“The best part of my job is helping people reach their potential,” says Elizabeth Lowenger, the Ontario Veterinary College’s diversity and careers co-ordinator.
Lowenger looks for the potential in every person she encounters, whether it’s a high school student contemplating becoming a veterinarian, an OVC student needing support or interested in learning more about research and other non-clinical careers, or a graduating student looking for a job.
Although the potential may be there, the route to success isn’t always clear or straightforward, she says. When it comes to students considering veterinary medicine, clearing up misconceptions is an essential part of her work.
“A lot of high school students have naive ideas about what a vet does,” she says. “It’s not kissing puppies all day long.”
She encourages potential veterinary students to begin volunteering at a vet clinic and job-shadowing to learn what the profession is really all about. She also makes sure they’re aware of the admission requirements for Guelph’s DVM program.
As Lowenger looks to the United States and other countries for potential students, she also has to correct a few misconceptions about Canada. Take last year when she was staffing a booth at the national symposium of the American Pre-Veterinary Medical Association (APVMA) in Illinois.
“Students come to this event from all across the United States, and some don’t even realize we have fully accredited vet schools in Canada,” she says.
One young woman came up to the booth and said she’d heard good things about OVC, but “Canada’s so cold, I don’t know if I could go there.” Asked where she was from, the young woman replied: “Maine.” She was shocked when Lowenger showed her on a map that Maine is actually north of Guelph.
As adviser for U of G’s Pre-Vet Club, Lowenger encouraged the club to affiliate with the APVMA. “We were the first Canadian club to join, and we’ll be the first Canadian club to send delegates to its symposium this March.”
OVC will also be the first Canadian veterinary college to participate in fairs organized by the Embassy of Canada to attract Americans to post-secondary education in Canada. In March, Lowenger will be in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Columbus.
The “diversity” part of her title is strongly tied to her recruitment role.
“My goal is to try to have the student population reflect Ontario’s population. Right now, most of our students are white females, so we’re creating marketing plans to reach out to other communities. For example, the aboriginal population makes up about 1.9 per cent of the province’s population, but we don’t have anything close to that number enrolled. So we try to make the program very visible to aboriginal communities by working with the Aboriginal Resource Centre and giving presentations, reaching out to educators and inviting people for tours. We also use OVC students and alumni from different communities as ambassadors when we go to make presentations. Our alumni help promote the college and the veterinary profession when they speak at their local school or allow an aspiring veterinarian to volunteer with them.”
Lowenger’s mandate is not just to encourage students to enrol at OVC but also to provide support once they’re here and to make them aware of all the different things they can do with a veterinary or graduate degree from the college.
To that end, she runs OVC’s Vet Experience Program, which gives first- and second-year DVM students an opportunity to job-shadow vets who are working in a range of fields, including lab animal medicine, the nutritional and pharmaceutical industries and various clinical specialties. Many of the participating vets are OVC graduates.
“Our alumni are always willing to help their future colleagues, and they enjoy the opportunity to interact with the students. We are so grateful for their involvement in the college.”
Lowenger says she enjoys helping students make connections and discover their options.
“It’s so important to network. I tell students: ‘If you’re travelling somewhere, tell me and I’ll help you find alumni to meet with. You’ll learn something.’ It just takes one person to connect the dots, and there are so many dots I want to connect.”
To help students reach their potential, she also co-ordinates the Summer Leadership and Research Program for students who’ve been hired to work at OVC over the summer. They attend weekly workshops, go on field trips and attend roundtable discussions with vets from government, academia and industry. In addition, they each take on a mini-research project and, at the end of the summer, create and present a conference-quality poster.
Lowenger also oversees a mentoring program that she launched in her earlier role as the college’s alumni manager. The program matches OVC alumni with DVM students to provide them with guidance and information. Additionally, she manages OVC’s tour guide ambassador program, new-student events, the awards program and the veterinary oath ceremony after convocation.
“This is the closing ritual of the DVM program,” she explains. “All the veterinary associations attend and welcome the new graduates into the profession, then they all recite the oath.”
But Lowenger’s involvement with students doesn’t end at graduation. She organizes events to help new grads be aware of further educational options and will tweak résumés and make contacts for students looking for work.
From the high school student who thinks it might be fun to be a vet to the grad ready to be a mentor to new DVM students, Lowenger provides support all along the way.
“I think every interaction has long-term ramifications,” she says. “OVC alumni are very generous to us, and I think that’s partly because we try to treat them well all through the process.”