William Woods University may be a small college in a small town, but small schools often provide the best education and produce the best students.
Two 2005 WWU graduates, AJ Beabout of Wellsville, Mo., and Christy McPherson of Vista, Calif., are prime examples. They were among only 72 students accepted into the University of Missouri’s College of Veterinary Medicine last fall.
“In our small and still quite young biology program, this is an astonishingly visible success rate! I am very proud of these students,” Mary Spratt, professor of biology, said.
Gaining a spot in vet school is thought to be more difficult than medical school, simply because there are few vet schools to choose from, while medical schools abound.
Both graduates acknowledge that their solid foundation in WWU’s pre-vet med program gave them a distinct edge over others in the acceptance process.
The pre-vet med program at William Woods is based in the liberal arts with a strong focus in common studies, providing a broad and flexible background for a well-rounded education. It has heavy emphasis on hands-on laboratory experiences.
Classes are small, so each student is able to access state-of-the-art equipment and learn how to use it. William Woods maintains high academic achievement standards in the sciences.
Beabout and McPherson were the first WWU students to apply to vet school in the past 10 years.
“We are hitting two for two,” exclaimed Spratt.
` McPherson chose William Woods because “I wanted to go to a smaller school with a smaller teacher-to-student ratio than most schools around my hometown.”
Beabout also speaks of the tight-knit community at William Woods: “I was home schooled and not ready to jump into a big school atmosphere.”
The young women began their time at William Woods in the fall of 2001, and graduated together four years later. Both had come to WWU with the dream of becoming a veterinarian.
“I have wanted to become a veterinarian ever sine I knew the meaning of the word,” McPherson proclaimed. “It is one of the only professions I know of that allows me to utilize my biology knowledge at a higher level, as well as continue learning every day, while still being able to work with animals!”
Beabout shares similar views.
“I grew up on a farm and just sort of fell into it. I loved being with the animals and working with them more than anything, and it just progressed as I got older.”
Spratt witnessed this passion firsthand.
“Both girls had a strong desire to become veterinarians,” she said.
While attending WWU, both students did everything they could to prepare themselves for vet school. They both worked at vet clinics in town throughout their schooling.
Beabout spent six weeks as a summer intern, working on molecular biology, genetics and horse breeding in Madison, Wis., with WWU alumna Marijo Kent-First, an internationally recognized genetics expert.
Both Beabout and McPherson graduated with exceptional grades, and McPherson even managed to excel in soccer during her time at William Woods. She also wrote a scientific research paper under the direction of Marilyn Van Leeuwen, associate professor of psychology, which was published in a national journal.
When the time came to select a vet school, both women again ended up choosing the same school, this time the University of Missouri, in Columbia. They had toured the school as pre-vet students with Spratt, and once again found what they were looking for.
The application process can be very intimidating, but McPherson wasn’t terribly worried.
“I knew as long as I worked hard at William Woods and kept in mind the specific requirements UMC had for vet school that I would be able to get in. Not to mention that the faculty at WWU helped me tremendously in preparing for my interview, which is a large part of the acceptance process.”
Beabout also felt she had a good chance at acceptance, but “that doesn’t mean I wasn’t extremely nervous, and did not have a back-up plan in case of disaster,” she said.
Whether it was fate intervening, or just the hard work of two young women with similar dreams, McPherson and Beabout were accepted into the same school, once more.
“When I found out I was accepted I was extremely excited. The first people I wanted to tell (after my family) were Dr. Spratt and Mr. (Jim) Wilson (biology instructor), since they had contributed so much to my acceptance,” McPherson said.
Being accepted was “by far the most exciting moment of my life. I had succeeded in getting to the next step that would put me in contact with my goal. It was very exhilarating,” said Beabout.
The students attribute much of their success to the solid foundation they gained from studying at such a supportive university.
“The classes I took at William Woods helped prepare me very well for vet school, and I know they will continue to help me throughout my time here. William Woods helped me to be comfortable with working in small groups and to not be afraid to rely on my instructors for help,” said McPherson.
Beabout added, “William Woods gave me the basics and solid foundation I needed to set myself up to learn more.”
WWU professors influenced both of their lives significantly.
“The support I received from my instructors is unprecedented, and I know I wouldn’t be here without them; specifically, Dr. Spratt and Mr. Wilson, along with the support from Drs. Katharine Mayne and Shawn Hull,” said McPherson. Mayne teaches biology and Hull, a history professor, directs the Honors Program.
Beabout agreed, “I would have to say that Dr. Spratt was definitely the reason I came to WWU. Dr. Spratt is a very dedicated teacher who truly cares and tries to culture her students’ dreams to the best of her ability.”
Both students are content with their current lot in life; after all, it is what they have worked so hard for all these years.
“It’s difficult,” McPherson explained, “but it’s what I want to do, and I know the hard work I put in now will all be worth it in the end.”
“School has been a great deal more difficult than you can imagine,” said Beabout, “but it is fun, and it’s not so bad when you are learning about something you love and want to do for the rest of your life.”