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First Endowed Scholarship Still Helping Today’s Vet Med Students

Kristen Malinak, a third-year student at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM), has so many ideas about what she’d like to do in the future that one of her biggest challenges is choosing which one to pursue.  That she has so many choices has been made possible in part by people she will never meet.

The late E. I. “Red” Wood was a distinguished civil engineer and NC State graduate who, among other accomplishments in his long career, oversaw the construction of the Bell Tower on the NC State campus in 1933 as part of a W.P.A. (Works Progress Administration) project during the Great Depression.  When they retired, Wood and his wife, Virginia, also an NC State grad, decided to express their gratitude to their alma mater by establishing the first endowed scholarship in what was then known as “veterinary science” in 1978, reflecting not only their love for the University, but their love of animals.

Some 38 years later, the Woods’ generosity continues to pay it forward. This year’s recipient, the aforementioned Kristen Malinak, is quick to express her appreciation. “When I found out I had received the E.I. and Virginia Wood Scholarship, I was thrilled! As a former out-of-state student, I have already taken out a significant amount of student loans. With this generous scholarship, I immediately felt not only financial support but also the warmth of support and encouragement from my unknown benefactors. It felt amazing to know that someone out there supports veterinarians so genuinely that they donated money to help a student with their dream and education.”

“It felt amazing to know that someone out there supports veterinarians so genuinely that they donated money to help a student with their dream and education.”

The breadth of Malinak’s possible career paths is not only testimony to her personal growth and vision, but also to the unforeseen impact an endowed scholarship can make on the future. “My interests are so varied, and I find that I enjoy most aspects of the work,” she says, “making my decision difficult. One thing I have realized, however, is that I am interested in scientific communication, meaning the communication of complex scientific and medical concepts to the public, in order for the best level of understanding. … This scholarship has brought me closer to my goals by enabling me to work internationally this last summer in public health, bringing me one step closer to elucidating my goals and interests.”

Malinak, who grew up in Maryland riding horses, was originally drawn to the idea of working for an equestrian magazine, combining her interests in communications and all things equine. Her interest in media grew as a result of the communications classes she took as an undergrad at Stanford, even as she maintained her passion for animals and science. This eventually developed into an interest in communicating about global public health issues and concerns, helping interpret the meaning of complex medical and scientific information for general public understanding and more effective action.

But scientific communication is just one of myriad of interests she has, which include surgery and the prospect of owning her own small animal practice. While on an international summer learning opportunity that took her to Mongolia and China, she was able to learn more about the possible applications of alternative medicine, particularly acupuncture, in veterinary medicine. Her interests also include infectious disease research and, as mentioned, addressing global health issues through effective communication.

As should be clear by now, communication is important to Malinak. One of the many things she has appreciated about her opportunity to attend NC State is the formal training dealing with client communication that is part of curriculum. In fact, of her overall experience at the CVM, she says “The friendships, the faculty support and the training have been everything I could have asked for.”  

As she continues to chart her course to the future, Malinak looks forward to the critical experience she’ll receive working in a veterinary hospital environment, as well — something she will definitely receive as a fourth-year student. Before that, though, she hopes to be able to continue gaining more experience on the international level by participating in the summer Ethiopia project developed by Andrew Stringer, director of global health education at the CVM and an assistant professor in the Department of Population Health and Pathobiology.  Stringer is the founder and principal investigator of the Health and Livelihoods (HEAL) Group, which studies a range of issues focused on the interface of health and livelihoods in Ethiopia utilizing a One Health approach.

“Thank you so much for your support, trust, and vision. The scholarship I received this year gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams this last summer internationally, and I value that experience so much.”

Whether all of this leads Malinak to a career in private practice, or working for an international public health organization such as the OIE, an organization that focuses on the improvement of animal health around the world, or the even World Health Organization, remains to be seen. Malinak has even thought about being “a media/TV news correspondent for veterinary and infectious disease topics.”

Wherever the future leads her, Malinak knows that she will have gotten there, in part, thanks to the decision made by the Woods in 1978 to endow a scholarship. When asked if there was anything she would like to say to her benefactors, she says “Yes! To the Wood family that has made this scholarship possible, thank you so much for your support, trust, and vision. The scholarship I received this year gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams this last summer internationally, and I value that experience so much. I hope to make you proud with the career you have invested in, and I look forward to giving back to veterinary students in the future when I am able. Thank you for the inspiration.”

~Steve Volstad/NC State Veterinary Medicine