Diverse experiences inform passion for veterinary science
Samantha Waddell ’18 has wanted to be a veterinarian since she was a child.
Now a first-year student at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, Waddell credits her time at St. Olaf College as instrumental in confirming her career path — especially when she had doubts about her choice.
“This choice wasn’t a decision that I made lightly and it wasn’t a decision that I made just once,” Waddell says. “Being a vet has been my goal since I was a kid, but there were many points along the way where I constructively questioned my decision.”
Being a vet has been my goal since I was a kid, but there were many points along the way where I constructively questioned my decision.Samantha Waddell ’18
Hands-on experiences during her time at St. Olaf — both on and off campus — gave Waddell the direction she needed to solidify her passion for animal health and wellbeing.
Throughout her time at St. Olaf, Waddell participated in the St. Olaf Pre-Vet Club. The club brings together students interested in pre-veterinary or animal science studies while also encouraging community awareness about animal health. Waddell cites the tight-knit, supportive atmosphere of the group as influential in sustaining her passion for veterinary medicine.
The club also provided opportunities to work directly with animals: Waddell’s favorite activity was owl banding at the St. Olaf field station at the Weaver Dunes Preserve in Kellogg, Minnesota, with the help of St. Olaf Professor of Biology Steven Freedberg.
“Owl banding was a unique experience: we set up fine mesh nets with a mating call playing on a sound system nearby and then waited, checking every hour or so, the entire night,” Waddell explains. “We caught and banded only two Northern Saw Whet owls, but it was so incredibly cool to be a part of a large scale banding study.”
The club also provided invaluable resources for gaining internship opportunities. With the assistance of a senior member of the Pre-Vet Club and the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career, Waddell was able to land an internship at the Minnesota Zoo over Interim. Her time as a marine mammals intern allowed her to experience directly the rewards and difficulties of animal care.
“Without the advice, support, leadership opportunities, and internship connections that the Pre-Vet Club and the Piper Center provided, I definitely would not have made it this far in my veterinary journey,” Waddell says.
Other academic opportunities helped Waddell gain clarity about her career goals. In the classroom, subjects such as microbiology and biochemistry helped her make connections between the science she was studying and the work that she would be doing as a veterinarian. Waddell also had the opportunity to study abroad during her junior year through St. Olaf Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies Kathleen Shea’s Tropical Ecology and Sustainable Land Use in Costa Rica program, which allows students to learn about sustainable agricultural practices for both livestock and crops.
“The statistics and population management that we explored on this trip really opened my eyes to what I was most interested in from a career standpoint,” says Waddell. She also credits this experience as inspiring a passion for travel, and has since taken trips to Scotland and Iceland to interact with animals in new settings.
But experiences that were seemingly unrelated to Waddell’s field of study were just as influential on her path to becoming a vet. Waddell ran on the cross country and track and field teams during her time at St. Olaf, which gave her a collaborative community and informed her strengths and work ethic.
“Running cross country and track showed me how much I like working with a tight-knit team, be that in athletics or the workplace, and how important it is to foster a supportive and fun environment,” she says.
As Waddell continues her path to becoming a veterinarian at the University of Minnesota, she is excited to do more direct work with animals and apply the science and medicine that she’s learning about in classes — such as the biochemistry of physiology and equine neonatology — to real animal patient care.
This semester she’s studying swine production medicine, and has had the opportunity to work with large animals like cattle. She’s also been named the Class of 2023 president of the University of Minnesota’s Student American Veterinary Medical Association chapter, a leadership role she’s eager to continue developing.
“No one goes into veterinary medicine for the reputation or fortune,” Waddell says. “Anyone who chooses to do manual rectal exams on cattle can’t take themselves too seriously and must have a good sense of humor. However, the amusing and endearing and challenging experiences I’ve had along the path thus far makes me entirely ecstatic to become a part of the veterinary community.”
The amusing and endearing and challenging experiences I’ve had along the path thus far makes me entirely ecstatic to become a part of the veterinary community.Samantha Waddell ’18