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From left to right: WIU School of Agriculture alumni Jimmy Holtschlag (Quincy, IL), Ashley Whiteside (Roseville, IL) and Kayla Henness (Camden, IL) will be attending veterinary school this fall. According to the pre-vet program alumni, the School of Ag's program gave them the edge they needed to get in to vet school.
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WIU School of Ag Alums to Attend Vet School; Pre-Vet Program Prepped Holtschlag, Henness and Whiteside for Demanding Vet Studies

July 8, 2015

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MACOMB, IL — Both WIU School of Agriculture alumni Jimmy Holtschlag (Quincy, IL) and Kayla Henness (Camden, IL) had an interest in working with animals as youngsters. But it was their time as undergraduates at Western that helped along their individual decisions to attend veterinary school. Holtschlag (who graduated in Spring 2014) and Henness (who graduated in Spring 2015) will be attending the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign this fall.

Another brand new School of Ag alumna, Ashley Whiteside (Roseville, IL), also knew from an early age she wanted to be a vet. And after Whiteside (who also graduated in Spring 2015) found her way back to western Illinois, her animal sciences courses (offered through the School of Ag's pre-vet medicine program) re-affirmed for her that she was on the right path to achieve her childhood career goals. She will attend Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine starting in August.

Real-World, Hands-On Learning

Holtschlag—who played football while at Western and, in 2014, was nationally selected (out of 357 nominees) to receive a NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship—said he didn't grow up on a farm—his interest in working with animals came to him naturally. Although he started at Western with a different major, he came back around to the idea of being a veterinarian after his seeking out advising help.

"I had some early experiences with livestock, and my family had a few dogs while growing up, but, as a kid, every interaction I had with animals just captivated me. I guess I just really enjoyed animals and wanted to be the one to help them, and that feeling still rings true today. I lost sight of the dream through my teenage years, and I actually started at WIU as a law enforcement major. I was quickly losing interest in my major, so I talked to the right people about setting me on the path toward my childhood dream. I was skeptical about my agricultural sciences studies at first, but I quickly began to love it. My advisor in the School of Ag, Ember Keithley, was there to help me feel confident I was on the right path," Holtschlag explained. "Because of the exposure to livestock I received at WIU, I had, for a time, thought I would focus on food animals as a veterinarian; however, I have recently discovered I only knew of a small portion about the areas a veterinarian can work in, so, I am waiting for the exposure I receive in veterinary school to guide me into the area I would like to specialize in," he added.

For Henness, who was raised on her family's small farm in Schuyler County, her interest in becoming a veterinarian was also revived by her interest in her agriculture studies.

"I became interested in animals at a very young age, and I quickly learned animals are not only used for companions, but also for food and fiber as well. After high school, I attended Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville for the first two years of my undergraduate education, but I was struggling to find a major in which I could see myself having a successful career after graduation. So over Christmas break of my second year, I started researching schools to transfer to, and after finding Western and seeing everything the School of Agriculture had to offer, I decided I would try to complete the pre-vet track. I knew if I couldn't meet the prerequisites for acceptance into, or applied and wasn't accepted to, a veterinary school, I would still have a great degree in agriculture science from WIU."

Like Henness, Whiteside also transferred to Western from another university, and she also worked with large and small animals from a very young age.

"Both of my grandparents raised livestock—cattle, pigs and sheep. I had horses growing up, as well as all of the barn cats and dogs," Whiteside explained. "I first learned about WIU's ag pre-vet program my freshman year while attending Spoon River College, but I gave Mizzou a try—more so to get away from my hometown area and try something new for the college scene. But there, I found, my animal science classes were not what I was looking for—they had a lot of textbook information, lots of lectures via PowerPoint and there were entirely too many students to get any hands-on experience in classes or labs. So I decided to transfer to WIU and continue pursuing the pre-veterinary classes via the School of Agriculture's pre-vet program," she noted.

All three alumni agreed the classes, faculty and staff members and opportunities they experienced while undergraduates at Western helped them prepare for what they expect to be busy years ahead in veterinary school.

"The School of Agriculture at Western prepared me immensely for the challenging classes in vet school. The success strategies class helped me perfect my résumé and gave me the skills I needed to interview with potential summer internship companies, as well as veterinary schools. My animal science classes have given me an overview of large animals, as well as animal behavior and hands-on experience during labs at the farm. The School of Agriculture's advisor, Ember Keithley, has been a fantastic mentor during the application process, as well as before and after applying. The director of the School of Agriculture, Dr. Andrew Baker, has also been a great resource for all of my questions regarding professionalism and professional development," Henness said.

"Both Dr. [Samantha] Cunningham's and Dr. [Mark] Hoge's courses in animal science offered hands-on learning. In their courses, we discussed real-life scenarios of raising livestock rather than just covering chapters in a textbook—that type of information sticks in my mind. I think at WIU students get much more real-life learning than other programs may offer," Whiteside added.

It was all the hands-on, "experiential" learning that Holtschlag said set him apart from other applicants.

"I would like to thank the entire department, because I received teaching from everyone, including my classmates, who made me feel welcome and made my time at WIU more enjoyable. In addition to Ember, I would also like to especially thank Dr. Baker for his continued efforts (for writing me letters of recommendation), and Dr. Hoge and Dr. Cunningham for making sure I was out interacting with the animals."

According to Baker, being accepted into vet school at all is an accomplishment all by itself, as only about 43 percent of the individuals who apply get accepted (about four out of 10 individuals).

"There are 30 schools of veterinary medicine in the U.S., and each school accepts a vast majority of their students within the state in which it resides. Each school is also paired up with another state (generally one that borders it), and those schools typically accept students from states without veterinary medicine schools (e.g., like the University of Missouri accepts students from Arkansas.) In addition, each school of veterinary medicine also has to accept a small pool of applicants from any state in the country," Baker explained.

Baker added one of the biggest benefits of the School of Ag's pre-vet program is that WIU students are not just taking the courses with only other pre-vet program candidates, which is the case with many larger institutions' pre-vet programs.

"Our students go to class and get the grades, then they secure employment or internships in the animal field to get the experience. Then they let their applications speak for them during the screening processes they each go through," he said. "The students in our program also obtain real-world experiences working with large animals at the University farm. Our faculty ensure they secure these experiences to enhance their individual applications, and our students compete very well when it comes to getting accepted into schools of veterinary medicine. We are very fortunate to former students like Jimmy, Kayla, and Ashley to promote our program. They each have done a fantastic job of tailoring their degree programs around their acceptance in vet school, and I know they will represent WIU in a positive, professional manner."

For more information about the WIU School of Agriculture's pre-veterinary program, see or contact the School of Agriculture office at (309) 298-1080.

Posted By: Teresa Koltzenburg (
Office of University Communications & Marketing