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Class of 2021: An Uplifting Spirit  

Before you ask Sarah Moyer about her winemaking past, she has some answers.

First, she says, it’s not as glamourous as it sounds. Though she was based in picturesque Napa Valley, Calif., a lot of her work included inventorying chemicals needed for harvest and checking the progress of every single fermentation.

It’s a little hard to sit back and relax with a nice glass of syrah when you’re busy treating barrels with sulfur gas.

Secondly, it does not typically involve stomping barefooted on grapes as “I Love Lucy” would have us believe. Well OK, she did that a handful of times after she moved from California to New Zealand for a prestigious wine internship.

“I have several shirts that are permanently stained with grape juice that I can never wear in public again,” she says.

Still, she loved that messy experience and the world of winemaking, especially the science behind it. Her chemistry degree came in handy.

Then, you’ll naturally ask why she left the wine world, and that’s the easiest thing for her to answer. It was veterinary medicine.

Life to the Fullest

“I’m thinking about bringing food to campus once a month or every few weeks, leave a basket of cookies on my locker,” Moyer says. “What do you think?”

You’d think it’s something she’s just saying — but that’s not Moyer’s style. She does things like that. She cooks dinner for friends who just don’t have time to do that for themselves. She listens when she’s needed; she readily gives advice when it’s asked for. She’s likely to greet you, a stranger, with a firm handshake and a wide smile.

Sitting still is not her thing — literally. A chair struggles to contain her. She frequently shifts and sways and speaks with confident speed. A five-minute conversation would likely jump around from her hedgehog named Dumbledore and her volunteer work with the Carolina Tiger Rescue to looking forward to treating rescue cats and dogs. She will talk about her role model, her grandmother, who worked as an emergency room doctor until she was 80.

She doesn’t just start something. She leaps.

“I’ve over-the-moon excited to get started. I think some of my classmates during orientation were wondering just how much sugar and coffee I was drinking,” says Moyer. “When I get excited about something, I’m bouncing up and down.

She joins the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine’s Class of 2021 after three years in the wine industry and a year of filling in all the prerequisites needed for the DVM program. Veterinary medicine has been on her mind since she was a child. She grew up with hamsters and a bunny who lived to be 10. She was the member of the family who pulled the ticks off of cats.

Moyer was 6 when she and a friend dreamed of opening a pet shop together. Then they thought about it a bit more and decided they should be veterinarians instead.  That thought then went on the back burner for many years.

“I don’t see the point in missing opportunities,” says Moyer. “I like learning and experiencing life too much to just sit there and be cautious about it.”

Though her family is stacked with medical doctors and Ph.Ds. and engineers, those career paths never felt right to her. What did was following wherever her passion took her.

“I had an English teacher who went on a rant one day about how everyone goes to college to become a lawyer or a doctor or just make money,” she says. “Then he continued, ‘Why doesn’t anybody just study what interests them?’ And I thought that was possibly the smartest thing I’d ever heard in high school.”

Seeking to follow that advice, she enrolled at Smith College, a private liberal arts school in Massachusetts about two hours away from her birthplace of Concord, Mass. At Smith, Moyer says, there are not core requirements or a defined general education program. Students often design their own course path.

She declared a major in chemistry because she has always loved puzzles, figuring out how things work and how the parts fit together. Her minor? Classical language, lots of Latin and Greek. That will turn out to be helpful in vet school; many anatomy terms have classical origins. Plus, she was able to easily translate the motto of House Salmon, the CVM house into which she was sorted during orientation.

“I was sorted into Salmon house, which I wanted because I really like the motto, ‘Salus Aegroti Suprema Lex:’ the well-being of the patient is the most important law,” she says. “That’s why I’m here — to heal.”

A career path was still cloudy after college. Though Moyer flirted with graduate school programs in food science, she followed a more adventurous path to California wineries. In 2013, her boyfriend (now-husband), Nate, an Air Force pilot, was stationed in Sacramento and she made the 3,000-mile trek to join him. The Smith College alumnae network put her in touch with an alumna and owner/winemaker of a boutique wine label, who took Moyer under her wing, helping her land her first harvest internships.

Eventually, Moyer became an assistant winemaker for that same alumna, who would later recommend her for the New Zealand internship and scholarship. By then, Moyer was living in North Carolina — her husband had been assigned to Pope Air Force Base near Fayetteville — and was honored to be chosen for the experience in Hawke’s Bay, a large, well-established and gorgeous wine region in the country.

But before she left for the trip, she was driving on the highway in North Carolina and spotted an injured cat in the middle of the road. It triggered something.

“I almost caused an accident pulling over because I wanted to see if there was anything I could do,” she says. “I realized I didn’t have the training. I had worked in shelters with healthy animals, never anything with trauma. I just wanted to be able to help.”

A couple of hours later, she started researching veterinary schools, found NC State, and reviewed what she need to do to apply. She then spent four months in New Zealand, arriving home on June 22. On June 29 she started summer courses at NC State, the beginning of a full year of classes needed for her to enroll.

“I don’t see the point in missing opportunities,” says Moyer. “I like learning and experiencing life too much to just sit there and be cautious about it.”

Going For It

There’s a story told in Moyer’s family. A 2-year-old Sarah was at a playground and suddenly she couldn’t be found. Then she was spotted on top of a 10-foot slide. Yes, she’s always been a bit fearless.

“In my life the best things have come along mostly unintentionally,” she says. “I like to fly by the seat of my pants on the big things. Not the little things, the details; I like to organize. But the big ones? Yeah.”

Some of those “little things” she has planned involve what she’ll likely focus on at the CVM. She talks about them like an unchecked bucket list of experiences. “I would love to do surgery”; “I’m really excited about all of the zoological opportunities”; “I would love to go do international work”; “I want to figure out wobbly hedgehog syndrome.”

That last one is an actual thing, a progressive neurological disease. Moyer’s got a thing for the exotics branch of the veterinary tree — the far-from ordinary creatures and pets. It’s not just to be different for the sake of being different. Moyer the vet wants to help underserved animals who may not get as much attention as others.

“I want to be an advocate for my patients. I don’t just want to go through the motions, check all the boxes, and go home,” she says. “I want to be there to help my patients have a better life, be happy and healthy.”

Her biggest role model, her grandmother, was always there for her patients — and her family. She was widowed while carrying her fifth child, then continued to work in the ER as she raised her children and helped raise 12 grandchildren.

“I visit her and there will be people who met her 40 years earlier and tell her that she had stitched up their son when he cut himself,” Moyer says. “All these people would just come up to her and thank for what she did years and years ago. She made a difference.”

And that’s just what Moyer wants to do, too.

 Following the class of 2021:

Our look at Sarah Moyer  is the fourth in a series of seven profiles showcasing the diverse, passionate and accomplished minds of the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine Class of 2021.

Head to the CVM news site over the next few months to read more profiles.

~Jordan Bartel/NC State Veterinary Medicine