Since Pierce College’s Pre-Veterinary program was formed in 1990, students like Dr. Shane Marie Nelson have successfully transferred to veterinary graduate schools from Davis to Dublin and Gainesville to Guadalajara.
Graduate schools accept Pierce students 87.5 percent of the time, according to Dr. Leland Shapiro, pre-veterinary adviser and chair of the Agriculture Department.
This year will mark the 200th Pierce alumni to successfully transfer to a veterinary graduate school.
“I don’t think you can find another pre-vet program anywhere in the United States that has students as successful as ours,” Shapiro said.
Nelson transferred to University of California, Davis in 2006 and graduated in 2010. She says that although not every Pierce class translated well to graduate school, small class sizes, personal instruction and student support more than made up for it.
“I chose to go to Pierce because I knew they had a good record of getting students accepted into schools,” Nelson said. “I was going to go to Santa Monica [College] and it sounded miserable—I would’ve been the only one trying to get into vet school—it’s just so helpful to be surrounded by people that are trying to do the same thing.”
Kim O’Bryan, assistant director of admissions at UC Davis, says that Pierce applicants know what is expected of them.
“The pre-vet adviser, Dr. Lee Shapiro, does a great job of mentoring his students and making sure they are informed about the requirements and experience necessary to submit a competitive application,” O’Bryan said in an email.
Shapiro publishes a play-by-play pre-veterinary handbook that strongly encourages students to participate in the Pierce’s Pre-Vet Club.
The club is one of the oldest on campus and currently has around 175 members, Shapiro said.
“What’s nice about the club is it offers a fun but still very instructive area for the students away from the faculty members, to get to know the program and to be able to talk about what classes can we take,” said Benjamin Merkel, 31, president of the Pre-Vet Club.
Coincidentally, Nelson was also a past president of the club.
“It was good. It gave us an organized way to motivate each other,” Nelson said.
Alice Song, 28, says that she enjoys the challenge of the pre-veterinary program. Song has a master’s degree in acupuncture and oriental medicine from South Baylo University in Los Angeles.
“There are so many experiences that you can have here. From the farm and the people here and how you network, it’s all worth it,” Song said.
Many students credit Shapiro as an influential part in their success in the program.
“He is an amazing person. He’s so helpful,” Song said. “[If there’s] anything you need, just go to his office. He is always, always there.”
Merkel said that the guidance and support of Shapiro is instrumental to the program’s continuance.
“Like every program, we are fighting for budget,“ Merkel said. “If Dr. Shapiro was not here fighting everyday for fundraisers, for support from the local community to keep this program going, it wouldn’t still be here.”
Seven years later, Nelson’s connections to Pierce College continue.
“Dr. Shapiro still sends me a happy birthday email every single year, “ she said. “I’m still very close friends with two of the girls that I went through Pierce with. It was an overall wonderful experience.”
Shapiro thought about a goal of 100 students shortly after forming the program, he said. In the first year, all 18 of the Pierce applicants were accepted. Shapiro then raised his goal even higher.
The lofty goal of 200 students, which he also set, is coming to fruition just in time 23 years later. In July 2011, Shapiro suffered a brain tumor. It was successfully removed last year but it advanced his plans, he said.
“I would like to stay another two years,” Dr. Shapiro said. “Right now there’s no money to replace me when I retire.”
Although it is not exactly as he planned, when the next student is accepted by a graduate school, Shapiro will reach his personal goal before retirement.
“I don’t even know of any other pre-vet programs,” Nelson said. “The program is him.”