Winter 2016

Growing Great Vets

Garden association benefactors stick with Cummings School students for the long haul

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Andrew Gestrich, V17, with his wife, Tara, son, Cooper, and the family pets. Photo: Alonso Nichols

Andrew Gestrich, V17, was teaching public school in Hawaii when he started volunteering at a veterinary hospital to road test a possible career change. He discovered he liked the challenge of caring for less-common species. Science, for instance, had yet to define the correct dose of medications for exotic creatures like the Jackson chameleons that were among the clinic’s patients.

“I found I was drawn to the problem-solving aspect of veterinary medicine,” he says. “Every case was a puzzle, and that was intellectually stimulating. I knew veterinary medicine was a good fit for me.”

He decided to take the leap: The former school teacher is now a third-year student at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. Dean Deborah Kochevar has been a mentor, encouraging him in his research efforts to develop mathematical models for determining the rate at which an animal—be it mouse or moose—metabolizes drugs, a science known as pharmacokinetic prediction. Last summer he worked with Daniela Bedenice, an associate professor, on another pharmacokinetic study involving geriatric horses and alpacas.

“[Tufts is] one of the top schools in the country, with an excellent reputation for animal care, and our student grant recipients have always been so wonderful.”

Veterinary education is expensive, though, particularly for a married father of a 2-year-old son. So he was elated when he was awarded a scholarship from the New England Farm and Garden Association, a Boston-area nonprofit; he’ll receive $14,000 in financial aid this year.

The scholarship “provides flexibility, and it makes it easier for me to make career decisions about how I can contribute to the field rather than only worrying about the bottom line,” says Gestrich, 31, who had a chance to personally thank his benefactors at Cummings School’s annual Lunch in the Country donor recognition event.

Generations of students like Gestrich will continue to receive support from the New England Farm and Garden Association, which disbanded in December 2015, but not before it dispersed its assets. Cummings School received $100,000 toward an endowed scholarship; matched by the school through Tufts’ Financial Aid Initiative, the association’s gift has doubled, to $200,000.

The Career Nurturers

Founded in 1921, the association has provided scholarships to veterinary students at Tufts since the school opened more than three decades ago. “Tufts has always been near and dear to us,” says Peace Conant, the organization’s president. “It’s one of the top schools in the country, with an excellent reputation for animal care, and our student grant recipients have always been so wonderful.”

Megan Rock, A03, V14, says the organization’s support was important to her career trajectory. After an internship at Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston, she is now the first dermatology resident at Veterinary Healing Arts in East Greenwich, Rhode Island.

“The New England Farm and Garden family welcomed me as a young veterinarian with open arms and supported me wholeheartedly with both their generous scholarship and with their genuine interest in my goals,” she says. “I really enjoyed getting to know the members of the group personally.”

Kochevar says the significance of the organization’s scholarships “goes well beyond easing the financial burden” of Cummings School students.

“The loyalty of New England Farm and Garden has been a lifeline for dozens of remarkable students over the years,” she says. “Thanks to these scholarships, our students go on to achieve their aspirations in veterinary medicine. So many alumni with rewarding careers can thank this one organization for having confidence in their potential.”  ­­—Laura Ferguson

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