Ingrid Skjong

If 3-year-old Jordan Lacher’s delighted reactions to animals is any indication of things to come, a future in veterinary medicine is a distinct possibility.
And for any budding veterinarian, the place to be Sunday was the College of Veterinary Medicine’s annual open house held on the St. Paul campus.
“We’d come over here all the time if we could,” said Jordan’s father, Steve Lacher. “She loves her animals.
The open house, which organizers estimated to draw 4,000 to 5,000 people, is the largest single event held at the University. A valued tradition at the veterinary college for more than 20 years, the event aims to generate fun and enthusiasm for the school and field in general. The organizational responsibilities for the occasion lie with the school’s freshman class — an undertaking that evokes a great deal of pride within the class.
“They’re trying to organize the school’s showcase,” said David Thawley, dean of the veterinary college. “It really introduces them to the school.”
Freshman Sarah Karsten’s introduction began last fall when she became the chairwoman for the event. Over the past six months Karsten and various other committees worked out the details of the event, from recruiting student volunteers to sending out invitations to veterinary clinics around the state.
All the promotion and planning payed off. The college received thousands of calls during the week leading up to the open house from people requesting information and expressing interest.
“I think people are a little more proud of (the school) when they see it and a little more in awe,” Karsten said.
For prospective students, the open house provides a unique opportunity to see the school from an internal perspective. Tours of the facilities give visitors a thorough picture of what the college offers.
Access to the teaching hospital and clinic particularly gives a beneficial glimpse of what the school does. The clinic, which is the principal referral clinic in the region, treats 20,000 animal patients a year.
Larry Bjorklund, College of Veterinary Medicine director of admissions, held two seminars outlining the often competitive admissions process. For many students, the information plays a large role in their educations.
“I think if you were to survey (veterinary students), probably the majority have come to the open house,” Bjorklund said.
Along with Bjorklund’s presentations, a panel of current veterinary students shared their experiences and gave advice on dealing with the rigors of veterinary school.
Nate Meyer, a 31-year-old first-year student at the college, credits the open-house panel he attended two years ago with solidifying his decision to pursue a career in veterinary medicine.
The panel he attended included a mother of six who had operated a dairy farm and was a junior at the school. Twenty-nine years of age at the time, Meyer was older than the average entering student, but any doubts he had quickly disappeared.
“I thought, If she can do it, I can do it,'” said Meyer, who worked for an environmental company before embarking on his second career.
Although helping prospective students and promoting the college is a large part of the open house, a shared love of animals is the real impetus. Publicized as a family event, the mixture of fun and learning attracts a myriad of excited children and animal aficionados with pets in tow.
More than 50 organizations, ranging from the college’s Feline Club to the Wildlife Science Center in Forest Lake, set up booths to promote their causes.
Becky Dvorak, a member of the Minnesota Companion Bird Association, was happy with the chance to show off her exotic birds. The vividly colored parrots drew quite a crowd.
“We have a lot of birds that people haven’t seen,” she said as she stroked a 6-week-old parrot nestled in a nest of newspaper. “It’s good exposure.”
Farm animals also received their time in the spotlight at the popular petting zoo. Kids and parents alike had the chance to rub noses with baby goats, pet a calf and witness the campus’s famous fistulated cow.
With an opening called a fistula in its stomach to allow access to its digested food, the cow is part of a feed study at the college. Freshman Michelle Knutson encouraged visitors to don shoulder-length plastic gloves and explore the cow’s digestive system.
“The kids seem to love it,” she said. “They kind of like being grossed out by it.”
Showcasing the animals gives “city folks” the opportunity to experience farm animals first hand, something a lot of children might not normally be able to see, Meyer said.
Thawley added that if an 8-year-old’s interest is piqued as much as a high school senior’s, all the better.