Mentoring future colleagues

SAVMA faculty advisers engage profession's next generation of leaders
Published on January 03, 2018
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"When our students graduate and we become colleagues in this profession, there is a sense of pride that comes with knowing I played a role in their development along the way," said Dr. Sherry Sanderson, a faculty adviser with the University of Georgia's chapter of the Student AVMA.

Volunteer leadership is critical to the success of Student AVMA chapters, and each of the 37 university chapters has at least two AVMA members volunteering as faculty advisers. These faculty members provide support and guidance to the chapter officers and, collectively, to more than 16,000 members of student chapters.

Mentors and sounding boards

Student officers and a faculty adviser
Student officers and a faculty adviser for the Student AVMA chapter at Texas A&M University meet Sept. 6, 2017, with Dr. Caroline Cantner (far right) of the AVMA during her visit to the veterinary college's student chapter.

Faculty advisers fill a variety of roles within their chapters, while also attending chapter board meetings and events throughout the year.

Paige Livingston, president of the University of California-Davis chapter, said, "Our faculty advisers work closely with our officers to provide input on projects and fundraising initiatives, promote faculty-student mentorship, and offer invaluable perspective as a veterinary professional and faculty member. Our faculty advisers bring innovative suggestions to our chapter and always make themselves available for meeting with our officers to discuss projects or professional career goals."

Mentorship is one of the most important functions of faculty advisers. Eliana Greissworth, president of the Michigan State University chapter, said her chapter tries to have one large animal and one small animal adviser. "We love having them at meetings and events because they are kind, fun people, but they truly come in handy with just real-life logistics advice. Our advisers have talked to us about financial plans, messaging and communication, how the administration works, and who to go to for help."

With the University of Pennsylvania's active student executive board, faculty adviser Dr. Jennifer Linton can't be present for most of its meetings, nor does she think she needs to be. "However, I do look over the meeting agenda and minutes, offer thoughts on different problems, and also serve as a sounding board—and a bit of a historian—when new problems or ideas pop up," she said.

Our students come to veterinary school with a strong foundation in student leadership, but as young professionals they still have much to learn, and (the student chapter of the AVMA) provides a great vehicle for this growth.

Dr. Jim Weisman, faculty adviser Student AVMA chapter, Purdue University

Most important, she said, is helping students figure out what other resources they can tap into for their ideas and plans. She added, "I think the faculty advisers also serve to humanize the veterinary school faculty a bit. Sort of a train conductor or camp counselor rather than a stuffy professor."

The element of continuity

While the SAVMA chapter officers average one to two years in their leadership roles, the faculty advisers often volunteer for many years, providing continuity.

Livingston said, "Both of our faculty advisers have been faculty members at our university for a significant amount of time, and the institutional knowledge they provide is immensely helpful."

Each student chapter elects its advisers, and terms vary. Of the more than 70 faculty advisers currently working with the chapters, the typical adviser has been in the role for four years, and 10 have been serving for over a decade. As the demands on veterinary faculty grow and as faculty members move, take sabbaticals, or retire, chapters must welcome new advisers. Available data indicate 25 advisers have moved or retired in the past two years, and 20 are new in their role since 2016.

At the national level

AVMA members on faculty at schools and colleges of veterinary medicine have volunteered as faculty advisers for the Student AVMA chapters (formerly, student chapters of the AVMA) for as long as many chapters have existed. When the national Student AVMA formed in 1969, the AVMA saw a need to bring the volunteers together and started a biennial Faculty Advisors Conference that year.

"There have been great, dedicated faculty advisers over the years that have helped veterinary students and SAVMA achieve great things," said Dr. Karen Wernette, who was adviser for SAVMA, the faculty advisers, and the conference during the 1990s while director of the AVMA Division of Membership and Field Services.

In 2002, the faculty advisers requested that student officers be asked to join the biennial conference, and in 2004, the event transitioned to an annual joint meeting of faculty advisers and student officers. They continue to meet annually at AVMA headquarters for the Student Chapter of the AVMA Leadership Conference, most recently from Aug. 25-26, 2017.

Connecting beyond the classroom

Students and faculty prepare for a ropes course
​Whitney Patz, Student AVMA secretary-elect; Ashley Koltran, president, Student AVMA chapter, Lincoln Memorial University; Danielle Johnson, president, Student AVMA chapter, Midwestern University; and Dr. Seth Chapman, LMU faculty adviser, prepare for a ropes course as part of the 2017 Student Chapter of the AVMA Leadership Conference last August.

As leaders on campus, faculty advisers enjoy the opportunity to mentor student leaders through relationships they develop with the SAVMA chapters. Dr. Sanderson said, "All our students in the veterinary curriculum learn important information about veterinary medicine in the classroom and in the clinics, but (the student chapter) provides them with experiential learning opportunities that allow them to develop into leaders in the profession, and I get to watch them develop into these leaders and be a part of that process, which is very rewarding."

Being a faculty adviser is one of the few opportunities to work with students outside the classroom, Dr. Ana Alcaraz noted. Having had great mentors herself influenced her to become a faculty adviser at Western University in Pomona, California. "They were always approachable, proficient role models that had a positive effect on who I became personally and professionally," she said. "We need to pay it forward by being dedicated, approachable faculty advisers and to maintain a culture of professional responsibility for (students) to succeed."

Some advisers even open their homes to students for a personal, well-rounded experience. Dr. Alcaraz, for example, offers a recurring "dinner with the pathologist" raffle for two students to win the opportunity make her dinner. "I cook for them but make it so that they need to help me or to learn a recipe. My husband, veterinarian Dr. Txema Peralta, is from Spain, and we cook Spanish meals or have the students learn a recipe from Spain," she said.

Greissworth of Michigan State said, "One of our favorite traditions with the advisers is the beginning-of-the-year barbecue we host with Michigan VMA sponsorship. Our advisers and one of the food animal clinicians grill for all the attendees, take funny pictures, and hang out. It's the first week of the semester typically, so it's not as busy schoolwise, and we have tons of energy compared to later."

On the UC-Davis campus, faculty adviser Dr. Karl Jandrey was president of his student chapter during veterinary school, so he said it made sense to serve as an adviser to student officers "since I walked in their shoes." Some of the best times with his student officers are small gatherings at his house for a picnic, brunch, drinks, or dinner. He said, "We enjoy the personal connection, relaxed honesty, and realness of being part of a professional family." For faculty advisers, he said, "To pay it forward and set the tone for a lifetime of hard but rewarding work is a real gift that we are lucky to provide to others."

Livingston related how appreciative the students are of these experiences. She said, "These dinners give the officers an opportunity to spend time together off campus and get to know Dr. Jandrey—and his cats—better. He's not a bad cook, either! We very much appreciate Dr. Jandrey's willingness to welcome the officers into his home."

Sharing challenges

Veterinary students were integral to Texas A&M University's response to Hurricane Harvey, and student leaders worked with faculty advisers to the university's chapter of the Student AVMA to arrange shifts to volunteer students' help.

TAMU faculty adviser Dr. Glennon Mays said the outreach of the students was extensive, whether it was being deployed in the Veterinary Emergency Team, working in sheltering situations for displaced animals, or providing donations.

"We're not solely veterinarians providing medical needs for injured (animals), we're ambassadors to the human population that come attached to those animals," Dr. Mays said. "Is our profession in good hands? Resoundingly and in all caps with an exclamation point: YES! You don't need a disaster to see it, and you don't have to look hard or deep. The students demonstrated ethics, morals, and integrity."

He tells students, "You guys challenge me and push me because you make me want to continue to learn, to continue to be involved." They keep him "engaged, enthused, and invested" in the career he said has been such a blessing to him. "Being a faculty adviser is about investing in our futures, not our personal future but our future as a profession. It's a humble means of giving back," he said.

"It is the best part of my job"

Dr. Sanderson at Georgia said, "Through (the Student AVMA chapter), our students are provided so many opportunities to learn more about the profession and take leadership roles that will serve them well in their careers, and I am hoping their experience with (the chapter) will carry over into when they are veterinarians."

She said a number of UGA students have taken leadership roles in the AVMA, which brings a point of pride for their chapter. She said, "I enjoy working with students. It is the best part of my job, and being a (student) chapter faculty adviser provides me with the opportunity to get to know the students better than if I wasn't in that role."

Dr. Jim Weisman, a Purdue University faculty chapter adviser, said, "Our students come to veterinary school with a strong foundation in student leadership, but as young professionals they still have much to learn, and (the student chapter of the AVMA) provides a great vehicle for this growth."

Reflecting on the many projects and activities the Purdue students have completed via the chapter, Dr. Weisman is confident their student experience was greatly enhanced by their participation. "Our students who have been active in (the chapter) along with other student organizations will be the leaders of our profession in the future," he said. "Thus, any part we can serve in helping them grow and learn is a great addition to our work as faculty in our respective colleges."

Dr. Laura Nafe of the Oklahoma State University chapter said the most rewarding aspect of being a faculty adviser is engaging with students from various classes, backgrounds, and viewpoints and watching them work toward a common goal.

"In my time as a faculty adviser for (the chapter), I have found the most challenging aspect is finding the balance between being supportive and providing guidance at the appropriate time, without being overbearing and micromanaging their club," Dr. Nafe said. "I have found that they are very self-sufficient, and I'm impressed with how well our students manage our chapter with all of their other responsibilities. They often have ideas that I have never even thought of."

Dr. Jandrey said that listening to bright and energetic minds that are equally committed to their education and to supporting student life and personal and professional growth is the best part of being an adviser. He said, "Just coming back to school in the fall to see and feel the energy of the entire student population at UC-Davis is supercharging!"

A careerlong support network

For Dr. Linton at Penn Vet, the benefits of being part of student leadership development include her experience with her student chapter as a student. "It's a pleasure to see these students come through clinics where they are clearly leaders within their classes and then take those leadership skills onto the next level—whether as an associate at a busy practice or an intern at an academic institution," she said.

She said, "I was a member of my school's (student) chapter executive board as well as the national SAVMA executive board when I was a student, and I know I still have a wonderful network of people strewn all over the country that I can call on for help, to talk through a problem, or to get a different perspective on that issue. And it makes me very excited to watch these students start to form their support network as well."

Dr. Caroline Cantner is assistant director for student initiatives in the Western Region, AVMA Division of Membership and Field Services.