Alea Dews with her cat “Sir” and dog “Khaleesi” at WSU’s Honors College.

WSU Honors Student accepted to England’s Royal Veterinary College

By: Phyllis Shier, WSU Honors College,

Alea Dews appreciates how her Honors classes established a foundation for the challenging curriculum she faced with WSU’s Pre-Veterinary Medicine program, even when some courses felt like a stretch.

“I took a course in technology, and, initially going in, I thought ‘Why do I care about this? It’s nothing related to my major!’” said Dews, who will graduate this May with a bachelor’s degree in Animal Sciences and pre-veterinary medicine. Next September Dews begins coursework at the prestigious Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in England, with the goal of becoming an equine veterinarian.

Today, Dews looks at courses like the one in technology a bit differently. “It opened my eyes that there are a lot of approaches to things, and I really need to be aware of that especially since I’ll be studying abroad next Fall,” she said. Additional honors courses, including one that examined social and political issues through film, and a current course taught by Honors Dean Grant Norton that compares plastics and recycling practices in different cities, helped to broaden and nuance her worldview.

That nuance helped her to challenge and expand her views on caring for and training horses in courses she took with CAHNRS lecturer, Angie Reitmeier. Dews has been riding and showing horses since she was seven. She joined the WSU Equestrian Team as a freshman and continued with it through her junior year. Yet, Reitmeier’s approach to rearing and caring for horses was very different from what Dews had experienced.

“I don’t know if more ‘natural’ is the word but the way she trains is very different from what I’ve grown up with in the show horse world, so that helped me a lot,” Dews said. “After I get out of vet school and I have to actually go and deal with different clients I’ll have to be open-minded to different methods, having to adapt myself to how to do things differently but still get the job accomplished.”

Dews also benefitted greatly from an internship with Dr. Dana Westerman, a mobile veterinarian she shadowed and assisted for two summers in Monroe, Washington. “I’d help her set things up then I’d watch and ask questions,” Dews said. She also helped to hold and calm horses when Westerman conducted procedures. “She’d kind of teach me ‘this is the problem, and this is how you’d go about it,’” Dews said. Westerman partners with a program called “Heartstings for Horses” an organization that “grafts” orphaned foals onto adoptive mares. Dews became interested in this procedure, pursuing it further for her thesis project with Reitmeier.

“I have had the pleasure of knowing Alea as a student in my equine classes, as a teaching assistant in horsemanship, and as her honors thesis advisor. Every step of the way, she demonstrated her passion and commitment to becoming an equine veterinarian, and now she takes a giant step into the Royal Veterinary College in London,” Reitmeier said. “I couldn’t be more proud and have no doubt she will shine as brightly there as she did during her undergraduate years at WSU.”

As Dews prepares for England, she does so with confidence and a new appreciation of the synergistic efforts that led to her degree. “As far as people, I don’t really know anyone there so that will be a full fresh start,” she said of RVC. Dews was drawn to the college for their facilities and research program. “They have a CT machine for horses, state-of-the-art operating theatres, and do more extensive surgeries than you see in other places,” she said. Dews is also interested in research into Pituitary Pars Intermedia Dysfunction (PPID). Also known as equine Cushings, PPID is caused by overproduction of pituitary hormones causing a variety of ailments in horses and ponies of advanced age. Dews saw cases of PPID while shadowing Dr. Westerman. “I thought it would be really cool to be at the university that’s at the forefront for some of this research,” she said.

The process for getting into the Royal Veterinary College was arduous. It included a second application to accompany the veterinarian common application, supplemental essays, and, once she was invited to interview, a group activity with four other applicants and a series of six individual interviews in Dallas, Texas.

“It was nerve-wracking!” Dews said. But she’s also quick to point out how the presentation-based nature of her honors courses prepared her for the process.

“Coming out of high school I was definitely a lot more shy than I am now. Public speaking helped me to come out of my bubble a bit and that ultimately helped me with my interviews to vet schools,” she said. “Honors College professors teach really specific issues in their classes but the concepts behind what they are teaching relate to a lot of different things.”