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Cummings faculty invest in education—for their students, and themselves
In a commitment to lifelong learning, five professors at Cummings are headed back to school, pursuing masters’ degrees in education to complement their specialized clinical and scientific training.
August 3, 2021

Faculty members at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine have diverse expertise in a variety of specializations. While they are well-positioned to pass along that knowledge to the next generation of veterinarians, they don’t always have formal training in education.

In a commitment to lifelong learning, five professors at Cummings are headed back to school, pursuing masters’ degrees in education to complement their specialized clinical and scientific training.

“The participation of our faculty in these programs is supported by Cummings School because it reflects our commitment to education,” says Dr. Alastair Cribb, Dean at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.

“However, this also represents a significant personal commitment from the faculty members who end up spending a lot of their personal time completing these programs. The end result will be a huge benefit to our students.”

The pursuit of deeper learning

Dr. Julia G. Wilkinson is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Cummings. She graduated from Tufts, completed an internship, and then returned for a faculty position.

“I wanted to stay in New England and focus on horses in the field, and this position fit that bill,” Wilkinson says. “I’m kind of a lifer.”

She will be entering her third year of the Master’s in Veterinary Education program through the Royal Veterinary College in London.

Wilkinson enrolled in the master’s program with the goal of becoming a better teacher. She hopes to develop courses that make the veterinary medicine curriculum more “student-learner friendly.”

“Sometimes when our students are going through lecture after lecture, the learning tends to be pretty superficial, because they are always studying for that next test. My hope is that over time, our curriculum allows for true deeper learning,” Wilkinson says.

A focus on animal welfare

For Dr. Erin King, Clinical Assistant Professor at Cummings, pursuing a Master’s in Animal Welfare will allow her to obtain a specialty board certification that no other faculty member currently holds at Cummings.

“It’s a very complicated board certification to obtain, and there aren’t many training programs available,” King says. One of the few such programs is through the University of Pennsylvania, which offers a special track for veterinarians interested in the board certification. King is starting that program this year.

King specializes in food animal welfare, with a focus on dairy. She believes that as humans, we have an ethical responsibility to ensure food animals are treated humanely.

“We raise these animals as food for ourselves to consume, whether it’s meat or milk, and I think we really owe them the best life possible in those circumstances,” King says.

“Right now, more than ever, consumers are very interested in where their food comes from and how it was raised. It’s really important to them that farmers are transparent. I think veterinarians play a big role in that,” King says. Ultimately, she hopes to bring more welfare-related courses to the curriculum at Cummings.

Breaking the “one-size-fits-all mold”

Dr. Michele Keyerleber is an Associate Professor at Cummings who specializes in an advanced area of veterinary medicine called radiation oncology. She is starting her master’s program in veterinary education this year.

Keyerleber intends to help integrate new technologies for teaching and learning into the curriculum at Cummings to better suit the learning styles of different students.

“I want to bring more diversity of approaches to individual courses, rather than a one-size-fits-all mold,” Keyerleber says.

In particular, she hopes to improve clinical instruction for 4th year students.

“That’s where students learn the hands-on of how to be a doctor. I think more can be done with that avenue to make it a solid learning experience, rather than just a shadowing and peripheral experience,” Keyerleber says.

Supporting students by celebrating diversity

Dr. Rafael Senos is an Assistant Professor at Cummings and is pursuing a Master’s in Education at Tufts University. Senos is interested in receiving formal training as an educator so he may incorporate more evidence-based research into his instruction. He also wants to connect more deeply with the people he is teaching.

“I didn’t want to just learn methodologies and pedagogical approaches, but also to understand, who are our students?” Senos says.

In addition to his teaching role, he serves as a representative and faculty liaison for the diversity group and Latin-X student association on campus.

“Our community specifically has a small but significant amount of diversity representing different ethnicities,” Senos says. He has found that minority, international, and first-generation students experience unique challenges.

“While talking to my students, I realized they were facing judgment and other types of complexity,” Senos says. “I want to better understand their struggles.”

The credibility of a master’s degree—without the student loans

Dr. Ariana Hinckley-Boltax developed her interest in education and veterinary medicine in parallel.

“I remember the moment I realized I could actually put the two together. That was a mind-blowing day,” Hinckley-Boltax says.

For years, she had been interested in pursuing a master’s degree but couldn’t take on another student loan. When she was hired at Cummings as an Assistant Professor earlier this year, her supervisors recommended the Master’s in Veterinary Education program through the Royal Veterinary College in London.

“When I expressed my financial concerns, they explained that there were resources available to help. I have faculty funds which are part of my hire that I can put toward the program, and I received a faculty development grant which covers tuition, such that I don’t actually have to pay anything,” Hinckley-Boltax says.

While she has been participating in various forms of teacher training for years through continuing education courses, conferences, and other activities, Hinckley-Boltax wanted the master’s credential to solidify her commitment to education.

“It gives credibility and formalizes all of the work that I’ve been doing,” Hinckley-Boltax says.

As someone who has always valued the safety and support she received in school, Hinckley-Boltax wants to make her students feel just as comfortable when they are in her classroom.

“School isn’t always a safe place for everyone, but I want to try and make it that safe place for people—accepting, accommodating, so learning is something that people desire and want to immerse themselves in,” Hinckley-Boltax says.

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