As a professional practice associate professor, a member of the Utah State University College of Veterinary Medicine curriculum committee, former first-year coordinator, and part of the student progress committee, Dr. Cathleen Kovarik has years of experience helping would-be veterinarians develop the skills they need to thrive.
She brings that experience and knowledge to her position as the College of Veterinary Medicine’s new director of admissions. An important part of Kovarik’s mission for the planned four-year program is designing an application process that meets not just the needs of the college and veterinary profession, but also those of prospective students looking to enter the field.
“We want to reach out to more people, especially in rural, Indigenous, and other underserved communities,” she said. “Our goal is for anybody who wants to be a veterinarian in Utah to know what is available to them and be able to structure their college courses so that they can come here and become a veterinarian.”
Because of the timing of the college’s creation and work to secure accreditation, Kovarik is working with Utah State University’s School of Graduate Studies rather than the Veterinary Medical College Application Service to design an application portal for students. She’s also devising the criteria the college will use to select students.
“Our goal is to look at the whole individual,” Kovarik said. “Not just their grades, but also their work experience, life experience, communication skills, and what hurdles they've had to overcome. Are they compassionate? Resilient? We want to give them credit for being who they are and set up a system that is transparent, equitable and inclusive.”
Fortunately, this isn’t the first time Kovarik has been involved in the admissions process. When she was a faculty member in the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine, she also served on that institution’s admissions committee and saw firsthand what made it successful.
“I learned a lot there, and I loved the experience,” Kovarik said. “I really liked establishing a personal connection with each applicant so that during the interview, we could talk to them as a person. The application process is hard on students — I could see the red climb into their necks and faces as the interviews went on, and I felt terrible for them. It’s why we need to remember that every student is a human being, and each one of them wants to be here.”
The interview process, Kovarik explained, is a two-way street. While the university must determine if students can succeed in the program and how they will fit into the existing community, it’s also an opportunity for students to ask themselves what excites them about Utah State and decide if the school is best for them.
Kovarik teaches Foundations of Veterinary Neurology and anatomy classes in the first and second semesters of the current program at USU and explained that because of the small class sizes at the university, she gets to know the students very well. One challenge she sees for students and administrators alike is ensuring students admitted to the College of Veterinary Medicine take care of themselves once they’re accepted into the program.
“Wellness is something we're very cognizant of,” she said. “We want students who respect their own needs, stay healthy, and treat themselves as well as possible during this four-year period because it can be a very rough time. I would tell students to try and find life balance as early as possible since that will get them into vet school and through the curriculum. They’ll also need it as a veterinarian.”
The other side of that balance, Kovarik advised, is leaning into the drive to learn about veterinary medicine and getting accustomed to rigorous studies early.
“I’d tell students to be passionate and not give up on their dreams,” she said. “I also recommend taking a lot of demanding undergraduate courses, especially in the sciences. Even if it's not a prerequisite, it sets you up for success in vet school by proving to yourself that you can do this, and it helps you become passionate about the work.”
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