By STEVEN NALLEY
This weekend, college students at both Mississippi State University and East Mississippi Community College are celebrating their graduations.
On Friday, EMCC held graduation ceremonies for academic and career-technical students on its Golden Triangle campus, and MSU held the first of its two spring graduation ceremonies. The other MSU ceremony will follow at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Humphrey Coliseum, and students on EMCC’s Scooba campus will graduate at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Keyes-Currie Coliseum.
By MSU Registrar Butch Stokes’ count, the two MSU ceremonies will feature a total of 2,559 graduates.
“(While) our historical records only show how many we have per year,” Stokes said, “I think I can safely say this is one of the largest (graduating classes) we’ve ever had.”
Within this class, however, there is a smaller group making its own mark on MSU’s history.
On Friday, MSU graduated its first class of veterinary medical technology majors, a set of 11 students prepared for a growing job market.
Stokes said these new graduates will not only help veterinarians and pet owners, but also the livestock industry, which needs advanced technology to freed a growing population. He said it’s not necessarily every year MSU develops a new program; they only come when a perceived need for the classes exists and the required faculty is already in place.
“I can say there are changes going on all the time,” Stokes said. “Our programs are being studied and analyzed every year.”
The students are also the first to hold undergraduate degrees of any kind from MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Allison Gardner, interim director of the VMT program, said while there are 191 VMT programs in the U.S., only 21 are four-year programs, and MSU is only the third in the country to have a VMT program connected to a veterinary school.
“At MSU CVM, veterinary technology students get to work alongside DVM students in a collaborative learning environment,” Gardner said. “This allows them both to gain a better appreciation and understanding of each other’s roles and strengths. Through this experience, they are able to see how by working together as an animal health care team, they can provide each patient with the optimum care. Also having the program housed within a vet school allows the VMT students to see and participate in more advanced procedures such as endoscopic exams, CT scans and emergency critical procedures that independent programs might not be able to offer.”
The first class of VMT majors entered MSU in summer 2010, Gardner said. The vision for the program, she said, came from P. Mikell Davis, a faculty member who saw a need for the program at MSU.
“(The) CVM had the strong support of MSU’s leadership who presented (the VMT program concept) to the provost to help get it underway,” Gardner said. It made sense for us to have the program as we already had supportive, dedicated faculty and staff, and good animal facilities.”
A strong job market will make the investment in a new program worthwhile for MSU and the graduating students, according to the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America’s official website.
“Currently, there is a strong demand for graduates from veterinary technology programs,” NATVA’s site says. “In their recently released ‘Occupational Employment Projections to 2012’ report, the Department of Labor lists veterinary technicians as one of the top 20 fastest growing careers where an education makes a difference.”
Gardner said the majority of eleven students in the graduating VMT class already have job offers, and while some are waiting for openings in specific areas, others have already accepted offers. During the coursework, she said, students have discovered something else they value: each other.
“They are all truly good friends and help and support each other,” Gardner said. “I have heard the same comment from different members of the class: “I have made some of my best friends while in the program.’ I would also say that they exemplify great leadership skills and dedication. Out of this class, two plan to go on to specialize in an area, one will began vet school in this summer, one plans to go into the field of research, several plan on working in either mixed practices or small animal practices, one is interested in zoo medicine and one hopes to attend an animal hospital manager training program.”