International agriculture minor helps put Penn State grad on path to vet school

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — During her senior capstone class in international agriculture, Penn State alumna Abigail Seeley worked on a grant proposal that has proved valuable as she works to become a veterinarian.

“Other than driving past farms on my way to high school, I had no experience with agriculture before college,” said Seeley, who also credits some of her success to her willingness to seek out new opportunities. “It was initially intimidating to walk into the College of Agricultural Sciences at Penn State. I felt like a lot of my peers had experiences that I didn’t have.”

However, Seeley found her niche in the college, graduating in 2020 with dual majors in veterinary and biomedical sciences and in wildlife and fisheries science. She also completed a minor in international agriculture (INTAG).

She had several opportunities to experience international agriculture during her undergraduate years, which fueled her interest in completing the INTAG minor. Those experiences have served her interests at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

“When I’m excited about something, I’m serious when I offer to connect with someone and talk more about that topic,” said Seeley, who is in her second year at Penn Vet. “I assume that other people aren’t making empty promises either, so I reach out to others with the same mindset. I’ve had some cool experiences and amazing opportunities because I was willing to get in touch with people.”

Some of Seeley’s most memorable opportunities are related to studying abroad.

“Since I was in a science major, I didn’t know how I was going to make studying abroad fit into my schedule,” she said. “But I was able to plan with my advisers in the college and make it work.”

Seeley’s first experience abroad was a Maymester in the Czech Republic as part of “COMM 110: Media and Democracy.”

“I loved the class, and the trip was incredible,” she said. “When I heard about INTAG, it combined my passion for agriculture and my interest in utilizing agriculture as a tool for development.”

Seeley also spent a semester at the University College Dublin in the School of Agriculture and Food Science.

“I’d always wanted to study in Ireland, and I ended up taking a full agricultural-based curriculum,” she said.

In summer 2019, Seeley traveled to South Africa for a veterinary internship, which she said was great exposure to working with African animals.

After Seeley arrived at Penn Vet, she looked to continue her global experiences. She reached out to an adviser, who told her about a project that was very similar to a proposal Seeley had worked on at Penn State in “INTAG 490: Senior Seminar in International Agriculture.”

Seeley joined the Gambia Goat Dairy, a pilot project and the first commercial goat milking facility in The Gambia, which is the smallest country in mainland Africa. The project is aimed at achieving food security through environmentally sustainable interventions while prioritizing animal welfare and acting on community-defined needs. The dairy is in Sanyang Village and raises local West African dwarf goats.

Due to the pandemic, Seeley hasn’t visited the farm yet, but she will spend eight weeks in The Gambia next summer. There is not much literature on health standards for West African dwarf goats, so she has been working on research related to health standards in the meantime.

Seeley noted that the Gambia Goat Dairy had a lot in common with the proposal she completed in INTAG 490. The class worked on semester-long grant proposals based on developmental problems identified by the Children and Youth Empowerment Center in Nyeri, Kenya.

“We were working with a youth center in Kenya to propose ways the kids could gain tradeable skills to enter the workforce once they left the center,” Seeley said.

Kenya also has a large dairy industry, and Seeley’s group worked on a proposal focused on building a dairy at the center. Seeley said learning to navigate the process of writing a grant and managing a budget was beneficial.

“It comes as no surprise that Abby has gotten connected with an agricultural development project during her time in vet school,” said Noel Habashy, assistant teaching professor and coordinator of the INTAG minor. “As an undergraduate, she took the initiative to seek out opportunities, and that has manifested in her gaining valuable learning and professional experiences.”

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