Two undergraduates who aspire to be veterinarians got hands-on research experience at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine this summer through the Multicultural Academic Opportunities Program, a Virginia Tech program that supports diverse graduate and undergraduate students. For undergraduate students who wish to pursue graduate studies, the program offers summer research opportunities. 

This summer, senior Kennedi Essex and junior Angel Collins, both animal and poultry sciences majors in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, worked with Priscila Serpa, research assistant professor of clinical pathology, on a variety of projects.

One of the projects in Serpa’s lab involves developing a library of cells to determine if a machine typically used to identify microbes — called a matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization-time of flight mass spectrometry — can be used to detect tumor cells. 

“They started by doing a retrospective collection of cytological smears of patients suspected of having lymphoma and melanoma from our archives. After that, they learned how to do immunocytochemistry, using antibodies to differentiate different cell types on cytology and blood smears. In addition, they helped me with a few field blood collections from horses,” said Serpa.  

Collins worked on canine cells and Essex worked on equine cells, learning how to use the machine and other tools to process and analyze the cells. They presented their research alongside other undergraduate students at Virginia Tech's Summer Research Symposium.  

The experience taught Collins and Essex more than techniques and practical knowledge. They were challenged to think critically to solve problems.  

"I've gained confidence. I feel better about working independently, and it was a good experience doing research because I was able to work inside the hospital. It really helped me develop all my skills, like communication and my confidence,” said Essex.  

In addition to working in the lab, Collins and Essex shadowed veterinarians from various departments in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, observing professionals in community practice, anesthesiology, and necropsy. 

"This internship has been the most helpful experience toward my goal of going to vet school and becoming a veterinarian. I got to know a lot of the faculty there, and it helped me network. It also opened my eyes to the options that I have within veterinary medicine,” said Collins.

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