Help Along the Way: The Mentoring Workshop


Catherine Claxton

Catherine Claxton (’11 VBS) knew she wanted to be a veterinarian since she was young. “I grew up on a farm, and I love animals,” says Claxton. “Working as livestock vet would be a perfect fit.” As her senior year approached and the search for vet school began, Claxton quickly became overwhelmed by the application process. Help appeared as she wandered—almost literally—into the Ag Alumni Society Mentoring Workshop.

Claxton ran into her friend Sarah Peterson (’11 IID), who at the time was an intern for the society and urged her to attend the fall workshop. She learned that it’s designed to connect Penn State students with alumni working in their future professions. Claxton was introduced to Carrie Bomgardner (’97 Dairy and An Sci, ’01 MBA Bus), communications director for the PA Beef Council who gave her advice and contact information for Penn State alumni mentors.

Claxton was put in touch with veterinarian Jody Kull (’01 An Bio). “Dr. Kull is my idol; not only was she the president of her class but she’s also opened her own practice in Danville,” says Claxton. “Dr. Kull wrote thoughtful e-mails to me, giving advice on everything from finding a school that would best suit my goals to methods of applying to graduate school.”

She met veterinarian Mike Kowalewski (’99 Dairy and An Sci) when she stopped at the spring workshop to say thank you for all the help she received in the fall. Kowalewski answered questions regarding the challenging interview portion of graduate school application. He also advised her on possible discussion topics that she wasn’t as familiar with, such as issues of small-animal care. The mentoring paid off. Claxton confidently applied to her top five graduate school choices and was accepted to her first choice: the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of  Veterinary Medicine, a branch of Virginia Tech.

Acceptance into vet school didn’t spell the end to Claxton’s connection to her alumni mentors. She was introduced to Christina Petersson-Wolfe (’00 Dairy and An Sci), assistant professor of dairy science at Virginia Tech. Petersson-Wolfe helped Claxton with the practical side of vet school—finding people to show her around campus, giving her tips on places to live in the area, and putting her in touch with graduate students who might be looking for roommates.

As Claxton makes the move from Penn State to Virginia, she reflects on all the help she has received. “The greatest part of the mentoring program is how willing the alumni mentors are to go above and beyond to help students,” she says. “The confidence, knowledge, and contacts I made were incredible tools.”

Photo: Steve Williams