May 15, 2017


 Student leadership, innovation on display at symposium

​More than 1,000 attend event at Texas A&M

Posted April 26, 2017 

The 48th annual Student AVMA Symposium, held March 16-18 at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, was a showcase for not only the next generation of veterinary leaders but also the veterinary college’s brand-new campus.

The 1,042 student attendees went to educational sessions in the Veterinary and Biomedical Education Complex, which opened this past August. They also enjoyed “Experience Texas Night” at the new Thomas G. Hildebrand, DVM ’56 Equine Complex—complete with barbecue, a mechanical bull, and roping lessons. To finish it off, the closing gala took place in the Hall of Champions at Kyle Field, the fifth-largest nonracing stadium in the world. 

“Everything really is bigger in Texas,” said Lauren Thompson, fundraising chair for the symposium, in a veterinary college press release. “I know that’s so cliché, but … since it’s actually going to be at our school—which is completely different from symposia in the past that are normally held at convention centers—people will actually get to experience what it’s like to be a student here.” 

Speakers and SAVMies

The three-day program consisted of interactive wet labs, lectures, academic and athletic competitions, an exhibit hall, and the SAVMA House of Delegates biannual meeting.

Lecture tracks focused on diversity and inclusion, fostering wellness, exotics and wildlife, small animals, equids, large animals, and professional development. Members of the AVMA Veterinary Economics Division partnered with the VIN Foundation to provide an overview of the economic conditions students will face after graduating and offered strategies to increase income and better manage expenses.

The AVMA’s CEO, Dr. Janet Donlin, attended the event along with nine members of the AVMA Board of Directors, including Dr. Tom Meyer, AVMA president, who gave remarks during the closing gala. Dr. Elliott Garber then delivered the keynote address. He is an Army veterinarian known for his podcasts. His blog, The Uncommon Veterinarian, details myriad opportunities available to members of the profession. 

In other symposium news, the University of Glasgow in Scotland was one of the inaugural winners of the SAVMies for having in 2016 the most improved percentage of students who were members. 

​The Student AVMA House of Delegates meeting at Texas A&M University set the stage for the upcoming SAVMA name change and merger with the student chapters of the AVMA. (Photo by Marston Jones)

The AVMA Student Initiatives Team created the SAVMies in lieu of the traditional awards to chapters for membership. Dr. Anna Reddish, an AVMA assistant director for student initiatives, explained that the team decided to revamp these awards with a fun new twist. Glasgow won the membership award, and the University of Pennsylvania received the award for the most innovative ALL for Students event in 2016. The University of Illinois took the award for best symposium attendance, excluding host school attendees. The nominees were announced in the SAVMA HOD meeting and the winners at the closing gala. (For the other awards, go here.)


The SAVMA House of Delegates meeting also set the stage for the upcoming transition of student chapters of the AVMA, or SCAVMAs, to SAVMA chapters.

The way it works now, the SCAVMA is the local chapter at each veterinary school that often oversees clubs and student life. The Student AVMA, or SAVMA, is the national organization whose purpose is to connect veterinary students across the country and represent students with the AVMA. While the functions of the SCAVMAs and SAVMA are different, both groups are closely tied, as local SAVMA delegates sit on their SCAVMA boards.

The AVMA staff, with AVMA Board approval, has developed a plan to transition SCAVMAs to SAVMA chapters, which would mean just one entity to represent students nationally and at each veterinary college. Currently, the AVMA, SAVMA, and the SCAVMAs are reviewing the documents necessary to make this transition. Once all parties have had a chance to do so, they will move forward with the goal of finalizing everything this fall.

The 2017 Student AVMA Symposium kicked off with Diversity and Wellness Day, which included an Expert Roundtable
Breakfast where everything from gender to LGBTQ issues in veterinary medicine was discussed. (Photos courtesy of Texas A&M/Tim Stephenson)

“It’s been a process, but it’s just kind of a reminder that we all need to work together,” said Jeff Olivarez, SAVMA president. “Historically, there’s been confusion between who had what responsibility. Now we can clarify that and, at the same time, let them know we can help each other out” at the national and local level.

Olivarez and other SAVMA executive board members met with SCAVMA presidents during the symposium to talk about the transition in addition to more ways they could collaborate. His personal crusade during his time as president is to revamp and restructure the SAVMA board’s eight committees. Their main function is to present awards and scholarships.

The selection process begins with students indicating their committee preference. Students are then assigned, but they may not be matched with their top committee pick.

“They’re added to a committee, and they feel as though all they do is give out awards,” he said. “I want it so if people have a new idea, they can bring it to the committee and change things up and make it their own. If they’re passionate about a certain thing, they should share with us, so we can reach a broader spectrum of students with that idea.”

The Idea competition

Another big event that took place at the symposium was the inaugural finale of The Idea, an innovation competition for veterinary students hosted by the online study tool VetPrep, SAVMA, the Veterinary Business Management Association, and ViralVet. In addition, the Veterinary Innovation Laboratory from Texas A&M joined VetPrep in supporting the yearlong competition.

The Idea, which will be held annually, originally kicked off during SAVMA Symposium 2016. More than 70 student teams applied and were whittled down to 20 semifinalists. From among them, judges and mentors chose the three final teams.

After months of team meetings and development, the three final teams each delivered a live pitch and presentation at the 2017 symposium. Judges for the live finals included Dr. Karen Shenoy of Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Dr. Joel Parker of Veterinary Practice Solutions, Dr. Lori Teller of the AVMA Board of Directors, and Ira Gordon and Stephen Shaw, VetPrep co-founders.

The three-day program consisted of interactive wet labs, lectures, academic and athletic competitions, an exhibit hall, and the SAVMA House of Delegates biannual meeting. 

The $10,000 grand prize of The Idea Competition was presented to Joel Helbling and Rebecca Gibbs from Colorado State University for their Pharm Armour concept. Wendy Evans and Caitlin McDaniel from the University of Missouri were awarded the $5,000 second-place prize for their House Collars concept, and Oren Offer and Jimmy Popp from Western University of Health Sciences were awarded the $2,500 third-place prize for their BeatboxECG concept. The prizes are meant to assist the winning teams in funding the ongoing development of their ideas. The Idea Competition organizer, VetPrep, has launched Season Two and is accepting applications from student innovators. The finale will take place at SAVMA Symposium 2018, hosted by the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, March 15-17. A video of this year’s presentation and application forms are available here.

Coming and going

Outgoing 2016-17 SAVMA officers are Matt Holland, University of Illinois, president; Meghana Pendurthi, University of Pennsylvania, secretary; Shawn Wharrey, The Ohio State University, treasurer; Brian Jochems, University of Missouri, international exchange officer; Michael McEntire, Texas A&M University, information technology officer; Alexandria MacLeod, University of Minnesota, editor of The Vet Gazette; Melissa Feldman, University of Florida, global and public health officer; Peter Czajkowski, Oklahoma State University, veterinary economics officer, and Kyle Hohu, Purdue University, cultural outreach officer.

Incoming 2017-18 SAVMA officers are Jeff Olivarez, Oklahoma State University, president; Katy Martin, Iowa State University, secretary; Chris Deegan, University of Minnesota, treasurer; Samantha Morici, Auburn University, international exchange officer; Marston Jones, University of Tennessee, communications and public relations officer (formerly the information technology officer; title changed at 2017 symposium); Meredith Chamberlain, University of Prince Edward Island, editor of The Vet Gazette; Elizabeth Malcolm, University of California-Davis, global and public health officer; Ori Eizenberg, St. George’s University, veterinary economics officer; and Caitlin Conner, Texas A&M University, cultural outreach officer.  

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