Summer veterinary scholars program underway at Auburn’s College of Veterinary Medicine

Published: June 02, 2017
Updated: June 21, 2017
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Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine faculty are teamed with 18 students this summer for the Boehringer Ingelheim Veterinary Scholars Program.

Formerly the Merial Veterinary Scholars Program, its mission since 1999 is to provide a hypothesis-driven laboratory research experience for veterinary students. The 10-week program runs from mid-May through July and involves Auburn veterinary students as well as students from the Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine.

"We also accept a small number of students from other vet schools," said program director Dr. Michael Irwin, a research professor and director of the Transgenic Facility in the Department of Pathobiology at Auburn. "We try to give preference to students who have not had any research experience, so lack of experience is actually a plus.

"The focus for the students is performing a research project in the laboratory of a mentor at the college. This includes studying the current scientific literature, learning and performing the techniques involved and putting together both a PowerPoint and a poster for presentation in front of their peers and for the College of Veterinary Medicine Research Day in November. For the second consecutive year, we have a student performing research in Madagascar, under the guidance of one of our faculty mentors who studies lemur populations."

Mentors and students are teamed through an interview and mutual selection process, according to Irwin. The program also includes seminars, journal clubs and field trips.

"Seminars cover everything from safety and compliance in research to standard and cutting-edge research technologies," Irwin said.

Field trips this year include visits to the Southeastern Raptor Center, the state Diagnostics Laboratory and the Georgia Aquarium, where the students get a behind-the-scenes tour with one of the aquarium’s veterinarians.

At the end of the program, a select few students will attend the national symposium at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, Irwin said.

Participating in the program for the second year, Auburn veterinary medicine student Melissa Crepps, from Cox Creek, Kentucky, said it is the research opportunity that attracted her.

"The opportunity to experience research in the veterinary setting originally attracted me," Crepps said. "I have returned for a second summer because I enjoy working with Dr. Bruce Smith and his post-doctoral student Dr. Payal Agarwal in the Scott-Ritchey Research Center and I feel the experience challenges and teaches me."

Sarah Excaro of Montgomery said, "I never had the opportunity to participate in undergraduate research because of the time commitment required from collegiate sports and student jobs, so a program that provided a strong mentor in my field of interest that could teach me the ins and outs of scientific research and its presentation modalities proved extremely appealing. This is my second year in the program, and now that I have gained experience by working on a previously developed experimental design, I plan to start, complete and successfully present the findings of a self-proposed experimental protocol I developed this spring alongside my mentor and our collaborators in another department."

"Almost everything we do as veterinarians is based on previous research," said Brett Story of West Palm, Florida, who plans to become a specialist in veterinary neurology. "I hope to learn and see hands-on how we develop these new techniques, procedures and medications that are utilized by clinicians every day."

Gaining more research experience in the area of dermatology is the draw for student Kimberly Smart of Somerset, Kentucky.

"I have a strong interest in dermatology but have very little research experience," Smart said. "I was not sure how to participate in research while in vet school. This program gives me the opportunity."

Students are paid a stipend for their participation, Irwin said. The program is overseen by the Summer Research Fellowship Committee and is administered by Dr. Frank "Skip" Bartol, Teresa Logiotatos and Amelia Pendleton in the Office of Research and Graduate Studies.

Financial support comes from Merial–now Boehringer Ingelheim–and from several units within the college: the dean’s office, Auburn University Research Initiative in Cancer, or AURIC, the Office of Research and Graduate Studies, the Scott-Ritchey Research Center and the college’s departments of Pathobiology; Anatomy, Physiology and Pharmacology; and Clinical Sciences.

"This year we had a very nice contribution from a private donor that allowed us to take several extra students that otherwise would not have been able to participate," Irwin said. "We’re profoundly grateful for that, and for all of the support over the years."