Blazing new trails

Miranda Shaw builds community for the VetLEAD program

BY CAROLYN BERNHARDT

miranda shawMiranda Shaw as a third year veterinary student after receiving her white coat. Photo courtesy of Miranda Shaw

Miranda Shaw, ’18 DVM, gets things done. After graduation, she headed to the Chicagoland area for a job at Banfield Pet Hospital in Niles, Illinois. 

“I have always been interested in veterinary medicine,” she says. “I was always into science and excelled at school. Whenever I travel, I have to see the local zoo.”

Hailing from Indianapolis, Indiana, Shaw is not unfamiliar with the Midwest. However, she headed southward for her undergraduate degree, attending Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, for a bachelor’s in animal science.

Florida A&M is the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine’s (CVM) primary partner institution for the Veterinary Leadership through Early Admission for Diversity (VetLEAD) program. To meet the increasing demand for veterinarians and to promote diversity within the veterinary profession, the CVM introduced VetLEAD, which creates a pathway into veterinary school for high-ability students at partner institution Florida A&M University. VetLEAD was modeled after the successful Veterinary Food Animal Scholars Track program (VetFAST), an early decision program that the College created to recruit talented students to fill a shortage of food animal veterinarians nationwide.

“Florida A&M University has a strong animal science program, which makes it a great institution for a program like this,” says Laura Molgaard, DVM, associate dean for Academic and Student Affairs at the CVM. “We were really lucky to have a faculty champion at Florida A&M in Dr. Ray Mobley, who helped us form this strategic partnership, and we look forward to forming more partnerships to expand the reach of VetLEAD.”

When Shaw learned about VetLEAD at a 2011 Animal Science Club meeting at Florida A&M, the annual application deadline was only a few days away. She called Karen Nelson, director of admissions at the College of Veterinary Medicine, to ask for an application extension—and she got one.

A pensive perseverance

Shortly after submitting her application, Shaw visited campus for her interview with the CVM. After being admitted to the program, Shaw realized she wanted to complete VetLEAD’s summer program prerequisite at the U before deciding for sure if she wanted to make the trek northward for vet school. So Karen Nelson, director of admissions in the office of Veterinary Medical Academic and Student Affairs, worked with faculty at The Raptor Center to create an internship for Shaw. The CVM provided funding for this experience, which Shaw completed in the summer of 2014 before she started classes.

“I was exposed to various roles—I completed a research project, I was on the education floor doing tours, I fed and medicated birds, and I worked in the clinic,” says Shaw. “I loved it, I loved Minnesota, and I decided to stay.”

According to Shaw, VetLEAD’s summer program and undergraduate GPA requirements ensured her preparedness for the rigorous coursework at the CVM. And she says there was no public specification “marking” her as a VetLEAD student. Her classmates didn’t even know about the program until she told them. “When I got here, I was just a regular student. I really liked that.”

But Shaw’s drive to seek opportunity certainly sets her apart from the average student. She worked as the Elanco Animal Health student representative at the CVM while on campus. She also volunteered as a student ambassador at the CVM, where she gave tours to prospective veterinary medicine students. “I know firsthand how hard the school will work to get you here and keep you here,” she says.

New insights

That isn’t to say that this go-getter doesn’t have ideas for ways to improve VetLEAD. “Just to have someone travel down to Florida A&M who looks like the students, talks like them, is close to their age, and can tell them about the program—and that the snow won’t kill them—would be really helpful,” says Shaw.

With three more VetLEAD students following in Shaw’s footsteps, Shaw notes the supportive sense of community among the group as a highlight of her time in the program. “I like the semi-mentorship I get to give to the VetLEAD students coming up behind me,” says Shaw. “I love sharing tips that can be helpful as you matriculate through the school.”

For VetLEAD students arriving at the CVM who have never left Florida or the south, moving up north can be a big step—one that binds them together. “As a new VetLEAD student, you will have this little family when you get here,” says Shaw. She also says that at Florida A&M, the whole school acts as a family. She can go to any state and find alumni and be welcomed with open arms. “VetLEAD is kind of like an arm of that, too.”

And she certainly keeps the esprit de corps alive here at the CVM. Being the first student to complete the VetLEAD program, Shaw had no predecessor to whom to turn for helpful tips. So, upon arriving in Minnesota, she quickly identified what information could help a southern student acclimate.

Shaw says that students from the south often don’t know what kind of cold-weather clothes they may need or how to winterize their cars before arriving in Minnesota. “It’s little things like that that can make the transition hard,” she says. “I have tried to tell the VetLEAD students coming in behind me those things because I know they may not know them.”

Making her mark

Admittedly, veterinary medicine lacks diversity as a profession, so when Shaw looked around at the CVM and saw she was the only black person in her class, she figured that was par for the course. But Minnesota’s statewide lack of diversity created an extra hurdle for making new friends outside the CVM. “Most of my friends from undergrad that are interested in veterinary medicine are going to schools in the south,” she says.

Of course, none of this stopped Shaw from finding and fostering community—when a friend founded a networking group for young African Americans in the Twin Cities, Shaw promptly joined. Her suggestion to the University of Minnesota, specifically, is to bring students from all corners of medicine and health schools together more often at University-coordinated events to expand their networks.

Leaving a legacy of community building at the CVM and in the Twin Cities, Shaw will head only slightly south for her next endeavor, for which she is—unsurprisingly—already setting goals. “At Banfield, I am starting out as an associate veterinarian, but I have already talked to Banfield about what opportunities there are in their corporate office.”

While Banfield is Shaw’s next stop on her professional journey, her sights are set on a career in animal industry no matter where it takes her. But wherever she goes, one thing is certain: she has already gone where no woman has gone before her.

miranda shaw and her family at commencement Miranda Shaw and her family at commencement in May. Photo by Martin Moen