By Allison Hammerly on March 16, 2021

In March of 2020, like many schools worldwide, the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine pivoted the majority of its didactic curriculum to a remote learning format (students performing clinical rounds have still been able to do so in person), and things haven’t been exactly the same since.

But in all struggles opportunities are born, and the creative thinkers of the College’s student body have not only found creative ways to continue their academic and social business, but they’ve even found ways to make the “new normal” work in their favor.

Work From Home Station
In a world of remote meetings, it's easier to have visitors who ordinarily wouldn't be able to attend student organization events—including fuzzy friends.

Join the Club

The College has always enjoyed a healthy club culture; as of spring 2021, 30 student organizations meet regularly, enriching the community with events for members and nonmembers alike. But beginning during the spring semester of 2020, club meetings couldn’t take place in person due to pandemic safety protocols. Events were canceled or postponed.

“2020 was a tough year for school clubs that were used to handling all of their activities and outreach in an in-person, hands-on manner,” said Alexa Acevedo (DVM Class of 2023), president of the Shelter Medicine Club. “With the rise of COVID-19 and the decline of in-person activities, we essentially moved all of our club meetings to Zoom rooms.”

But by fall, student leaders enacted plans to keep communities in touch. Group chats and Facebook pages sprung up. Clubs wrote newsletters for the first time. Previously canceled speakers graciously offered to present in an online format—in fact, thanks to the efficiency of the world wide web, clubs could invite more speakers than ever before, including those from faraway places.

Near, Far, Wherever You Are

A sampling of some of the amazing local and non-local speakers who joined MSU College of Veterinary Medicine’s student organizations remotely over the past year:

  • Dr. Temple Grandin, award-winning author, spoke on animal behavior and welfare
  • Kathleen O’Malley of the New York City Feral Cat Initiative spoke on trap-neuter-return programs
  • Dr. Chelsea Anderson of Georgia Aquarium talked baby belugas
  • Dr. Ruth Marcec-Greaves, director of the Detroit Zoo’s National Amphibian Conservation, discussed amphibian medicine
  • Dr. Erica Ward of Loop Abroad spoke from Thailand about her work in elephant sanctuaries
  • Dr. Stéphie-Anne Dulièpre of the Multicultural Veterinary Medicine Association joined students to talk about the Wake Up Vet Med movement
  • Dog training influencer Erika Gonzalez explained enrichment activities for pets
  • Dr. Robert Bowker, expert on equine hooves, presented on treating and rehabilitating horse limbs
  • Leslie Grinnell, co-founder of dog wheelchair developer Eddie’s Wheels, spoke on helping animals with disabilities
  • Dr. Deepa Rao, veterinary toxicologic pathologist, spoke about her work and career paths open to budding veterinarians

Most clubs report high attendance to their virtual events. Club leaders attribute this to the quality of events planned, and how events represent a “needed break” from the lecture-style video calls that comprise most of academic life. They also found ways to bring back old perks of club meetings, luring attendees.

“Our club used to do a lot of in-person wet labs, lunch talks, necropsies, and slide reviews, and it was hard to duplicate that experience,” says Angelica Cates (DVM Class of 2022), who was president of the Pathology Club when the pandemic struck. “We used to provide lunch to members who attended lunchtime talks; we made up for that this semester by raffling off food gift cards, because who doesn’t love food?”

Hands-on From a Distance

Many student organizations planned events that provided experiences beyond a comfy chair in front of a computer screen. One example: Dr. Karen Perry, associate professor of Small Animal Clinical Sciences and advisor to the Feline Club, provided an interactive orthopedic examination.

“Participants turned on their cameras and followed along with Dr. Perry to perform an orthopedic exam on their own cats!” says Alex Bishop (DVM Class of 2022), co-president of Feline Club.

"It was very cool to jump on a call and see students from all across the country learning together..."—Maddie Chilcote, DVM Class of 2022

The club organized a similar exam with assistant professor of neurology Dr. Kathryn Winger, with participants conducting a follow-at-home neurological examination on their pets. Other clubs collaborated with each other and the College to mail materials to members so they could participate in virtual wet labs, such as a virtual suture lab hosted by third-year surgery resident Dr. Edyta Bula.

Webcams have allowed students into the College facilities when they otherwise couldn’t enter. Two of many examples: Dr. Sarah Corner, academic specialist of anatomic pathology, brought students along for virtual gross rounds in the MSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, and Large Animal Clinical Sciences professor Dr. Harold Schott promoted a series of talks called Equine Edition, in which clerkship students, residents, and faculty carried a camera through the MSU Veterinary Medical Center to show interesting cases and answer questions, allowing students to continue learning from real-world situations.

Into the Future

Clubs were able to work together in new ways—including with other veterinary schools, allowing students to network with future colleagues they hadn’t met yet. One club president at another veterinary school created a collaborative online space to share lecture and conference opportunities hosted by other schools.

“It was very cool to jump on a call and see students from all across the country learning together about topics that aren’t covered in-depth in school, including the broad topics of zoo, exotics, wildlife, and aquatic medicine,” says Maddie Chilcote (DVM Class of 2022), who was president of the Zoo, Exotics, and Wildlife Club in 2020.

Long-distance events may continue to unite students and experts well into the future, thanks to the way they remove the barrier of distance, allow events to take place after-hours, and can be easily recorded for later viewing.

“I think that even when in-person events return virtual events will still be used,” says the former Pathology Club president, Angelica. “At this point, virtual events are just another way to learn!”

Starting a Club During a Pandemic

The College of Veterinary Medicine’s BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) Club was started in August 2020—meaning the club has never had an in-person meeting. Founded by Kimmy Guzmán, Joshika Chande, and Megan Jones (each of the DVM Class of 2023), BIPOC Club facilitates dialogue, raises awareness, and educates students on topics that affect BIPOC communities. The club is advised by the College’s Dr. Susan Ewart and Dr. Stephan Carey.

A major objective of the club is to provide outreach and mentorship to people who are under-represented in the field of veterinary medicine.

“The reality is, a lot of us don’t have someone to guide us toward a path in medicine,” says treasurer Alondra Gallego (DVM Class of 2023). “A lot of us are first-generation students, and navigating those ‘firsts’ in itself is a challenge… But that is how we can truly help make a difference in regard to seeing more people of color in veterinary medicine: mentorship.”

The club works toward its goals using a combination of platforms, including social media for recruitment. Much of the hard work of helping the club to grow has been accomplished by the club’s outreach coordinators, Uzma Manzoor and Jade Ognibene (both DVM Class of 2024), along with members of its executive board.

Speakers who presented virtually during the academic year include Dr. Danielle Frey of Colorado State University and Dr. Stéphie-Anne Dulièpre of the Multicultural Veterinary Medical Association.

“We will continue to hold online talks this semester and work on helping diversify the veterinary medical field through outreach, mentorship, and dialogue,” says club president Kimmy Guzmán.