Jennifer Wells, DVM, University of Cincinnati
To meet the educational goals of the University of Cincinnati (UC) Blue Ash, Veterinary Technology Program students participate in several required community-based collaborations. Over the past 15 years, the UC Veterinary Technology Program has maintained relationships with local nonprofit animal organizations to offer free veterinary care to a large number and variety of animals in real-world settings. The collaborative partnerships and the student experiences in real-world settings is the hallmark of service-learning for the veterinary technology profession. The service-learning component of the Veterinary Technology Program allows the University of Cincinnati to give back to the community while also providing students with critical experiential learning that will position them as more qualified and attractive job candidates. Additionally, their students are given the opportunity for deep reflection on their experiences, through reflective essay assignments. Not only are their students obtaining hands-on skills relevant to their future careers, but through their interactions with community partners, they are building communication and interpersonal relationship skills and gaining knowledge of humane organizations, farm animal care, and pet overpopulation issues.
Service-Learning is considered a high-impact educational practice, and this method of increasing student engagement outside the classroom has been gaining popularity across the county over the last decade. The University of Cincinnati states that “Service-Learning is a specially-designed learning experience in which students combine reflection with structured participation in community-based projects to achieve specified learning outcomes as part of an academic course and/or program requirement” (“Service Learning”). To meet the educational goals of the University of Cincinnati Blue Ash, Veterinary Technology Program students participate in several required community-based collaborations. In Spring 2022, the University of Cincinnati’s Division of Experience-Based Learning and Career Education honored Dr. Jennifer A. Wells and the Veterinary Technology Program with the 2022 Jack Twyman Award for Service-Learning. The Jack Twyman award is given annually to a collaborative educational team or individual engaged in a Service-Learning project that exemplifies the Bearcat Bond and the values that alumnus Jack Twyman demonstrated in his life.
The primary mission of the Veterinary Technology Program, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2020, is to educate veterinary technicians on how to provide knowledgeable and compassionate care to animals. As part of that education, students participate in several community-based collaborations annually as part of our core courses. Annually, we collaborate with local shelters and other animal-related nonprofits to offer free veterinary care to a large number and variety of animals. Faculty and students provide hundreds of hours of volunteer service to these nonprofit organizations, a community service component of the Veterinary Technology Program which allows us to give back to the community, while also providing students with critical experiential learning that will position them as more qualified and attractive job candidates. Students and faculty serve the community through these specific programs: 1) Low-income pet owners: We partner with Pets in Need of Greater Cincinnati to provide animals belonging to low-income owners with veterinary care, including dental care, and we serve up to 250 animals annually; 2) Animal shelters: We work with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) Cincinnati to provide shelter animals with veterinary care, helping to make these animals more adoptable, and we serve up to 500 shelter animals a year with multiple veterinary services including spay/neuter surgeries; 3) Local educational farms: We work with Greenacres Farm and Winton Woods Riding Center (Great Parks of Hamilton County) to provide their resident animals with physical exams, vaccinations, deworming, dental care and hoof care, and we serve over 200 animals annually.
Building a Service-Learning Program
For the past fifteen years, UC’s Veterinary Technology Program has maintained relationships with local animal nonprofits to offer free veterinary care to a large number and variety of animals in real-world settings. The collaborative partnerships and the student experiences in real-world settings is the hallmark of service-learning for the veterinary technology profession. The service-learning component of the Veterinary Technology Program allows UC to give back to the community while also providing students with critical experiential learning that will position them as more qualified and attractive job candidates. Students write reflective essays on these experiences as part of the courses. Not only are our students obtaining hands-on skills relevant to their future careers, but through their interactions with community partners, they are building communication and interpersonal relationship skills and gaining knowledge of humane organizations, farm animal care, and pet overpopulation issues.
Collaborative Community Partnerships
The Veterinary Technology Program has made a commitment to building and maintaining strong community partnerships. These partnerships strengthen the program by providing resources for the physical, psychological, technical, and emotional development of students. Since 2007, we have partnered with the SPCA Cincinnati along with other animal shelters in the Greater Cincinnati region to provide shelter dogs and cats with medical care, dental care, and spay/neuter surgery, helping to make them more adoptable. Veterinary Technology Program students and faculty travel weekly to SPCA Cincinnati to provide veterinary care at the shelter. Additionally, animals are brought weekly to UC’s Veterinary Technology building for medical care and spay/neuter surgery. Many animals at the SPCA are not yet spayed/neutered and suffer from various medical ailments, making them less adoptable. The shelters spay, neuter, and test for all major illnesses before the animals are placed for adoption, but this comes at huge expense to the shelters. This program allays the cost to the shelters by providing free spay/neuter surgeries and basic medical treatment, including, but not limited to, vaccines, deworming, retroviral diagnostic tests for cats (Feline Leukemia and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus), heartworm tests for dogs, and dental care. On average, we provide medical care to over 300 dogs and cats and complete over 200 spay/neuter and dental procedures yearly.
The Veterinary Technology Program also collaborates with Pets In Need, a Cincinnati nonprofit organization, to provide preventive veterinary care. Since 2013, UC Veterinary Technology students and faculty veterinarians have donated our time to conduct weekly clinics on-site at Pets In Need to deliver preventive and basic veterinary care to low-income pet owners. This collaboration helps relieve impoverished families of the high cost of providing their animals with excellent veterinary care, supporting the goal of keeping families and their pets together. The care offered includes vaccinations, deworming, tests for a variety of animal diseases, and dental cleanings. On average, we provide preventative and health care services to 250 low-income pet owners and 25 animal dental patients annually.
Additionally, the UC Veterinary Technology Program collaborates with local educational farms to provide a variety of farm animal species with needed healthcare. These farms provide a unique and valuable resource to the community, offering significant opportunities for an urban population to experience the outdoors and learn about and interact with farm animals. Specifically, we provide the nearly 200 resident horses, cows, and sheep of Greenacres Farm with physical exams, vaccinations, deworming, fecal exams, blood testing, hoof care, dental care, and radiographs as part of the program. The Veterinary Technology students also provide free preventative veterinary care to the 40 resident horses at Winton Woods Riding Center and the menagerie of animals at Parky’s Farm, an educational farm within the Great Parks of Hamilton County. The collaborative partnership gives veterinary technology students valuable hands-on experience providing medical care to large farm animals in a farm setting. These efforts save the local farms time, money, and human resources, which can then be expended in other ways by the nonprofits.
The work that the faculty, staff, and students do embodies the true definition of service-learning. The Veterinary Technology Program has taken learning outside the classroom and is providing a needed service of real value to a variety of community organizations. Our work has enabled the students to engage in the local animal community, to provide a service to underserved animals and clients, and to receive the benefits of a real-world educational experience that will immediately translate into a better understanding of their profession. The student writings from these experiences are filled with rich learning reflections. Each student brings their own identity, perceptions, and preconceived notions to the course. Once they experience working in these environments, they gain a true perspective of how others of different backgrounds care for their pets. After working with shelter animals, they often reflect that they have a greater understanding of how shelters operate, why animals may end up in a shelter through no fault of their owners, and how to help alleviate the problems faced by shelters through education, foster and spay/neuter programs, and pet identification programs. After working at Pets In Need, they often reflect that they never realized how much people who were underprivileged or had a physical or mental disability would have their lives enriched by owning a pet. And student field trips to the local farms are often the ones they remember with fondness, where they were able to provide valuable medical services to species that may have been unfamiliar to them, while learning and having fun!
The service-learning program at the University of Cincinnati Blue Ash College Veterinary Technology Program is a valuable connection between the students, faculty, and staff in the program and the community partners that they serve. We have designed our curriculum to meet the learning objectives of our program and accomplished these goals through helping to meet the needs of nonprofit organizations. All this while helping students gain a true appreciation for the work that these organizations do and enriching their learning experiences.
“Service Learning.” University of Cincinnati. https://www.uc.edu/campus- life/cce/semesterlongprograms/service-learning.html. Accessed May 2022.
About Dr. Jennifer Wells
Dr. Jennifer Wells, DVM is Program Director and Professor for Veterinary Technology at University of Cincinnati, Blue Ash College. She joined the program as faculty in 2002 and was appointed Program Director in 2008. In 2022, Dr. Wells and the Veterinary Technology Program won the Jack Twyman award for Service–Learning at the University of Cincinnati.