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VetCAMP Coordinators Learn the Importance of Collaborative Leadership

Three young women smiling
Kylie Deuser, Abby Todd and Ashley Kropf led operations during the 2022 VetCAMP summer program.

For the first time since 2019, VetCAMP ran in-person for its 2022 summer session. 

Led by Shweta Trivedi, teaching professor of animal science and VetPAC director, VetCAMP welcomed 120 high school students from North Carolina and beyond to explore the immense field of veterinary medicine. The camp is divided into three weekly cohorts of 40 students each.

During the camp, students hear first-hand from veterinarians in different fields, learn from current vet students, engage in lab activities and take a behind-the-scenes tour of the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine.

Staffed by directors, coordinators and counselors, Trivedi assembled a symphony of players to orchestrate the extensive camp programming. 

Handpicked by the professor, the program’s coordinators, Abby Todd, Ashley Kropf and Kylie Deuser, led the in-person summer program operations. All three are animal science majors who brought their unique qualities and leadership skills to the VetCAMP experience. 

Their duties included planning the feasibility and execution of daily activities such as lectures, labs, learning at the teaching animal units and meal breaks.

They started in early February, handling the logistics of the camp, ordering food, updating instructions and taking inventory of supplies. They also were involved in hiring and managing the schedules of the camp counselors.

Todd, a current CALS student minoring in science communications, hails from Charlotte, North Carolina. She previously served as a VetCAMP counselor. 

“Abby was organized and detail-oriented during the camp planning phase in the spring,” says Trivedi. “Seeing Abby with the campers was a proud moment, as I saw her lead with a firm hand while also having fun.”

Kropf, also from Charlotte, came prepared with leadership experience through her study abroad travels. A VetPAC intern minoring in nutrition science, Kropf served as secretary of the American Pre-Veterinary Medical Association, where Trivedi sits on the advisory board of trustees. 

“Seeing Ashley grow into a confident leader, articulate communicator and meticulous planner is heartwarming,” says Trivedi. “Summer camp was returning in person, and I needed a strong leader who would be an asset to the team.” 

As a Florida high school student, Deuser attended VetCAMP in 2017 and served as the camp’s coordinator in 2021 and again in 2022. She earned her bachelor’s degree in animal science in May 2022, with a minor in global public health and agricultural business management. She is now applying to veterinary school.

“Burnout, emotional fatigue and the practice of euthanasia can be a big part of a job. Part of VetCAMP is exposing the students to those realities.”

When Deuser arrived at NC State, she sought all the opportunities VetPAC offered, from internships to leadership opportunities. “Kylie showed tremendous growth as a leader when she was a VetPAC intern. She led effectively from within the group,” comments Trivedi. Deuser became the professor’s go-to for event planning. “When she showed interest in coordinating the summer camp, I was thrilled!”

Confronting Misconceptions About Veterinary Medicine

VetCAMP addresses misconceptions about veterinary medicine and gives campers a taste of a veterinary college student’s day-to-day life. The program helps high school students determine if pursuing veterinary medicine is the right path.

“We’re trying to give students an overall, wide-reaching look at the veterinary profession—including its hardships,” says Kropf. “Burnout, emotional fatigue and the practice of euthanasia can be a big part of a job. Part of VetCAMP is exposing the students to those realities.”

The program immerses campers (ages 14 to 19) in the profession and brings awareness to the ups and downs of pursuing a veterinary degree. Students gain tools to help them cope with occupational stress.

“One thing I love about Professor Trivedi is that she tells you the facts,” says Deuser. “She doesn’t sugarcoat or tell you what you want to hear. I believe her approach helps students make an informed decision about whether or not to pursue veterinary medicine. Students develop a realistic mindset—not just believing they’ll get to play with puppies all day.”

Orchestrating Clear Communication

Running VetCAMP is like conducting a symphony; the staff and participants contribute to the program’s success.

VetCAMP’s coordinators functioned as conductors, arranging the logistics of each activity with strategic planning. 

During the first week of camp, they determined how many counselors to place at a station and when to send counselors to set up. 

“By the third week, the counselors were amazing, and we felt we had our process in place,” says Deuser. “I was proud of our work by the end of that first week. And the second and third weeks ran smoothly. I didn’t feel like one station was lacking and was happy with that.”

Typically, the coordinators designate stations for counselors at a teaching animal unit or a lab. Then they assign one or two floating counselors to keep the campers engaged.

But like any best-laid plan, circumstances shift, and the coordinators must pivot. Fortunately, access to the GroupMe app allowed them to communicate remotely and make quick changes. 

The app also enabled the counselors to provide updates about the number of staff for an activity or setting up for the next session. Open lines helped the coordinators to address a problem—or switch gears to make an exercise more fun. 

Deuser recounts, “I’d receive a message from a counselor like, ‘The high schoolers are enjoying this. Can we have 20 extra minutes? I could then respond, ‘Yes, I can make that work,’ and give them the extra time.” 

But instant communication isn’t entirely fluid. 

“Sometimes the staff wasn’t diligent about checking in, and the app didn’t always provide notifications,” says Kropf. “I felt messages would get lost in translation, so we had a little trouble communicating what we needed to accomplish.”

To resolve this issue, the coordinators consulted with camp directors about improving communication. They then talked with the counselors and emphasized regular group check-ins at the beginning of each day. Sometimes the coordinators would expedite communication by directly messaging or calling camp staff to get a quicker response.

“We want to cultivate a community that supports and encourages one another.”

“Once we overcame that initial speed hump and all of the counselors, coordinators and directors got on the same page, our communication improved,” says Kropf. “Everyone stepped up their game, and as a result, VetCAMP ran more smoothly.”

Leading in a team can also mean learning to lean on each other.  

“The three of us as leads were nice because if I had to work, Ashley and Abby could cover me,” says Deuser. “At the end of the day, we want to cultivate a community that supports and encourages one another. We’re not out to one-up each other. It is nice to have that support.”

Making Memories

Leadership isn’t only about making schedules, routing communication or planning for the future. 

It’s also about being present and appreciating the moment. 

These moments could look like grabbing dinner with the campers, hanging out with them at University Towers, drinking bubble tea and going to the Court of North Carolina for a game of kickball. 

“I played kickball with a small group, and we had fun,” recounted Todd. “Whenever I hung out with the campers, it was a memorable experience.”

The opportunity to be a mentor and teacher during the panel discussions left a lasting impression on Kropf. “I helped students with their plans, gave them advice and told them about my experiences. That’s where I felt like I had the most impact on them. It was my most rewarding time.”

Deuser valued working with the students at the swine unit and teaching them to pick up the piglets, weigh them, count them and check their cards. 

“Seeing how quickly the campers adapted stood out to me,” she says. “The first time you pick up a baby pig, you’re so careful and almost scared to touch them. But as the campers got more comfortable, they enjoyed it and asked several questions.” 

Witnessing the high schoolers’ growth was a great experience for Deuser. “Toward the end of the week, I could tell they were coming into their own and more confident in their abilities around the animals.”

Discovering Their Leadership Styles

Because of her VetCAMP experience, Deuser prefers a leadership style incorporating teamwork and communication. “I’ve learned that I like collaborating,” says Deuser. “I like to get others’ opinions and pull from their expertise because I don’t know it all. I like working together to create a plan.”

Todd discovered she likes planning and organization while also remaining flexible. “VetCAMP helped me become more accommodating. I was able to accommodate fine before, but now I can adapt to anything at this point.”

Kropf’s self-assurance increased while working at VetCAMP. “I’ve become a more confident leader and coordinator because this experience placed me in a leadership position that I hadn’t experienced,” she explains.  

As a VetPAC intern, Kropf will continue her mentorship role with pre-veterinary students. “I’ve learned to value transparency and frequent and honest communication. Good communication ensures we properly delegate tasks and track progress. Then everyone is on the same page.”