculty members. Dr. Pinckney has been with SGU since 2004 and will retire on June 30.

The SVM hopes to be able to resume the award ceremony in person for the fall term.

Zoetis Awards

Zoetis Veterinary Student Scholars Award: April Perez, Sonali Desai, Pricilla Leinberger

Zoetis Revolution Awards
Small Animal Surgery Award: Kristie Armas

Small Animal Internal Medicine: Montana Loveday

Equine Medicine Award: Amanda Broeder

Production Animal Medicine Award: Haley Embleton

Scholarship of Service Award: Elizabeth McGarvey

Student Research Award: Glenna Raycroft Maur

Zoetis Distinguished Veterinary Teacher Award: Dr. Nicki Wise

Outstanding Colleague Awards

Term 1: Stephanie Nickerson

Term 2: Maureen Kruhlak

Term 3: Leandra Margolies

Term 4: Sheridan Nichols

Term 5: Adriana Kalaska

Term 6: Krystal Mendoza

Dean Olson’s Award for Academic Excellence Recipients for Spring 2021

Letty Bonilla, Daria Ehrenberg, Melissa Ferguson, Lauren Fleming, Acacia Johnson, Jennifer Memleb, Teylor Nealy, Cristians Rivas Morales, Aleeka Roberts, Samuel Ruch, Valerie Savino

Adrienne Lotton Memorial Award

Nakia Sweetman

SVM Alumni Scholarship Award

Cody Cragnolin

Giant Paws Giant Hearts Foundation “Hercules” Award

Cody Cragnolin

PAWS Recognition for Term 6 Facilitators

Krystal Mendoza, Collin Leisz, Camille Ogden, Anna Ritz, Elizabeth McGarvey, Amanda Broeder

Veterinary Public Health CommitteeOne Health One Medicine” Community Leader Award

Caitlin Nay

Student Organization Awards                   

SGUSVM Large Animal Society Most Valuable Sixth Term LAS Member Award

Maggie Pratt Isgren

Student Chapter of the American College of Veterinary Pathologists Most Valuable Pathologist Award

Taryn Paquet

Wellness Committee MVP Award

Chandler Case

TherioHERO Award (faculty award)
Dr. Firdous Khan

Student Chapter of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Awards

Student Winner: Vittoria Lipari
Faculty Winner: Dr. Anne Corrigan

Student Chapter of the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society

Student Winner:  Tasha Faletti
Faculty Award: Dr.  Anne Corrigan

Student Government Association Awards

SGUSVM Outstanding Faculty Award Recipients

Term 1-3: Dr. Rhonda Pinckney
Term 4-6: Dr. Firdous Khan

**NEW** SGA SGU Awards of Excellence (faculty award)

Terms 1-3: Ms. Tandy James
Terms 4-6: Ms. Naudia Dundas

George B. Daniel Award

Maria Coppola

The Pinckney Parasitology Award

Brianna Shepke, Lance Shen Kenny

Alpha Delta Chapter of the Society of Phi Zeta

Spring 2021 Inductees

Term 5 Inductees

Alexa Albam, Richard Brown, Devin Curtsinger. Briana Howard, Adriana Kalaska, Nadine Pearsall, Elizabeth Russell. Dawson Ruschkowski Tess Talmage, Kiersten Yndestad

Term 6 Inductees

Taylor Adams, Marisa Curro, Erica Foster, Annelise Godau, Krystal Mendoza, Hannah Narburgh, Camille Ogdon, Alexa Pensabene, Sarah Quinlan, Anna Ritz, Jaren Rodier, Sofija Todorovic, Katherine Williams

Term 6 Students Inducted Last Term

Jacqueline Compta, Cody Cragnolin, Molinaro Goode, Kyra Gore, William Holl, Cullen Kurgan, Abigail Kenly, Vittoria Lipari, Taryn Mooney, Romina Morgan, Kelly Ramos, Jaimie Remillard, Yu Wang

Phi Zeta Specialty Faculty Recognition for Their Work in Promoting Research and Scholarship

Dr. Firdous Khan, Dr. Heidi Janicke

 

Screen shot courtesy of SVM student Briana Kinsey.

 

– Laurie Chartorynsky

SVM Term 6 students travel to Las Vegas for clinical skills training

Term 6 students Amanda Broeder, Shannon Millikin, and Nakia Sweetman at the Oquendo campus in Las Vegas, NV. Photo courtesy of Nakia Sweetman.

When the COVID-19 pandemic prevented School of Veterinary Medicine students from participating in hands-on training in Grenada, St. George’s University coordinated a unique alternative under the bright lights and glitz in Las Vegas, NV.

This semester, a total of 98 Term 6 students attended clinical skills workshops at the Viticus Center – Oquendo Campus in Las Vegas. The center is a venue for many medical and veterinary medicine continuing education sessions; however, it welcomed SGU students as part of its mission to “enhance animal and human health worldwide by providing the highest quality year-round continuing education to veterinary and human healthcare professionals.”

“Typically, during Terms 5 and 6, students learn critical clinical skills at both our Large Animal Resource Facility and Small Animal Clinic in Grenada. It is during this time that students experience their first surgeries, learn to administer anesthesia, and perform much-needed spay and neutering services,” said Dr. Neil Olson, dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine. “Because of COVID, this group of students was not able to have the normal Term 5 or Term 6 experience. However, we felt very strongly that in order for the students to be prepared to head off to their clinical year we wanted to make sure they had exceptional hands-on training.”

SVM students Brianna Viglietta and Jasmyn Fearon during a workshop at Oquendo Campus in Las Vegas, NV.

During the spring term, students touched down in Las Vegas to attend a two-week workshop where they acquired a variety of large and small animal clinical skills through workshops taught by licensed veterinarians, vet specialists, and technicians.

 

“I am so grateful for this experience. I truly feel more prepared and ready to take on clinical year.”

 

In addition, two SVM faculty were on site to support students—Dr. Rodolfo Bruhl-Day, chair of the Department of Small Animal Medicine and Surgery, and Dr. Flavia Restitutti, associate professor of small animal medicine and surgery. The last of the groups completed the workshop at the end of April.

“The Oquendo Center is the premier, state-of-the-art facility for veterinary continuing education in the US and an ideal learning environment,” said Dr. Lauren Nicki Wise, assistant dean of fourth-year clinical training for the SVM and professor in the department. “It was a wonderful opportunity to have that facility and staff available to our students.”

Specifically, students practiced handling and performing physical exams on large animals, including cows and horses. One group even got to treat a neonatal goat that was born, Dr. Wise said. On the small animal side, each student performed surgical anesthesia, and then performed spay/neuter surgery as part of a community service program with local shelters and animal rescues. The students spayed and neutered close to 200 dogs while there.

Photo courtesy of the Viticus Center.

Nakia Sweetman, a Class of 2022 DVM candidate, attended the workshops in late February.

“I am so grateful for this experience,” said Ms. Sweetman, who begins her clinical year at Texas A&M University this month. “I truly feel more prepared and ready to take on clinical year. The experience showed us how clinical year will be set up, with doctors there to help guide us and teach us, while also giving us the opportunity to be doctors as well.”

SVM student Nakia Sweetman at the Oquendo Campus in Las Vegas, NV. Photo courtesy of Nakia Sweetman.

Another added plus to the experience: being able to see her classmates again after a year of being home.

“At the end of our workshop, I was able to explore Las Vegas. A couple of my friends and I actually decided to stay through the weekend, so we rented a car and went to the Hoover Dam, hiked the Red Rock Canyon and the Valley of Fire. We also went to the Linq High Roller, which is a large ferris wheel, and we were able to see all of Vegas from up there,” Ms. Sweetman said.

This was the Viticus Center’s first foray into a training event specifically geared to help veterinary students prepare for their clinical year.

“When SGU came to us with the opportunity to help train veterinary students to give them hands-on training, it was our privilege and honor to help,” said Dr. Tony Pease, the chief veterinary medical officer of Viticus Group.

SVM student Erica Foster exams a horse at the Oquendo Campus.

Dr. Pease added that the not only were the students eager to learn, but “exceptionally prepared.”

“Our instructors and technician team were truly impressed with their skill and enthusiasm to learn and be taught,” he said. “I think our instructors and technicians were just as excited as the students to get to work every day and help these young veterinarians-in-training hone their skills. We are thankful to have had the opportunity to provide this experience, and we look forward to seeing the students again as doctors, coming to further hone their hands-on skills during their careers.”

Added Dean Olson: “This experience, while out-of-the-box, is representative of the commitment we have to making sure students are prepared for their clinical year. It’s an excellent example of how, with a little creativity, we were able to collaborate with the industry to ensure our students stay on track with their vet educations.”

Students witnessed the birth of a neonatal goat while at the Oquendo Campus.

 

– Laurie Chartorynsky

 

Related Reading

SVM Commencement 2021

Congratulations to the
School of Veterinary Medicine
Class of 2021!

We’re So Proud. You Should Be, Too.



You did it. You’ve worked hard to reach this milestone moment and SGU couldn’t be prouder of your achievements. 

We have the utmost confidence that you have been equipped with the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors to make a positive impact on the world, at a time when it’s most needed.

We met you as a student looking to make a difference and we’re proud to see you join a network of, now, more than 2,000 School of Veterinary Medicine graduates making that difference every day.

SGU Class of 2021

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SVM Grad Thrives in High-Intensity Critical Care Specialty

Jennifer Ortolani, DVM ’15, thrives in a fast-paced environment, where her ability to quickly diagnose and treat patients in dire need are in high demand. A critical care specialist at BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital in Rockville, MD, Dr. Ortolani spends her day managing a variety of different cases hospitalized in the intensive care unit, consulting on cases with other specialists, and treating patients in the emergency department. “I chose to become a veterinarian and specialize in emergency and critical care medicine because it combines my love of medicine, science, people, and animals,” said Dr. Ortolani. “What I enjoy most about my job is managing critical and complex disease processes and working with families to get their pets back home where they belong.” Although she’d only been working as a criticalist since September 2019, Dr. Ortolani marvels at the difference a year can make. Similar to many others, her hospital has made a number of changes—conducting nearly all communications over the phone, and no longer developing that interpersonal connection with clients during consultation and cage side. “Now, more than ever, we are asking people to trust us, while having even fewer mechanisms to earn that trust,” stated Dr. Ortolani. “Fortunately, I have been able to play an instrumental role in developing protocols to keep our hospital’s associates as safe as possible during these novel times. With so many medical professionals stepping up right now, including veterinarians, I am very grateful to be able to do my part and continue to help sick pets and their families.” In spite of life’s current challenges, Dr. Ortolani has welcomed the chance to take on more, growing her career as a clinician and leader, building her hospital’s internship program, and increasing its critical care skills. She continues to educate herself, acquiring formal certifications and degrees, including the one she is currently completing at the University of Tennessee’s Veterinary Human Support certificate program. “I’m hoping to expand my teaching and lecturing skills in the future,” said Dr. Ortolani. “I like training interns in a clinical environment but would also love to play a role in mentoring residents and students again. I really enjoy teaching didactic lectures, and perhaps someday I’ll get the opportunity to teach or guest-lecture at a university.”  

-- Ray-Donna Peters

   

SGU Vets Rank High in VIRMP Match 

With their degrees in hand, St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine graduates are set to take on even more specialized training beginning in the spring. Forty-nine SGU-trained veterinarians will continue their careers in internship and residency positions according to 2021 match data from the Veterinary Internship & Residency Matching Program (VIRMP).  SGU students and grads achieved a match rate of 72.1 percent, the highest among Caribbean veterinary schools. It also compares favorably to the 53.5 percent match rate for all schools—including US schools—according to the VIRMP, a program sponsored by the American Association of Veterinary Clinicians (AAVC).  “We couldn’t be happier for those who have decided to further strengthen their knowledge and skills through these postgraduate training opportunities,” said Dr. Neil Olson, dean of the SVM. “These programs are welcoming excellent veterinarians who are committed not only to providing quality care for their patients, but to continuing to learn and grow as professionals.”  Beginning in June, the newly matched graduates will continue their training in fields such as diagnostic imaging, oncology, emergency medicine, and neurology/neurosurgeryamong others. These positions are situated at such prestigious institutions as Cornell University, the University of Pennsylvania, and several other universities within the SVM’s network of clinical affiliates.  

– Brett Mauser

3 SGU grads changing the face of veterinary medicine

Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Asian Americans have been historically underrepresented in the veterinary profession. In fact, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, these minority populations make up less than 13 percent of the 83,000 veterinarians in the US. Aspiring vets, especially minorities, want to be able to see themselves in the profession through the faces of those who are already working in it. A lack of diversity in the profession also impacts the animals and pets being cared for. Many people from low-income areas may not have access to or can’t afford pet healthcare. Acting on the need to make the profession a more inclusive and diverse field, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges announced plans last year to create a new commission addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the veterinary profession. To that end, three recent graduates of St. George’s University’s School of Veterinary Medicine shared their perspectives on the issue of diversity in the field and how they plan to make a difference by paying it forward.

Breaking Barriers as a Latina

Atalie Delgado, DVM ’20, an intern at Med Vet Chicago, fell in love with animals on her family’s ranch in Mexico and with becoming a veterinarian. However, she struggled to find support from Latina women who were pursuing degrees as veterinarians—a notion she aims to help fix. Dr. Delgado recently secured a residency position in small animal emergency and critical care at The Animal Medical Center in New York City that she will begin in July.

SGU: What inspired you to enter veterinary medicine?

Dr. Delgado: My strong desire to pursue a degree in veterinary medicine was built on a foundation of love for animals and a deep understanding of the intricate relationships that humans have with animals. The lack of Latinas in the sciences has motivated me and reaffirmed my desire to establish myself as a leader within the veterinary community and to mentor students of Latino origin who are just starting their veterinary medicine education.

SGU: What do you see as the biggest issue in vet medicine?

Dr. Delgado: The lack of open dialogue and support that minority students often face. The promotion of diversity starts with educating future veterinarians and creating safe spaces where students of color feel supported. At SGU, I gained the confidence to advocate for minority students and women in veterinary medicine. I started the SGU Women's Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative (WVLDI) student chapter during my second year of vet school with the help of my classmates, faculty, and staff at SGU. I am eternally grateful to have spent three years with supportive colleagues and faculty who encouraged our endeavors to promote diversity and leadership on the island and in the veterinary community.

SGU: What do you love about your job?

Dr. Delgado: Working at a busy specialty center in an urban area of Chicago allows me to practice my medical Spanish while also providing quality care to pets of clients who come from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. It’s through these experiences that I continue to grow as a clinician and strengthen the aspirations I have as a veterinarian. Obtaining board certification in emergency and critical care residency will help me to advance my career in veterinary medicine and support my desire to teach and advocate for diversity in the field. VOICE: Championing Diversity in the Veterinary Profession at the Student Level.

Empowering African Americans to Become Veterinarians

Amber Shamburger, DVM ’19, is a small animal general practitioner in Gardner, MA. Originally from New York City, she became interested in veterinary medicine at a young age, becoming laser-focused on pursuing her dream once she entered high school. Dr. Shamburger began volunteering at a veterinary hospital during her summer vacations, where she gained a mentor. “My mentor played a remarkable role in getting me to where I am today,” she said. “Not only did she teach me so much, but she also opened so many doors for me with the opportunities she offered.” Through her experiences, she hopes to inspire more African American and Hispanic vet students to follow their dreams.

SGU: What do you see as the biggest issue in vet medicine?

Dr. Shamburger: I never realized how much diversity was lacking in this profession until I started vet school. The lack of diversity was quite painful, in stark contrast to the very diverse education I was exposed to years prior. It is important that we strive for diversity in vet med because it will help our profession grow. It will help us relate to our patients more, offer different treatment protocols among different populations, and offer unique perspectives.

SGU: What does it mean to you to be an African American and Hispanic woman in the field?

Dr. Shamburger: To be an African American woman in this field is empowering. Being Hispanic breaks down even more barriers. Although veterinary medicine is dominated by women, it is true that I represent a statistical anomaly. I hope, however, that I may also represent an example to other African American women that may have never considered this profession, to pursue their passion with ease of knowing that it is attainable.

SGU: What do you love about your job?

Dr. Shamburger: I love that I have the ability to reassure an owner who is concerned about their pet, whether it's through education or by offering a plan of action. I also love that there is never a dull day in this profession. I can always count on seeing an interesting case and having the opportunity to learn and grow from it.

Raising Awareness of Pet Care Outside the US

Growing up, Dr. Omar Khalaf found himself drawn to animals and their well-being, and that feeling only intensified when he would visit his family in Jordan. The lack of vet care available in the country, and education about the profession in general, motivated him to study veterinary medicine at SGU. Following his January graduation, Dr. Khalaf secured an emergency medicine/small animal rotating internship in Hollywood, FL.

SGU: How were you inspired to enter the field?

Dr. Khalaf: My defining moment was being in Jordan as a kid and seeing many uncared-for stray animals and the lack of education of how to care for them.

SGU: What do you see as the biggest issue in vet medicine?

Dr. Khalaf: The lack of education of the importance of veterinary medicine—and as a result a lack of priority placed on creating veterinarians—in non-American countries to ensure the health of animals there. However, this is beginning to change and as a result we are seeing vets from all different ethnicities and cultures. I hope to be able to raise awareness of the importance of animal and pet care through education and through social media to people across the world.

SGU: What do you love about your job?

Dr. Khalaf: Being able to help sick and critically ill animals return to good health and live happy lives. The reward and smile of seeing people seeing their animals healthy is priceless.

-- Laurie Chartorynsky

2012 DVM Grad and Self-Taught Artist Lands Cover of JAVMA

Traveling relief veterinarian and self-taught artist, Dr. Laura M. Boggs, is a 2012 cum laude graduate of St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine. Her painting titled “Cat Kneads a Friend,” was featured on the March cover of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA). She shared with SGU News her motivations for submitting the painting to JAVMA and why she is grateful for her education at SGU.

St. George’s University: Is this the first painting that you have done for JAVMA?

Dr. Laura Boggs: Yes, this is the first painting for JAVMA, and I am hoping it is not the last.

SGU: What was the motivation for submitting the painting?

Dr. Boggs: I have always admired the artwork displayed on the cover of JAVMA. As soon as I receive my copy, I thumb through directly to the cover insert to see if the artist is also a veterinarian.  The majority of my paintings involve animals, of course, so I took a chance and submitted a few paintings for review. My grandfather would say, “You’ll never catch a fish if your hook is not in the water.” I use this bit of wisdom when I need to muster up bravery to put myself out there. I caught a big one this time.  

SGU: How does it feel for one of your creations to be on the cover of a prestigious journal such as JAVMA?

Dr. Boggs: I was more than ecstatic when I was informed one of my paintings was accepted. I was also kind of baffled because it is not one of my more technically accurate paintings. It is always fun to see the diversity of preferences out there. This was an acrylic painting I created of my pets. I was practicing a mixed media technique of overlaying tissue paper on the background to create a sense of texture.

SGU: What are your responsibilities as a relief veterinarian and why did you choose this particular field?

Dr. Boggs: I've been a relief veterinarian for three years.  Previously, I owned a rural mixed animal clinic. I enjoyed the work but as a single mom I found my work-life balance challenging. Being a relief veterinarian allows me to choose my own schedule and more time to pursue painting as well. I take my responsibilities as a relief veterinarian very seriously for each animal hospital I enter.  Sometimes I work in emergency medicine, spay/neuter clinics, high end urban clinics, and small low-income community clinics.  I enjoy the diversity of work.  I get to travel to places I never would have visited previously. It challenges me to be creative and adaptive.  Every hospital has their own protocols, pharmacy drug selection, and anesthetics. I do my best to stay current on drugs and procedures.

SGU: What was your experience at SGU?

Dr. Boggs: I am enormously proud to be a St. George’s University graduate. I am an excellent veterinarian, and I owe it to SGU for the opportunity for my education. Animal hospitals who hire my relief services know their patients, clients, and staff are in good hands. I have an adaptive personality, which is required in my position, but it was also a nice trait to have as a student away from home in Grenada. I had some wonderful classmates that I miss along with the island lifestyle.  

-- Laurie Chartorynsky

Coppola Becomes Second-Ever Vet Student To Serve As SGU SGA President

For only the second time in the history of St. George’s University, a veterinary student has been elected president of the Student Government Association. Maria Coppola, a Term 6 student from Pittsburgh, PA, will serve as a leader and voice for students from all schools within the University for the Spring 2021 term. SGU seems to run in Ms. Coppola’s blood. Her parents met at the University as medical students and graduated in 1984. Her mother, Carmela, now specializes in neonatology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, while her father, Matthew, practices internal medicine with a focus on geriatrics. The lineage continues with her brother, Matthew, a current SOM student who is expected to graduate in 2023. Ms. Coppola is no newcomer to the SGA, having joined in her first term and joined the SVM executive board in Term 4. SGU News caught up with her as she began her tenure as the organization’s president.

St. George’s University: How does it feel to be only the second SVM student to be elected as SGA president?  

Maria Coppola: It is a great honor. I hope that SGA’s presidency becomes more diverse over the years and there will be more SAS and SVM presidents to come after me.

SGU: What are some of your top priorities in your new role? 

MC: As SGA president in this online environment, my goals are different than what they would be in person. I want SGA to be more than an outlet to voice school-related concerns, and to be an organization that is there for students. It is important to check in with students and help them with motivation and accountability throughout the term. Our executive board is holding weekly office hours, a daily virtual study hall, and an amazing study buddy locator resource. We hope to host some events throughout the term to promote wellness and boost morale.

SGU: How will you incorporate the concerns and issues of students of all schools? 

MC: Our executive board positions help me to incorporate the concerns and issues of all SGU students. I check in weekly with the presidents of each school’s affairs to make sure all concerns are being addressed. I also check in with our graduate school SGA representatives to help where I am needed.

SGU: What are the qualities you believe a student needs to have in order to be in this type of leadership position?  

MC: Passion, courage, and embracing teamwork. An SGA president must be passionate about student concerns and needs in order to succeed in this role. You must have the courage to speak with administration and professors to advocate for the student body in an effective and professional manner. Also, you need to be able to delegate tasks, and to work and communicate with SGA, your colleagues, and administration to make a positive change at SGU.

SGU: How did your prior SGA experience prepare you for the role?  

MC: I joined SGA my first term in SVM. I immediately joined committees to get involved, and later joined the executive board in my fourth term. My prior experience on the SGA executive board as vice president of SVM affairs enabled me to see what it took to be president. I was able to see the collaboration of all schools, and the areas that could be improved. I work really hard to make sure that all schools feel equally heard and appreciated. SGU: What prompted you to pursue this position, and what influence do you hope to have?  MC: I wanted to be a voice for students and to join an organization that encompasses all schools. I hope that I influence other SGA representatives to have a strong voice and to continue to work for positive change on campus.

SGU: What are your career aspirations?

MC: In May, I will start my clinical year at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, where I will track Small Animal Medicine. My expected graduation is June 2022. I plan to practice small animal medicine in Georgia or Florida after graduation.

SGU: How will being SGA president help you in your career?  

MC: My role as SGA president has helped me improve the leadership and interpersonal skills needed to be a successful veterinarian. Veterinarians are team leaders at the hospital and should possess these skills to lead a successful and encouraging team. As with many other careers, veterinarians rely on their team to efficiently get things done. I am thankful to be in this current leadership position to continue improving my skills.

– Laurie Chartorynsky

How Research Will Aid Vet Students in their Careers: Faculty Feature on Dr. Sonia Cheetham-Brow

Dr. Sonia Cheetham-Brow, SVM Associate Dean of Research Dr. Sonia Cheetham-Brow, the School of Veterinary Medicine’s associate dean of research and a professor in the Department of Pathobiology, has dedicated her life to studying animal viruses and conducting veterinary research. Her work has appeared in several prestigious publications, including the British Journal of Cancer and the Journal of Virology. As associate dean of research, Dr. Cheetham-Brow provides leadership on SVM’s development of research studies while also adding her expertise in research collaborations with the Schools of Medicine and Arts and Sciences, as well as global research efforts. She also helps to create and develop research-related programs and courses, ensures that all SVM research adheres to SGU’s standards and policies, helps new faculty find internal and external research opportunities, and serves on the Small Grant Research Initiative (SGRI) grant and policy committee. She currently teaches virology to Term 3 students as well as a selective in scientific article interpretation and electives in research. In her discussion with SGU News, she talks about why research is important for veterinary students, how the study of veterinary virology applies to the current pandemic situation, and offers insight into how students can get involved in research studies at SGU. St. George’s University: Why is understanding the role of research in veterinary medicine an important aspect for students to learn? Dr. Cheetham-Brow: Veterinary medicine is based in science. Scientific findings occur through research. In order to advance in veterinary medicine, exposure to evidence-based veterinary medicine and research must be a critical part of the students’ curriculum. If students can appreciate the scientific method, they will be ready to differentiate amongst real and fake scientific advancements. SGU: How does the study of veterinary virology apply to the current pandemic situation? Cheetham-Brow: At SGU, SVM students are presented with virology based on the “One Health” disciplinary approach. The concept emphasizes not just veterinary viral diseases and current zoonotic viruses but also identifies potential viral families that can jump species, such as SARS Cov2, which was identified as a cause of COVID-19. What students learn about virus transmission and intervention strategies in the absence of vaccines (which occurs in many instances) can be immediately translated to the current situation. The aim is to have our graduates ready to fight existing viral threats but also prepare them to apply what they know to new viruses that may come in the future. SGU: What research are you currently involved in? Cheetham-Brow: My main focus in research are viruses of zoonotic importance in bats and mosquitoes but I also collaborate with other faculty working on viruses in sea turtles, monkeys, and domestic animals. SGU: How has your travels/background prepared you to teach the next generation of veterinarians? Cheetham-Brow: My Doctor of Veterinary Medicine training began in Argentina and then I gained further expertise as a visiting scholar at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO).  I also completed my PhD at Ohio State University in the USA and my Postdoc at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Through my research training, I acquired a broad background of skills, techniques, hypothesis-based research design and data analysis. I also gained experience by working in research laboratories in both developed and developing countries, both of which have proven of invaluable to my career development. SGU: How can students get involved in research studies while at SGU? Cheetham-Brow: In addition to the information found on the SVM SGU website, I present all the different options to Term 1 students as part of their Evidence-Based Veterinary Medicine course. This includes introducing the faculty coordinating each program such as the IVSP (research summer program) VSRI (veterinary student research investigator) etc. Additionally, interested students can reach out and enquire about possibilities by contacting me via email and telephone number (474) 444 4175 ext. 3805. SGU: What advice would you give to students currently pursuing veterinary medicine? Cheetham-Brow: Everything we know and do in veterinary medicine is based on the research from people before us. Moving forward will depend on research by us. Even if students are certain that they want to be clinicians, there are types of research that they can participate in, such as clinical research. Also, case studies are of interest so if they find themselves with a new or unusual case, they should share it in the form of a case report which once published will be available to others around the globe.    

– Tornia Charles