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Claire Kepner and furry friend
Kepner enjoys blueberry-picking with her furry friend Veera during a hike around Wickersham Dome.

From Augie to Alaska, one grad pursues her field

Raised on a farrow-to-finish hog farm in northwestern Illinois, Claire Kepner ’17 felt at home in the agricultural community before attending Augustana.

“I loved animals, I loved science, and I shadowed veterinarians through high school,” she said. “I just knew I wanted to work in the field when I ‘grew up.’”

Kepner volunteered around the Quad Cities during her years at Augustana. “I was constantly put into situations that challenged me. Academically, I strived to become a more well-rounded, knowledgeable future veterinarian.”

And that paid off. In fact, in 2017 Augustana reported 100-percent acceptance of its biology/pre-vet majors to veterinary school.

Now Kepner is one of 10 students in a collaborative program at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks with Colorado State University. She will spend two years at UAF, followed by two at CSU. The program instills an “ecosystems approach” to veterinary medicine, looking at the human, animal and environmental health of different issues.

“Augustana prepared me extremely well—in my major subjects and in less tangible areas like critical thinking and problem solving,” she noted. “Vet school is certainly a challenge, but I consistently find myself reaching for knowledge that I gained at Augustana, and applying it to my program in Fairbanks.”

Her days consist of class from 8-5, then “studying for the rest of the night to keep up with the utterly insane amount of material,” she said. “It’s really hard, to be quite frank. But my classmates and the people I have met here are the best. I’m excited to make more connections as I progress!”

Kepler and cows
Kepner gives physical exams to the resident beef steers at UAF’s Large Animal Research Center.

At Augustana, pre-veterinary students can take advantage of a 3:4 coordinated-degree program with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, through which they may graduate after three years and begin their graduate studies early, or stay for a fourth year on campus. Applicants are accepted in the beginning of their sophomore year, and must maintain a 3.5 GPA to qualify for vet school at the university.

“Only two other undergraduate institutions in Illinois maintain 3:4 agreements with the veterinary school at U of I, but Augie sends the most students each year,” said Dr. Tim Muir, assistant professor of biology and a faculty advisor to the program.

Like Kepner, some students choose a different track for their professional studies. But no matter the program or school, she encourages all students in pre-veterinary science to focus on their clinical training.

“Volunteer at shelters, shadow veterinarians, and don’t ignore things that you aren’t familiar with,” she explained. “Use your summers wisely—and take comparative physiology at Augustana when it’s offered. It rocks your socks!”

For Kepner, veterinary medicine combines a love of service to both people and animals in the agricultural world while fueling her passion for biology. She plans to specialize in large animal care during her third- and fourth-year clinical rotations.

During her limited spare time, Kepner enjoys hiking, white-water rafting and exploring nature. Every night, she takes a study break to watch the northern lights from her backyard.

 

By Rachel Reiter ’18, Augustana Writers Bureau

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