Veterinary graduates rally to meet alumna’s financial aid challenge
Alumni celebrated many milestones at this fall’s reunion: This year marks the 35th anniversary of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, the 30th anniversary of the Tufts Wildlife Clinic and the school’s first 30th reunion, for the inaugural class of 1983.
The reunion wasn’t all about nostalgia, though. It also increased support for the school and current students. Janet “JJ” Kovak McClaran, V98, a member of the school’s board of advisors, offered this challenge: For each reunion class that doubled its class giving participation rate, she pledged to create a single-year term scholarship, to be presented to a deserving student in the class’s name.
Two classes, 2008 and 1993, had met the challenge by reunion weekend, doubling their number of donors over the previous year. The inaugural class of 1983 and McClaran’s own class of 1998 met the challenge shortly afterward.
“I’m thrilled that the challenge succeeded,” says McClaran, a board-certified, small-animal surgeon at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. “I’ve benefited from my Cummings School education every day, and I think it’s important to give back.”
The class of 2008, the first to meet McClaran’s challenge, harnessed social media to motivate classmates.
“We used Facebook to post updates on how many people still needed to contribute, and I think that helped a lot,” says Trisha Oura, V08, who served as reunion cochair for her class with Misty Williams, V08. “I also think it helped that we made it clear that we weren’t asking for large donations, because the majority of us still have a lot of student loan debt.”
The challenge’s focus on financial aid made it particularly appealing, says Oura, a radiologist at Tufts Veterinary Emergency Treatment and Specialties (Tufts VETS) in Walpole, Mass., who lives in North Grafton with her husband, Sam Jennings, also a member of the class of 2008.
“It’s important for me to give back because Tufts was such a huge part in getting me to where I am today,” Oura says. “I had such a positive experience there, and I want others to be able to have that same feeling. I also know that the cost of tuition is a real burden, and I’m happy to be able to make any small contribution that I can in order to help other students.”
McClaran says supporting the Cummings School is a priority. In addition to this year’s challenge and her role on the school’s board of advisors, she cohosts an annual fundraising event for the school in New York City and travels to the Grafton campus each year to participate in an internship panel for third- and fourth-year veterinary students. “Every time I am on campus, I hear about the constant innovation there,” she says. “I’m continually impressed.”
The reunion featured a tour of the new Tufts at Tech Community Veterinary Clinic in Worcester, Mass., for which Greg Wolfus, V98, serves as director. A partnership between the Cummings School and Worcester Technical High School, the clinic offers subsidized care to pet owners who might otherwise be unable to afford it. At the reunion, Wolfus received the Veterinary Alumni Association’s 2013 Outstanding Alumnus Award for his work at the clinic. The facility’s client and patient lobby, which was funded by a gift from Janice Calkin, J51, a Tufts undergraduate alumna, was dedicated during the tour. Calkin and guest George Shaddock came from Connecticut for the celebration.
A continuing education session during the reunion weekend explored the causes, diagnosis and treatment of diseases carried by insects, such as mosquitoes and ticks.
For alumni who remember the early days, the reunion weekend offered an opportunity to reflect on how far the school has come.
“I know that the cost of tuition is a real burden, and I’m happy to be able to make any small contribution that I can in order to help other students.”
Being a member of the inaugural class was an adventure, “exciting and scary at the same time,” says Mary Labato, V83, a veterinary nephrologist at the Foster Hospital for Small Animals and a clinical professor at the Cummings School. Labato remembers how one of her professors regularly stopped a large-animal lecture whenever the coffee truck arrived on campus so that everyone could go out and get something to drink. “There was no cafeteria. There wasn’t even a soda machine,” she says.
While the facilities have expanded and improved and the student body has grown over the past three decades, the core elements of a Cummings School veterinary education haven’t changed, Labato says. “It’s certainly evolved, but the faculty still has close relationships with students, and the classroom and clinic work still prepares students for wonderful careers caring for animals.”
Heather Stephenson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.