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
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
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
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
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
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.
“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
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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