Banner Year: 12 Southeast Students Accepted to Vet School


Ashley Vonder Haar has dreamed of a lifetime working with animals.

She inches one step closer to her dream job when she graduates this week from Southeast Missouri State University and moves on to the University of Missouri (UM) College of Veterinary Medicine next fall. There, she will find herself among several familiar faces.

After all, five of her fellow Southeast classmates also have been admitted to UM veterinary school next fall, and five others will be attending other vet schools across the country.

“We had 12 students get into vet school this year!” said Dr. Julie Weathers, chair of the Department of Agriculture at Southeast Missouri State University and the pre-vet advisor.

It’s an amazing feat in one academic year and one Weathers acknowledges is unprecedented at Southeast.

Andrew Bell

Spring and summer graduates who have completed Southeast’s pre-veterinary program and have been accepted and are moving on to veterinary school are:

  • Dakota Arnold of East Prairie, Missouri, who plans to attend St. Matthews
  • Andrew Bell of Jackson, Missouri, who plans to attend the University of Missouri;
  • Julea Buob of Bloomington, Illinois, who plans to attend the University of Illinois but was also accepted at University of Arizona;
  • Alexis Darnstaedt of Carterville, Illinois, who plans to attend the University of Missouri;
  • Hannah Lewis of Fredericktown, Missouri, who plans to attend the University of Missouri but was also accepted at University of Illinois;
  • Erica Payne of Doniphan, Missouri, who plans to attend the University of Missouri;
  • Benjamin Rado of Arnold, Missouri, who plans to attend the University of Illinois;
  • Ali Reno of Caruthersville, Missouri, who plans to attend Louisiana State University;
  • Kaylee Robinson of Jacksonville, Illinois, who was accepted to both the University of Illinois and the University of Missouri veterinary schools and plans to attend the University of Missouri;
  • Belinda Strack of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, who plans to attend Mississippi State;
  • Clayton Stull of Kelso, Missouri, who plans to attend the University of Missouri; and
  • Ashley Vonder Haar of Carylyle, Illinois, who was accepted to both the University of Illinois and the University of Missouri’s veterinary schools, and plans to attend the University of Missouri

All but Reno, a biology major, are agribusiness majors, animal science option, at Southeast.

“This group of students is very focused. They have done so much with grades and shadowing. It’s really remarkable how much they have dedicated themselves here at SEMO,” Weathers said.

Ashley Vonder Haar

“This is also a very involved group of students which makes a difference when those applications are submitted,” she said.

Among the vet school acceptants in this group are the president of Southeast’s Pre-Vet Club (Payne) and the president of the Southeast Ag Club (Vonder Haar), Weathers said.

Southeast’s close-knit Department of Agriculture encouraged their students to become involved in a variety of clubs that allowed them to make new connections, learn more about the animal industry and participate in countless opportunities for leadership.

“I was also fortunate enough to travel to Ecuador with the department to study agriculture in a foreign country and work for several years at the David M. Barton Agriculture Research Center,” Robinson said.

The graduating students have varied interests, Weathers say — some large animal, some small animal, and some with an exotic animal focus.

“It’s really great to see that variety,” she said.

Vonder Haar, Payne, Stull, Strack and Robinson say they would like to work in a rural mixed animal clinic treating pets, livestock and horses when they complete vet school, with Robinson hoping to serve in a rural area. Lewis hopes to return to the Fredericktown Animal Hospital where she’s been employed since she was 16, while Payne is interested in working with both large and small animals. Strack dreams of returning to Cape Girardeau County, becoming a livestock veterinarian, helping with the local 4-H clubs and becoming a project leader.

While at the University of Missouri, Darnstaedt plans to join the Army Health Professionals Program, serve in active duty to our country after completing her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and eventually carve out a career working in the 24-hour emergency division of veterinary care.

Many of the 11 indicate that a career as a veterinarian has been a lifelong dream.

“I grew up on a dairy farm, so I have been working with animals my entire life,” Vonder Haar said. “There is nothing else I see myself doing besides working with animals.”

Unlike Vonder Haar, some of the students say their interest in veterinarian medicine was sparked during their years at Southeast.

“I originally started out my SEMO journey as an exceptional child education major and realized very quickly it was not the route for me. I wanted to go into a career in the medical field and switched to Pre-Physician Assistant and also took Animal Science 101,” Buob said. “I think it was as an elective. I immediately fell in love with the curriculum and changed my major to animal science. I am beyond grateful that I decided to take that course.”

Robinson shared a similar sentiment, saying she arrived at Southeast as a biomedical sciences major.

“I decided to change my major to agribusiness, animal science, because I loved all of the hands-on classes that the department offered,” she said. “In my animal science courses, we learned many hands-on skills such as administering vaccines, castrating, artificial insemination and blood testing.”

The pre-vet students repeatedly point to Southeast faculty as pivotal in challenging them and encouraging them to reach their full potential.

“My education here at Southeast truly broadened my knowledge of animal science. I would like to thank Dr. (Stephen) Curry, an adjunct instructor that teaches ‘Companion Animal Anatomy & Physiology,’ and Dr. Weathers, my advisor. Both of them taught me so much.”

Like Robinson, Payne and Stull also say completing their degrees at Southeast connected them with mentors, particularly Dr. Stephen Curry and Dr. Sean Byrd, who they credit for guiding them as pre-veterinary students.

“I consider them both to be mentors, but also friends,” Payne said.

During an “Animal Anatomy and Physiology” course he taught, Curry encouraged Payne to consider a shadowing experience at Skyview Animal Clinic, where she, in turn, met Byrd.

“Dr. Byrd teaches a ‘Companion Animals and Companion Animal Diseases’ course, all while running one of the top veterinary clinics in Cape Girardeau. He has taught me so much about what it means to be a great boss as well as a veterinarian,” she said. “Both Dr. Curry and Dr. Byrd have been so encouraging to me, giving me confidence and believing in me when I didn’t always believe in myself. I’m so thankful to Southeast for leading me to them both!”

Stull also worked with Byrd at Skyview Animal Clinic and said Curry’s expertise has been invaluable.

“He was always very supportive and had good advice about applying to vet school,” he said.

Buob said Southeast’s faculty provided diverse experiences that helped prepare her for topics she expects to be introduced to in veterinary school.

“Dr. Siemers was an amazing influence and really made sure that every single person in her class was succeeding,” she said. “I loved working with her in every class I took. She was a role model for me and is what I could potentially become.”

Payne added, “The faculty — especially those in the Agriculture Department, really care about their students as well as what they’re teaching. One thing that’s great about Southeast is that the classes are relatively small, which helps the class to be more engaging and personal. Some of my favorite classes were spent getting hands-on experience at the University farm.”

Time and again, the group of students point to Weathers for the foundation she provided them to spread their wings in vet school.

Alexis Darnstaedt

“Her classes always kept me interested, and I feel like I remember the most from her classes over all of the others I have taken, especially in animal reproduction and animal diseases and immunology,” Stull said.

Darnstaedt said Southeast’s professors are very involved in their students’ education and “help push you to be the best version of yourself you can be. I found that even when I struggled with my chemistry classes, the professors reached out and helped me push through and maintain the grades I needed to achieve my goal of vet school acceptance.

“I would like to thank Dr. Weathers for being not only a wonderful teacher, but also a caring advisor and friend,” she added. “When I first decided to add Pre-Veterinary to my major, I was terrified, and she calmed my nerves and supported me every step of the way. I would not be where I am today if not for her and many other professors.”

Vonder Haar and Stull said Southeast provided them with the right courses and experiences to prepare them for vet school.

“There are a lot of hands on opportunities to prepare us for vet school — animal experiences, horse science, and the Artificial Insemination class in the winter,” Stull said. “There are also a lot of animal science classes that give us a glimpse of what we will discuss once in vet school such as reproduction, animal anatomy, and animal science.”

Belinda Strack

Vonder Haar thanked Weathers and Siemers for providing experience hours in Animal Science classes that allowed her to work hands-on with animals hands-on.

Strack, who participated in the Pre-Vet Club, Farm Bureau and Delta Tau Alpha during her years at Southeast, said she owes a debt of gratitude to RW McAlister, Dr. David Mauk, Dr. Indi Braden and Dr. Siemers.

“These professors put their students first and make sure you are doing well in class and in life,” Strack said. “They push you to be a better student and help you make sure you will be successful in your future field.”

Robinson credited Dr. Wes Mueller for her recruiting her into the program.

“I met with Dr. Mueller as a high school senior during my first visit to Southeast, and he explained how Southeast’s curriculum was different than most other programs and how successful it had been for other pre-veterinary students,” she said. “My conversation with Dr. Mueller played a huge role in my decision to attend Southeast.”

Lewis and Stull reflected on their acceptance into veterinary school, summarizing the sentiments of all their classmates.

Hannah Lewis

“I have always wanted to be a veterinarian for as long as I can remember,” Stull said. “My dream has never changed, and I believe that my experiences at SEMO have only strengthened my passion to become a veterinarian and care for animals.”

Lewis said acceptance into veterinary school “is a big accomplishment. I have always wanted to work with animals, even when I was a little girl. My dreams of becoming a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine are just getting closer!”

Weathers says her students have bright, impressive futures, and she can’t wait to see what they do.

“I am so excited to see them move forward. I know they will do great things!”