Alexis High — Lexi to her friends and family — has always had lofty goals.
By the time she was in high school, she was barrel racing horses and intent on becoming a large animal veterinarian working with cows and horses.
Now, in addition to being part of the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine’s incoming class of 2025, she is the first graduate of a joint agreement with the University of North Carolina at Pembroke to provide access to the CVM for their students.
“I’m very grateful for the access program,” she says. “It’s very exciting. It seems kind of surreal.”
In 2017 the two schools established the University of North Carolina System Veterinary Education Access (UNC-SVEA) program. Its purpose is to make a pathway to a degree in veterinary medicine more accessible to minority students and students from rural backgrounds. A large portion of UNC-Pembroke’s student body identifies as a minority. According to the university, 31% identify as Black, 13% as American Indian and 8% as Hispanic or Latino.
The program identifies undergraduate students at UNC-Pembroke who have been selected to attend the CVM once an undergraduate degree is completed, provided they meet academic and extracurricular criteria specified in the agreement.
Up to two students and one alternate from each entering first-year class in the UNC-Pembroke biology program can be selected for the program. A selection committee from both schools approves the participants and reviews their continued eligibility to remain in the program each semester.
This agreement is the first of its kind in the UNC system, with the goal of expanding it to include other rural UNC campuses.
“I’m delighted that this program is starting to come to fruition,” says CVM Dean Paul Lunn. “This college needs to represent the whole state. I hope this is the beginning of a growing relationship with all regions of our state assuring access for all.
“You’re failing in your responsibility if you don’t provide the opportunity to get a veterinary education to a broad and diverse population.”
High grew up on a farm in Laurel Hill, North Carolina, in Scotland County, where caring for animals was a part of everyday life. “I’ve been working since I was big enough to carry a bucket,” she says.
There were plenty of opportunities for carrying buckets on her family’s poultry farm, where they also raised cattle and horses.
“Being in a rural area like Scotland County means that there are fewer opportunities and resources for students interested in vet med,” she says, “which is why I ended up going to Florida for a summer. I had to be willing to go elsewhere to gain the experience that would be most beneficial to me.”
That experience was an internship at a veterinary practice in Ocala, Florida. Serving such internships is a valuable asset for aspiring veterinary students.
The matter of where she would go to college was an open question, at least in her mind.
“I didn’t want to go to Pembroke,” she admits. “I wanted to live away from home to get the full college experience, and we live just 30 minutes from the campus.”
Fate had other plans for High, but they turned out to be good plans. Her dad said he still needed her help on the farm. The tuition at the nearby university was attractive. Then, during her senior year, friends told her about the new joint agreement between UNC-Pembroke and NC State providing a pathway to the CVM.
“Now I love Pembroke,” she says. “I was able to work on the farm and still get the full campus experience.”
She credits Natalya Freeman Locklear, health careers access program adviser, and biology professor Velinda Woriax, both at UNC-Pembroke, and Allen Cannedy, director of diversity and multicultural affairs at the CVM, with being instrumental in helping to guide her through the requirements of the program. That included clinical internships at a small animal veterinary practice in Laurinburg and an equine hospital in Ocala.
She also took care of her academic business, graduating from Pembroke’s honors college program.
High’s first semester at the CVM is already underway, along with 99 other classmates. And if everything goes according to plan, one day she’ll be a large animal veterinarian in her home state of North Carolina.
~Steve Volstad/NC State Veterinary Medicine