At 16 years old, Katherine "Kat" Drews already knows what she wants to be when she grows up.
A love of helping animals and a recent two-week educational stay at Iowa State University have solidified Drews as an up-and-coming veterinarian.
Her educational background, long list of extracurriculars (including FFA, marching band, SMART team and team sports), a recent job shadow at a local vet clinic and three glowing letters of recommendation made it possible for Drews to participate in the sixth annual ISU AgDiscovery Program, an outreach program to help high school students learn about careers in plant and animal science and wildlife management.
Drews, a junior at Valders High School with a 3.9 GPA, was the only student from Wisconsin to attend the ISU AgDiscovery program and was selected as one of 16 to participate out of 83 applicants from 13 states.
The program is sponsored by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and comes at no charge to the applicants, other than travel to and from the campus.
"I made life-long friends and I was never bored," Drews said. "It was very nerdy and had a lot of science activities, but I loved all of it and had a great time."
The 16 high school students had the opportunity to live on campus in Eaton Hall during the July 17-30 program. Drews got to see a number of agriculture-related facilities including the Blank Park Zoo, One Heart Equestrian Therapy, Reiman Gardens, Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge, Iowa DNR Springbrook Conservation Education Center, Animal Rescue League, Iowa First Fish, C & M Acres Alpaca Farm, Obviously Ostriches, Summit Farms and many other interesting places.
Students got hands-on experience in anatomy, bacteriology, hematology, parasitology, immunology, embryology, animal necropsies, epidemiology and other veterinary diagnostic procedures. Students also participated in diversity, character and team-building activities and visited the Iowa State Capitol and the Iowa Gold Star Museum.
One of the more memorable things for Drews was performing animal necropsies, non-human autopsies. The students worked on a chicken, adult sheep and fetal pig. She said after the students learned about the animal's anatomies, professional pathologists used the animals for gathering samples for research.
"I don't live on a farm, which surprises a lot of people, but I didn't get queasy doing the necropsies," Drews said. "I found it really cool to be able to learn about the animals in this capacity."
As someone who wants to work primarily with mammals, the visit corresponding to insects and the study of entomology did not interest Drews as much. It might have had something to do with seeing things like hissing cockroaches, tarantulas and scorpions.
"My roommate wants to be an entomologist, so she definitely kept wanting to get closer to the different creatures than I did," Drews said with a laugh.
She did learn from that trip that bugs and insects have a higher protein content than meat. Drews went all in when the students were offered the chance to eat some of the insects, including wax worms and crickets, which she said taste like peanuts.
It was not all necropsies and bug-eating, as the students got down to work with hands-on experience on local farms, the outdoors and in laboratories. They performed bacteria cultures and ran diagnostic tests along with working in conservation areas and research facilities. Participants also learned from university professors and scientists in many different fields.
The students were taken through a barrage of activities from learning about avian influenza, performing bovine ultrasounds, banding birds, and observing spay and neuter surgery. Fun activities such as kayaking, archery, teddy bear surgery, sand volleyball and AgOlympics were also included.
Drews' current goal is to become a small animal vet who also works with large animals for general practice. She has the rest of this year and next before she will take the next step of moving off to college, but she is determined to come out with a veterinary degree.
"Now I want to be a vet more than ever, and AgDiscovery gave me confirmation that I can be a vet," Drews said.
She is considering Iowa State as a potential college destination, as she felt right at home in Ames. And after hearing from the professors, their vet student counselors and administrators, she has a lot of information about the programs at the university.
"I would not have gotten into this program without the recommendation letters from Valders guidance counselor Tara Bruckner, biology and chemistry teacher Joe Kinscher and agriculture teacher Jeff Griffey," Drews said.
The opportunity Drews had to take part in AgDiscovery makes her want to see more students from Wisconsin and the Manitowoc County area apply.