LMU Senior Tackles Veterinary Imbalance

When Vivian Vallin was growing up, her family never took their dog to a veterinarian. Neither do a lot of other Hispanic families. Vallin, a senior biology student at Loyola Marymount University, said one of the reasons is that taking animals to doctors has not traditionally been part of Latino culture; the other is that there are not many Latino veterinarians.

“Ninety percent of veterinaries are white,” said Vallin. “Hispanics, African Americans, Asian and Native Americans are underrepresented in veterinarian medicine.” Vallin is working on changing that statistic.

Vallin suspected the reason for the lack of diversity in veterinarian medicine was because minority high school students aren’t getting information about the field. She was right. Vallin conducted a survey of 80 Latino high school students asking why so few are interested in studying veterinary medicine. Her research found while 95 percent believed that animals deserve high-quality vet care, and consider pet to be family members, few considered it a career open to ethnic minorities.

“The results highlighted the students’ lack of information overall about the profession. Based on their limited interaction with veterinarians and the lack of knowledge about the profession, it is difficult to cultivate interest in pursing that career,” said Vallin. Her research will be published in the next issue of the Journal of Veterinary Medical Education.

“I suspect that Vivian will not stop until the numbers of students of color enrolled in vet programs has doubled and tripled,” said Vivian’s mentor, Karen Mary Davalos, an associate professor in the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies.. “I know that in the future, Vivian will be remembered for her work to make higher education more equitable.”

Vallin was one of three LMU students to recently win a poster presentation at the Society for Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science 2008 National conference in Salt Lake City.

“I was really excited and I didn’t expect to win, there were more than 500 undergraduate and graduate students there. I was also proud that two of my friends from LMU who also won,” said Vallin.

Martin Ramirez, associate professor of biology, was ecstatic about LMU’s success at the conference “Vallin is a motivated student and it is unusual to have a biology student cross-study biology and social science. She also goes out of her way to help freshmen and sophomores.”

Vallin has also won the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Program, which provides a continuing source of highly qualified scientists, mathematicians and engineers by awarding scholarships to college students who intend to pursue careers in these fields. She is the 16th winner of the Goldwater Scholar from LMU. Vallin will receive the Donald P. Merrifield, S.J. Award, a scholarship given by the Mexican American Alumni Association on November 20, 2008 at The Center at Cathedral Plaza, Cathedral of Our Lady of Angeles in downtown Los Angeles.

Vallin hopes begin veterinary school next year. She has applied to Cornell University, University of California, Davis, University of Pennsylvania, Tufts University and Colorado State University. Whichever school she attends, Vallin will take with her everything she learned at LMU.

“When I came to LMU I thought this was a step to get into vet school. But LMU’s commitment to serve the community and the academic excellence I experienced here has made me want to become a leader in the veterinary community.”