Undergrad Research, Outreach Lead Student To Veterinary School

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After appreciating the small class sizes and supportive community at San Anselmo’s San Domenico High School, Olivia Lang-Brown ’21 was determined to find a college that offered a similar environment.

She did not have to look far.

Dominican University of California, located only seven miles away from Olivia’s Marin County high school, was the perfect next step on her journey to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. Now, after excelling in both undergraduate research and community outreach while at Dominican, Olivia has been accepted to her first-choice veterinary school, the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

“The small and tight-knit science department drew me to Dominican, as I wanted to continue learning in smaller classes and to know my professors well,” Olivia says. “The science faculty at Dominican are very invested in helping their students succeed. I’ve had multiple professors make time outside of their normal office hours to meet with me to answer questions on the material.”

Selecting Dominican and the School of Health and Natural Sciences also allowed Olivia to remain close to her local support system of family and friends while at the same time being able to take advantage of the many opportunities in Marin County to gain hands-on skills in veterinary medicine.

Olivia has wanted to be a veterinarian since childhood, beginning with caring for her family cat, Heff, who had several medical issues.

“I was exposed a lot to vets and vet techs and I saw the ways that veterinary medicine helped him with those issues so he could live a very happy and fulfilled life.”

Growing up, Olivia spent as much time with animals as possible – fostering kittens, volunteering at shelters, and horseback riding.

In high school Olivia interned at Marin Humane, where her work won Olivia the 24th annual “Heart of Marin” Youth Volunteer of the Year Award from the Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership.

At Dominican, Olivia has spent more than 1,500 hours volunteering, shadowing, and working in veterinary clinics. The work confirmed her desire to become a veterinarian.
A biology major with a concentration in ecology and environmental sciences, Olivia was able to join research and take classes that aligned with her interests in animal/medical sciences and conservation. Her current goal is to pursue a career that incorporates both small animal and wildlife conservation medicine.

A key part of Olivia’s Dominican experience has been her work with Dr. Vania Coelho. The Coelho lab focuses on coral reef ecology, particularly management strategies that can help mitigate the effects of climate change on corals. Olivia first cycled through the Coelho lab during the first-year Research Methodology Class in the Department of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and has been working there ever since.

“It has been an integral part of my experience at Dominican.”

In 2019, Olivia participated in Dr. Coelho’s International Field Biology course to Thailand in order to experience a coral reef ecosystem firsthand.

As part of the Coelho lab, Olivia (second from left, top row, in group photo above) worked with corals in the marine wet lab, researching bleaching responses of coral species due to thermal stress. She performed daily coral care and collected data on coral color, water temperature, and the chemical composition of tanks with a team of other students in Dr. Coelho’s research course.

Olivia and her research group created an abstract that was accepted at NCUR 2020, “Resistance to Thermal Stress in Two Different Farmed Genotypes of Pseudodiploria clivosa Corals Under Low Light Conditions.”

Olivia lately has been working with Dr. Coelho co-authoring a paper that soon will be submitted for peer review. While there has been no coral lab work this year due to the pandemic, Olivia has still been able to meet regularly with Dr. Coelho over Zoom in order to review the literature and write drafts for the paper.

 “I am especially grateful for this opportunity and for the research courses with Dr. Coelho, as I have been able to learn and practice skills outside of what I would learn in my other science courses such as working in the lab, professional skills, teamwork, and scientific writing.”

Throughout her undergraduate years, Olivia has remained active in the community. She started volunteering for Guide Dogs for the Blind as a first-year student, working in the organization’s veterinary clinic. She also has worked in the Songbird Hospital at WildCare in San Rafael, helping to rehabilitate injured and sick local birds and raise bird orphans for successful release back into the wild.

Olivia began working as a veterinary assistant/technician at the Fairfax Veterinary Clinic, a small and exotic animal clinic, the summer after her sophomore year and has continued to work there part-time during the academic year and subsequent summers.

“I am very grateful for this experience as it allowed me to learn and be responsible for animal handling and clinical skills such as blood draw and venipuncture, specimen collection for lab work, taking radiographs, and performing many different veterinary treatments under the direction of veterinarians,” she says.

The work also gave her the opportunity to start learning how to assist in surgery and monitor anesthesia while partnered with more experienced technicians. As an essential worker, Olivia was able to continue working for the veterinary clinic throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Olivia believes the wide range of experiences she has had at Dominican – both inside and outside the classroom – have been invaluable when applying for veterinary school.

“The advice I would give to other students interested in veterinary medicine is to get experience in a few different environments to get a strong feel for the field and the areas you may be interested in, as well as get a start on the hundreds to thousands of hours of experience that veterinary schools look for,” she says.

And, just as she did at Dominican, Olivia would recommend future veterinary school hopefuls participate in a non-veterinary experience, such as research, to broaden their knowledge.

At UC Davis, Olivia is interested in a program that will allow her to work on research projects mentored by expert veterinarians. Her hope is to be involved in veterinary wildlife health and conservation research.

“After delving into research at Dominican, I am interested in incorporating research projects into my veterinary medicine studies. Many of the skills I have learned from my research experience with Dr. Coelho will apply to my future work at UC Davis.”

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