Exotic animals and their care in a zoo has been a lifelong dream for Kylee Knott of North Platte while Reiley Wieland of Kenesaw is specializing in equine health.
Both are non-traditional students completing their first year in the Veterinary Technology Systems (VTS) program at the University of Nebraska-Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA). The two women took different routes to enter the two-year school at Curtis.
“I was in Lincoln doing a pre-vet degree and had a moment of clarity, realizing that I didn’t want to do that anymore,” says Wieland, 22, “I wanted to specialize in horses, and NCTA is really the only vet tech program in this area of the country that has a large-animal emphasis, too.”
Knott’s epiphany was more circuitous. She left high school and later earned her GED while in Kearney, married, had two sons and gained two older step-sons, worked various jobs including as a certified nursing assistant, but kept searching for something that suited her dream.
“When I was hitting a roadblock in the employment field, not getting me good jobs, I looked into embalming as a mortician or I wanted to be a vet tech,” Knott says. “I want to help support my family.”
So, she commutes the 90-mile round trip to and from North Platte most days, unless she is serving her role in the facilities management rotation. Then, she stays on campus and has a taste of dorm life to be there for the 7 a.m. responsibility of feeding the 150-plus animals in the teaching program.
All VTS students share in the rotation which fits around a full day of classes, 15 days of duties, 15 days off, including weekend care. They feed animals from 7-8 a.m., check over the noon hour, and do evening chores from 4-6 p.m. And, they also play with the animals, ensuring social time and exercise.
“Every day we clean and feed (the animals), and make sure everybody is okay, and then we get up and do it again the next day,” says Wieland, who serves double-duty, too, as one of the six resident assistants in the campus dormitories.
As a National Guard medic based with a Lincoln unit, Wieland also “has a lot of human medicine under my belt.” For almost five years, she’s made monthly trips to Lincoln for Guard duty, and benefits from the monthly stipends and tuition assistance. She has one year left on her contract.
Her focus this summer is taking classes, studying, working on NCTA’s campus and editing the campus newsletter, “Aggie Up.” For fall semester, she looks forward to classes in Nursing II, equine diseases, and equine anesthesia. And, her horse, Felina, a 6-year-old Mustang from a federal horse adoption program, will be coming back from summer pasture at Kenesaw to private boarding near campus. NCTA’s program has proven to be just the ticket.
“It is nice to learn in a small community, where the instructors know you and understand what your goals are,” she said. “All the instructors really know what they are teaching, and that is a big deal for me. I like to learn from someone who has been there and done that.”
Barbara Berg, VTS division chair, is an NCTA alum and licensed vet tech, and holds a Bachelors’ Degree from Kearney State College. She’s been an NCTA instructor for over 30 years, and credits faculty, extensive hands-on learning, and the on-going technology and facilities upgrades for a comprehensive VTS program.
New construction three years ago enhanced the division by adding modern animal housing facilities, a working laboratory area, and a teaching clinic (hospital).
Currently, twice a week, the clinic provides students a simulated private practice setting where they can perform intake on a patient. NCTA students can bring their pets or animals to the clinic for check-ups and health care. It is not open to the public, to avoid competition with private enterprise.
“It is helpful for our students to work with patients in a hospital setting,” Berg said. “They learn the whole picture that way.”
Instructors share in teaching duties, and are busy daily. Even during the summer, vet tech students are on campus for about 40 days of classes.
Along with Berg, VTS faculty include: Professor Ricky Sue Barnes Wach, DVM; Assistant Professor Judy Bowmaster Cole,a licensed vet tech; Lecturer Steve Krull, DVM, with a private practice in Curtis; and Assistant Professor Cory Heath, DVM.
Students laud their expertise, and respect the dedication each has to teaching, said Knott.
“As a non-traditional student and looking at my children and their future, this is the perfect campus,” she said. “Students have freedom to be who they are individually and it is small enough that instructors do not lose sight of the students. There is a lot of attention and caring.”
From dog grooming and pharmacology, to equine reproduction and radiology, the hands-on environment for students is important.
“The students here at Curtis are very fortunate in that each instructor understands the importance of setting up the class labs in a manner that allows the students to pursue their particular area of interest,” Berg said. “Yet, they ensure that each and every student has the same opportunities to learn the skill sets so important to the real world job.
“The students do not just watch a veterinarian or technician as they demonstrate the skill, they actually have the chance to practice, and perform the skills themselves.”
Tally a list of 100-plus competency skills students must learn, from all facets of animal care and through all the programs classes. That is why clinical and hands-on settings are so important.
At completion of their second year, vet tech students must pass an exit exam, have a cumulate grade point average of 3.0 and complete the required 80 credit hours to receive an Associate of Applied Science degree.
While NCTA emphasizes hands-on in each of its four major degree programs to earn the Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science degree, VTS is the one program that readies students for a national exam.
In order to work as a licensed veterinary technician in Nebraska, the vet tech must pass the Veterinary Technical National Exam. Once passed, then they obtain their license to work in a private practice or clinic, or other areas where a license is advantageous.
Many doors can be opened with the VT license, Berg said, in private practice, education, shelters or humane societies, government, research and private industry.
A new NCTA veterinary technology education program called “Comparative Medicine” will start in the Fall 2014, and will be located at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in Omaha. It will feature many of the existing NCTA courses, with greater emphasis on animal care in a health-related research or laboratory setting. Dr. Glenn Jackson heads NCTA’s new Comparative Medicine option.
Although Knott may not eventually move her family to a community with a zoo, she now is finding other opportunities in the region do exist for her such as private practice, small business as a consultant for companion animals, and has even tested the many birds and exotic animals which reside at Cody Park in North Platte and ponders a specialty in disease prevention.
Wieland, on the other hand, envisions her career could take her to the eastern U.S., where large horse farms or stables are abundant and can expand her knowledge and skills in equine health.
“I’d like to get where the summers are nicer and horses are more expensive,” she says with a chuckle.
NCTA’s Veterinary Technology Systems program started in 1968 and was one of the first programs in the nation to be accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association in the early 1970s.
Program major options:
Equine Health Care
Animal Health Management
Additional minors options:
Agriculture Production Systems
VT option requirements for Associate of Applied Science Degree:
80 credit hours of observation in a veterinary clinic
80 credit hours of structured classes covering AVMA essential skills
12-week internship at the end of second year
Have a cumulative GPA of 80% (3.0 of 4.0 scale)
Pass an NCTA exit exam