by Marcia Hill Gossard ’99, ’04 Ph.D. | Photos by Henry Moore, Jr.
For Jessica Scherr of Great Falls, Montana, choosing WSU for veterinary school was easy. The daughter of a veterinarian, Scherr had grown up with veterinary medicine all her life. When she learned the Washington-Idaho-Montana-Utah (WIMU, pronounced WE-moo) regional program in veterinary medicine offered in-state tuition and would keep her closer to home, she knew it was right for her. And having a class size of only 11 sealed the deal.
“With the small class size, we get more hands-on experiences,” said Scherr. “I’ve gotten more hands-on experience than I could have ever imagined.”
What wasn’t so easy was starting in a new, highly demanding veterinary program. But getting an opportunity to participate in the Cougar Orientation Leadership Experience, known as COLE, made all the difference for the start of her first year.
“It is hard when you go to a new school,” says Scherr, whose first year is in Bozeman, Montana—450 miles away from the Pullman campus. “So meeting faculty, new students, and older students was great. It was cool to meet some of the faculty because I won’t see them until next year [in Pullman].”
Whether starting in Montana, Utah, Idaho, or Pullman, all first year veterinary students begin their year at COLE, an off-site retreat designed to promote leadership skills and team building. The experiential learning curriculum includes exercises by trained facilitators to help incoming veterinary students understand more about themselves—how they think, how they work with others, how they connect and solve problems, says Dr. Rick DeBowes, one of the program’s founders.
“It helped me learn how to communicate better with others,” says Scherr. “I have an outgoing personality and am strong willed so I like to get my ideas across. I learned that I may need to stay in the background and let others take the lead and then see if my ideas match up.”
It also gave her an opportunity to meet current students and get to know the other students in her graduating class. Jessica Scherr (’18 DVM) from Montana. She is currently interested in small animal medicine. “Just knowing that everyone is going through the same things helped,” says Scherr. “It was a great learning and bonding opportunity to welcome me to WSU.”
These valuable experiences don’t end after the first year. Rian Calugcugan (’15 DVM), who will graduate this spring, found that his experiences at COLE as a first year student and later as a mentor shaped him throughout his time as a veterinary student.
“The COLE program had a major impact in my life,” says Calugcugan. “Each year I was there, I discovered more about myself as a person and I got to share that with people I mentored throughout the years.”
And this kind of leadership and communication training gives WSU veterinarians an edge in the job market.
“Professional students need these skills to thrive in the highdemand world of medical service,” says DeBowes. “Research shows that individuals who have high levels of emotional intelligence also have positive impacts and outcomes in the workplace.”
For Calugcugan, he knows what he learned at COLE will help him as he begins his career.
“COLE gave me strong leadership skills I never realized I had,” says Calugcugan. “It also helped me become a better communicator and empathetic person, which are all characteristics I think a great veterinarian needs to have.”
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