Ross attracts a different breed

Students learn to adapt to new culture
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Sunrise hit Mount Liamuiga on the island of St. Kitts, West Indies, a little more than an hour ago. Below, on the sloping campus of Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, Nicole Trenholme has nearly finished her examination of Felix the donkey.

Soon the Memphis, Tenn., native would head to class for four hours, followed by laboratory classes in the afternoon. She'd end the day on campus with another examination of Felix and some time in the SOAP room, short for Subjective Objective Assessment Plan, to prepare that day's chart detailing Felix's health. The cozy room is redolent of wet fur and gets crowded easily.

Examination of Felix the donkey
Nicole Trenholme (left) and Lauren Deahl are two Ross University veterinary students who have been active in student organizations on campus. Trenholme is outgoing president of Ross' AVMA student chapter, and Deahl is president of People for Animal Welfare on St. Kitts, a group that rescues stray dogs and cats.

How Trenholme arrived at St. Kitts is a bit convoluted. She went to Mississippi State and Colorado State universities for undergraduate studies and then came to Ross after living briefly in North Carolina.

Trenholme, 25, had applied for two years to U.S. veterinary schools to no avail. Then came a chance encounter with a high school classmate who had later gone to Ross. Trenholme applied in April, interviewed in June, and arrived on the island by January 2009.

Seeking acceptance

Trenholme is like most Ross veterinary students—a mid-20-something, Caucasian female from the United States who just missed the cut at U.S. veterinary schools and colleges. Still, there's something else that sets them apart.

"The hallmark of being a Ross student is being flexible and adaptable. Living in a foreign country helps them develop life skills that contribute to being veterinarians. That's an important part of our educational process. We're creating not only a smarter person but also a changed person," said Dr. David J. DeYoung, dean of Ross' veterinary school. "Living on this island and traveling the way we do, and the commitment to living in a foreign country, they develop skills to be flexible and adaptable. They are very organized, and I admire the students' ability to do that.

"Ross' application and admissions process slightly differs from those of traditional veterinary schools. Students can attend informational sessions held around the United States and in parts of Canada throughout the year to talk with school representatives.

The veterinary school has a rolling admissions process, and according to Ross' admissions website: "We continue to accept applications for each semester until all seats are filled. In the event that all seats are filled before an applicant receives a decision, the application is automatically considered for the next available semester.

"Applicants are expected to submit their GPA, GRE scores, a pre-veterinary committee evaluation or two letters of recommendation, and a personal essay. The average student admitted has a 3.2 GPA and a score of around 1100 on the GRE.

Those who meet the cut are invited for an interview in the states, generally within two to four weeks, according to the website. The interviewers then send their recommendation to the four-member admissions committee.

"The mission of Ross is to select students from a diverse educational and cultural background. When we look at students, we look at not only the courses they've taken but also GPA, GRE scores, life experience, etc. We're looking for a well-rounded student with a broad background. Our admissions policy is one of the strengths of our program and supports the 20 percent diversity within our student body," Dean DeYoung explained.

The school does not make public its acceptance rate.

Home away from home

Even before touching the ground in St. Kitts, each student is matched with a current student whom they can contact with questions.

When students first arrive, they are required to live in the dorms. That way, they have guaranteed housing while they get their new lives in order.

N. Sean Fox, PhD, former dean for student life who recently departed the school, oversaw off- and on-campus housing, counseling services, orientation, and the like. He was the problem solver, from helping incoming students get visas to securing financial aid.

"It is a bit of a challenge to come here. Many things they have to deal with they don't have to deal with in the states, like getting a new driver's license, bank account, car insurance, and setting up utilities," Dr. Fox said.

He continued, "The biggest change is the culture for students. ... Just living here is a bit of a shock to some people. Some of the students have never been out of the states before, so for some it's a bit of a shock and adjustment. They all adjust differently—some quicker than others."

Lauren Deahl, 24, who attended Virginia Tech for her undergraduate studies, says she's learned patience while being in St. Kitts. The power goes out on a frequent basis. The roads aren't as well-kept in some areas. And there's a thing called "island time," which is a way of saying that events don't always start at the original time given.

"Just like visiting a foreign country, you learn a different culture," Deahl said.

Perhaps the biggest adjustment for students is missing out on the brand names they love, like Goldfish crackers or Double Stuf Oreos.

Then again, a major upside to island living is the opportunity to go hiking in a rainforest one day and study on the beach the next. Scuba diving, running, and beach volleyball are other popular activities among students and faculty.

Dr. Gilbert A. Burns, dean of faculty and academic programs, has been at Ross for three years, but prior to that, worked for 15 years at a U.S. veterinary college. He says in his previous position he'd talk with students about work-life balance at orientation, but that would go out the window the minute school started and students would get stressed out.

"Here, we've tried to walk the walk," he said.