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  Veterinary Camp Helps Students Acclimate to Program and Faculty    
  Months before Jackie Schmid began her first year at the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine, she was already feeling anxious and stressed. After years of hard work to get into the college, in which only one of every ten applicants are accepted, the now freshman and former engineer had heard from upperclassmen that it was a lot tougher than her undergraduate program. “I was worried,” she said. “I guess it was the fear of the unexpected.” Schmid also knew nothing about the college’s administration or faculty– but she was determined to jump in and be as competitive as she had been to get into the college.  “I essentially dedicated two years of very hard work to get into veterinary school - so I was planning on being in that mode,” she said.

Schmid’s anxiety about starting school is common among students in competitive graduate or sports programs, said Dr. Kathleen Ruby, a counselor at Veterinary Student Services at WSU.
This year, the college’s administration decided to do something about it.
For the first time in its 103-year history, WSU’s Veterinary College hosted Camp Alpha, a two-day professional leadership introduction camp. The retreat was held in August for incoming freshman at Twin Low Lake outside of Rathdrum, Idaho, a week before they began their first semester as veterinary students.

The goal of the camp was to decrease the starting anxiety veterinary students might have about their first few days of professional study and to get them better acquainted with each other, their future instructors, and the administration.
“We hope that by having the students meet the dean, the associate dean and some of the department heads and faculty members in a more informal way that they will feel more comfortable coming to talk to us or just to interact with us,” said Dr. Ruby. “Once school starts, students get very quickly involved in their education and there is not time really for anybody to interact in a more informal way.”

The camp was not mandatory, but 48 freshmen and ten upperclassmen attended the event, along with seven faculty members and administrators.
After a two-hour bus ride, the group arrived at camp and quickly delved into several games, a "challenge course,” and small group discussions that emphasized communication, bonding, team building, camaraderie and critical thinking.

Dan Zenner, a consultant from the Center for Ethics at the University of Idaho, developed the camp curriculum and led the majority of exercises for the first-year students.
“Several of the camp activities were designed to expose particular behaviors that allow people to see themselves through another's eyes,” he said. “It is amazing what can be learned from taking another look at what actually occurred while completing a seemingly silly and fun activity.”
During one such game, group participants, as members of an “elite backcountry veterinary rescue squads,” had to rescue an injured duck from the bottom of a rather leaky well. The situation was simulated with a plastic tube with holes in it. Because the duck had pretend rabies - a disease that ducks do not contract anyway - it could not be touched with any part of anyone’s body. Therefore, the duck had to be saved with chopsticks, which served as forest service approved rescue equipment. From there, each team had to transport the injured duck to a make-shift “heli-port” for an imaginary airlift to an appropriate veterinary hospital.
Through the activity, students were able to have fun and to use their heads to work together and to solve problems, said Dr. Richard DeBowes, chair of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, who also participated in the event.

“I gained some personal insight from a lot of the activities – how I was responding, how I was feeling and what I was doing,” Schmid said. “I learned some things I knew about myself and some things that I didn’t know about myself.” One important thing she learned was that she wouldn’t have to compete so hard once school started.

“The students are used to competing – they had to compete hard just to get into veterinary college,” Dr. Ruby said, “but now that they are here, the goal is to develop mastery and to work together as colleagues.”  In addition to getting to know each other, the incoming students also got to know several of the second and third-year students who attend WSU’s veterinary college.
“We really feel strongly that sophomores and juniors can take a leadership role in helping acclimate students not only medically, but also just to the veterinary college,” Dr. Ruby said.

Third-year student, Donna Border, said the camp helped increase the comfort level between the new students and the upperclassmen. “In our curriculum, that is hard to do,” she said. “For a non-mandatory camp, it gave us a strong ability to work together as a class – it definitely created a bond.”  Even though she has gone through what she describes as being “the day of panic that is the first day of school,” she was very glad to get acquainted with several of the faculty members who she will be working with in her fourth year during clinical rounds.
“I could see them as real people,” Border said. “It took a lot of fear out of working with them.”
Students also joined group discussions about ethical dilemmas.
“We talked a lot about how to interact with clients and other ethical issues,” Border said. “The students got to ask questions that were really scary for them in a non-threatening environment, and they got an honest answer.”

Schmid also appreciated meeting and talking to some of the administration, including the dean of the veterinary college, Dr. Warwick Bayly. “It was delightful to meet Dean Bayly,” Schmid said. “It was great to interact with him on a personal level.”

Although Schmid thinks the students who did not attend the camp are as familiarized with other students and faculty now as the ones who did, she was still glad she went and would think about going again.  “The rumors are true – the curriculum is hard,” Schmid said. “But my stress level was lowered and the camp helped me feel more comfortable to interact with my teachers and other students.”

Dr. DeBowes was also very pleased with the outcome of the camp and is already planning for next year. “No other program at WSU that I know of takes students away to introduce them and get them to bond together, and to put them in a situation to learn more about themselves and how they can work better in a group of peers.” He said other programs at WSU might also benefit from implementing a program like Camp Alpha, such as architecture, nursing or other intense programs.
And as far as living up the WSU motto of being “World Class – Face to Face,” Dr. DeBowes thinks the program does exactly that. “You had an array of faculty, medical specialists – some of whom are nationally recognized experts in their fields, deans, etc. going through camp solving exercises side by side with students…experiencing, learning, growing,” he said. “I don’t know how you get any more face to face than that.”

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