2015 Vet Med Open House Offers Visitors Hands-On Learning Opportunities

October 7, 2015

Vet Med student Kylee Walter brings two of her friends to Open House so visitors can pet them.

The thousands of visitors of all ages who attended the 2015 Vet Med open house on Sunday, October 4, found plenty to see and do tailored to their specific interests. For instance, pet owners got tips on how to train Rover or care for Fluffy. Folks hankering for the good ole’ days learned practical skills: how to milk a cow or a goat, or sheer a sheep. Parents who needed to get the kids out of the house found a plethora of educational yet entertaining activities, ranging from crafts in the kids’ tent, to petting a snake, to a photo op with Porky Pig. High school students exploring their career options could pick the brains of current Vet Med students. And everyone got a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

A young visitor to Open House gets to hold a parrot.

The learning opportunities ranged from more technical, formal presentations about a variety of subjects to informal learning. For instance, the open house also offered numerous hands-on activities—visitors could try out for themselves some of the learning tools the veterinary students use, plus touch, pet, even hold, in certain cases, a wide variety of animals: dogs, pigs, horses, and snakes.

Even birds. For example, a menagerie of exotic birds from the Wings of Wonder Avian Rescue north of Mahomet, Illinois, gave visitors a chance to see the birds uncaged and up close, plus even hold and/or touch some of them. Run by Richard and Becky Hungerford, the Rescue is an animal shelter specifically for exotic birds, where, according to Becky Hungerford, they behavioralize them, get them on a good diet, socialize them, and then, via word of mouth and/or Facebook, find folks who would like to adopt them.

Becky Hungerford of the Wings of Wonder Avian Rescue holds a friend at their exotic bird exhibit.

But as with any adoption agency, prospective families are rigorously screened, in this case—by the birds themselves. In fact, their motto is: “Where the bird chooses you!” Hungerford says they invite the person to their home (“I don’t have a living room; the birds are in the living room” she says), “and we actually introduce them to all the birds, then we watch. I’ve been with these birds for years, and the bird chooses who they want. They’re very intelligent; almost like a 10-year-old mentality.”

Open house visitors could see up close, and even hold, numerous varieties of parrots and other species, including Cockatiel, Amazon, Macaw, Cockatoo, plus a couple of endangered species: Maximilian Pionus and Eclectus.

Hungerford says their group has exhibited birds at the open house for 13 years; in addition, they regularly bring their birds to Vet Med so students can have hands-on opportunities:

“They actually have hands-on with our birds,” Hungerford explains, “because the more we can give them hands on, the better veterinarians they’re going to be.” She says in one advanced class, students actually do bloodwork on the birds. Does Hungerford teach the course?

“No, no. I’m not a veterinarian," she admits, "although I’ve been working with birds 53 years; I started when I was nine years old. But I’ve been around; there’s so much I’ve learned throughout the years.”

Samantha Seeman, a 3rd year Vet Med student who staffed an exhibit on orthopedics, teaches a young visitor about bones.

Most of the booths or exhibits were staffed by students, who were excited about sharing with the public what goes on at the College. For instance, Samantha Seeman, who’s in her 3rd year in Vet Med, studying small animals says that one of her goals during open house is to correct a misconception about studying to be a veterinarian: “It’s not all puppies and kittens like everybody else thinks,” she explains, then admits, “It’s lots of studying and very stressful.”

A local visitor to Open House makes friends with some ferrets, who are due for a nap.

Seeman particularly appreciates sharing what she knows with people in the community: “When you do get to do things like open house, and you’re talking and interacting with little kids, talking with adults, being able to educate people. That’s what I like about it.” Her exhibit was about orthopedics, which she admits “So it’s a little more in depth than other ones…teaching kids where there bones are.”

A young local visitor pets a napping porker.

Another student, Alex Webber, in her 2nd year, calls open house “a big event to show the public what we do, let them learn about why we love animals, show them why we love animals, get them interested, and let them know behind the scenes.”

Webber hasn’t settled on a specific career emphasis yet: “I’m mostly looking at small animals, but I also like wildlife." She adds that there are two main groups, small and large animals, plus a number of specializations available.

Left to right: Vet Med students Briana Grymonprez and Alex Webber staff the welcome booth.

“Anything that humans have, animals have too. So there’s ophthalmology (which is for eyes), dermatology (which is skin), but you can also specialize in large animals so you can do just surgery for equine (which is horses) or just work with cows. So there’s definitely lots of options that you can choose from; so that’s why it’s always very hard to set your track on one thing.”

Currently in her 3rd year, Briana Grymonprez even volunteered to be on the planning committee because of the impact open house had had on her personally.

A young visitor checks out Vet Med's large aquarium.

“I love open house,” she admits. “I came even before I was in vet school. I always thought it was so great, the students that were here working. I always wanted to be one of those students to show other people; so once I finally got into vet school, I decided that I wanted to be on the committee to help plan it, because I think it’s great.”

Open house is also the perfect opportunity to show people, including her family, what she does: “My family usually comes every year to see what I do because I spend almost my whole life here. I spend so much time here studying and practicing, so I just like to show other people what I do.”

Vet Med student Faith Raysay teaches a young visitor about heartworms in animals.

Grymonprez says the open house featured more educational talks this year about different specialties:

“Because it’s not just giving puppies and kittens shots, there’s a lot of specialties, almost like human medicine. Oncology, dermatology, ophthalmology so there’s a lot of specialties that people can ask about. Especially in large animals, there’s a lot of different categories people can specialize in.”

Vet Med student Katelyn Bagg who staffed a booth on reptiles and amphibians introduces visitors to her animal friend, Pepper the snake.

Regarding her future plans, Grymonprez says she’s interested in mixed animal practice, “so anything from horses, cows, sheep, pigs and then down to small animals like dogs, cats, bunnies—so a wide variety.

Grymonprez sees open house as a great recruiting tool and was particularly excited about the number of high school students who came to the event this year.

“We have seen a huge turnout this year, and every year we see students coming through who are possibly looking into going to vet school. And that’s exciting too to see prospective students coming in, and that’s important to show that we want students coming in, and we enjoy vet school.”

She also enjoys the opportunity to interact with the youngsters: “We especially love to see the kids coming in, too, because we want to start teaching them at a young age about animals, and why it’s important to treat animals right and take care of them properly.”

Story and photographs by Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative.
More: K-12 Outreach, Open House/Expo, Vet Med, Vet Med Open House, 2015

Following is an additional I-STEM article about Vet Med Open House:

Above: A young visitor makes friends with a horse during the fall 2015 Open House.

Above: An intrepid young visitor to the fall 2015 Open House touches a live snake named Pepper.