Biology Grad to Begin Veterinary School at University of Pennsylvania

Monday, May 2, 2016

by Elizabeth Krotulis '17

Biology major Pooja Patel ’16 grew up helping her parents take care of small animals at their veterinary clinic in her hometown of Newtown, Pennsylvania. After completing her bachelor’s degree in just three years at SJU, Patel will take the next step in pursuing her dream of becoming a veterinarian by attending the top-ranked University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, to earn a Veterinariae Medicinae Doctoris (VMD).

“It never occurred to me that I wanted to do anything else,” says Patel. “I was always determined to be on this path. I wanted to graduate early, because I knew I could reach my end goal quicker.”

Patel, an Honors Program student, entered SJU with credits earned from high school AP classes. However, she knew it would be difficult to fit her remaining course requirements into three years of fall, spring and summer semesters. Despite doubts from faculty members and sometimes herself, Patel’s undying determination accompanied by guidance from her older sister, who also completed her undergraduate degree in three years, motivated her to complete her heavy class load.

“Even before Pooja stepped foot on campus, she contacted me and wanted to take six courses per semester, more than the recommended four for most biology majors,” says Patel’s advisor and Associate Professor of Biology Julia Lee-Soety, Ph.D. “Since then, she has been extremely driven and sharply focused on achieving her goals.”

From 1,200 applicants, Patel is one of only 125 students entering the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Following her anticipated four years of veterinary training, Patel plans to spend one year interning, then three to four more years pursuing a specialty in either ophthalmology or animal nutrition. “I know there’s a long road ahead of me,” says Patel with a smile.

Patel has made the most of her time at SJU, beginning at orientation, when she first reached out to biodiversity lab director Scott McRobert, Ph.D, professor of biology. She began training at the lab during her first semester. The following spring, she took responsibility for several tanks of fish and turtles with which she hadn't previously had the opportunity to interact.

As a part of her fall 2015 upper-level research course, Patel chose to study the salinities that diamondback terrapin hatchlings best thrive in with McRobert. She was joined this spring by two lab partners, Grace Kocubinski ’16 and Margo Renzi ’16. Together, they presented their findings at the Celebration of Student Achievement and the Sigma Xi symposium on campus. Currently, they are writing a paper to submit to scientific journals.

“Pooja’s project was to maintain this huge collection of diamondback terrapin babies (which is hard enough) in two salinities, and monitor their growth,” says McRobert. “This required a ton of work — feeding, cleaning and weekly measures of every turtle. She also had to maintain a method to ID each turtle, which involved adding drops of nail polish to their shells. It was a great project and she did a wonderful job.”

Along with her biology major, Patel’s coursework at SJU has led her to pursue a religious studies minor and connect deeper with her personal faith, Swaminarayan, a branch of Hinduism. One of her religious studies classes mentioned Sanskrit, the classical language of India and liturgical language of Hinduism, and she was inspired to study it with her professor, David Carpenter, Ph.D., associate professor of theology.

Patel stays actively involved in her temple’s community. She travels home every Sunday to serve as a team leader of the temple’s 30-member youth group, and to lead high school and college girls in conversation about religious and social justice issues.

“Honestly, when I go [to temple], I forget about the test that’s tomorrow, or the paper that’s due, she says. “I have so much stuff going on, but when I go there, it’s like my relaxation point.”

Patel will begin her time at veterinary school in August. This summer, with her undergraduate degree completed, she plans to enjoy time to herself.

“I’ve always had so many things to do over the summers — classes, studying for the GREs and also working as a veterinary technician assistant,” says Patel. “Now, I’ll finally take a break before I go into another four crazy years.”

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