Meet Our Student Liaison: Maya Sullivan
Ready, Vet, Go program mentors are required to have at least 10 years of clinical experience and to have served in a professional leadership role. This ensures that our mentors offer our mentees an incredible depth and breadth of practical knowledge and insights—and that it’s been a while since any of us have been in their shoes!
Ready, Vet, Go is a veterinary mentorship program, so the mentor team needs an insider’s perspective on the modern veterinary school experience. Recently, we added a new Student Liaison position to ensure our content and coaching meets the most pressing needs of today’s veterinary students, new graduates, and early career veterinarians.
Last month, I chatted Q&A-style with our new Student Liaison, first year veterinary student Maya Sullivan. I’m so excited for Maya’s veterinary journey and her promising contributions to Ready, Vet, Go!
DR: Welcome, Maya! Let’s begin at the beginning—what’s your veterinary origin story? When did you know you wanted to become a vet?
MS: My vet med journey began in middle school, when my Girl Scout troop leader suggested I earn an animal badge by interviewing and shadowing a veterinarian. I will never forget the day I arrived at my local Banfield Pet Hospital, proudly wearing my Girl Scout vest, notepad and pen in hand, ready to hear from and observe a veterinarian. To my great surprise, I was greeted by the Chief of Staff, Dr. Tarron Herring, who happened to be an African-American veterinarian. I had never seen a veterinarian who looked like me! Dr. Herring showed me all the amazing ways he helped to heal animals. I knew at that moment that becoming a veterinarian was possible. I loved seeing how much Dr. Herring cared not only for the animal’s welfare but for the owner’s welfare, too. I believe that when you are healing an animal, you are also healing a human soul.
DR: Congratulations on starting veterinary school! How has your experience been so far? What are you enjoying most? What, if anything, has been the biggest surprise?
MS: Starting veterinary school has been exciting and a little intimidating. However, it is a blessing to be living my dream of becoming a veterinarian. I had to hit the ground running as soon as I arrived. I’m in class every day from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. with a variety of courses including anatomy, microanatomy, physiology, parasitology, ethics, clinical skills, and grand rounds. There are students from all over the country and it has been amazing to be a part of a class that is so dedicated and excited about becoming veterinarians. Although I like learning the basics and the foundations of vet med, I really enjoy the camaraderie with the other students and faculty who are committed to achieving their best and have become like family. The students are committed to helping each other instead of competing. However, the most surprising part has been the large amount of school work. I knew this would be hard, but wow—it is really physically and mentally taxing. I’m up for the task though, and I know that God has placed me exactly where I should be, at Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine (TUCVM)!
DR: Why was it important for you to attend veterinary school at Tuskegee University?
MS: I chose TUCVM because of its long-standing history of graduating some of the best veterinarians and the most African-American veterinarians in the United States. I have received continued support and guidance from my amazing mentors, many of whom are TUCVM graduates. Like my mentors, I wanted to be part of that amazing veterinarian network and support those wishing to become veterinarians.
I attended Tuskegee University for my undergraduate degree in animal and poultry sciences and observed the operations and pride students exhibited about being a part of this amazing and historical institution. More importantly, I wanted to be a part of an institution where the faculty took a vested interest in ensuring that students succeeded and were provided with opportunities to become the best version of themselves. Overall, I wanted to contribute to the worldwide legacy of veterinary medicine excellence made by TUCVM graduates.
DR: What does mentorship mean to you? Have you been mentored by someone on your veterinary journey?
MS: Mentorship is everything! I don’t think I would have made it this far in my veterinary journey without my mentors.
As I mentioned, I was in middle school when I met my first veterinary mentor, Dr. Herring. He really inspired me to pursue my dreams, and even supported me when I designed and executed a Community Pet Health Program and earned the Silver Award, the second-highest Girl Scouts award.
In high school, another veterinarian mentor and TUCVM graduate, Dr. Chandra Williams, supported my interests in vet med and informed me about the many support programs available. She inspired and encouraged me to pursue my dreams of becoming a veterinarian.
Also during high school, Dr. James Boone and Dr. Jerrold Boone, who were father and son TUCVM graduates, allowed me to serve as a volunteer veterinary assistant at the Adams Morgan Animal Hospital in Washington, DC. They also let me work as a vet tech during college on my summer and Christmas breaks.
Another mentor, Dr. Natalie Hall, helped me obtain my dream job at Disney World Animal Kingdom. I met Dr. Hall through a Disney College mentoring program called Disney on the Yard, where college students and recent graduates could work at Disney World. This program and Dr. Hall’s mentorship advanced my vet med career. I even made a brief appearance on Disney’s Magic of Animal Kingdom show. It doesn’t get any better than that!
I’m proud and honored to say that I continue to regularly meet with these mentors, who give me advice and encouragement to continue my vet med journey.
DR: Your incredible networking skills are one of the things that drew me to you and inspired me to create the RVG Student Liaison position. Why is networking so important in vet med and how has it helped you in your early career?
MS: Many of my opportunities have been the result of networking. During my first semester as an animal science undergrad, students were tasked with finding a veterinary mentor, creating an online portfolio, and regularly posting on LinkedIn, and I saw the value of networking with other veterinarians on LinkedIn. Over the years, I have increased my network of veterinarians, veterinary industry professionals, and animal science and veterinary students to exchange information and encouragement. Essentially, networking is important in vet med to ensure that students stay up-to-date on the veterinary community and to find opportunities to enhance and advance their veterinary careers.
DR: I know you are passionate about supporting diversity and inclusion in the veterinary community. Can you tell us a little about your efforts and goals in this area?
Recently, as a Vet Candy intern, I investigated who and what inspired veterinarians of color to pursue careers in veterinary medicine. The results showed that people of color choose this profession overwhelmingly because they have a mentor.
If you never see a black veterinarian, you can’t decide to be one. My goal is to share my passion for veterinary medicine and science with children of color in hopes of inspiring them to pursue their dreams of becoming a veterinary professional. I recently gave a virtual webinar via the Youth Veterinary Initiative to youth of color about my journey to become a veterinarian. The webinar was so popular and I received so many questions and positive feedback that the session extended beyond its normal time.
As an African-American woman, I understand the vital role and impact I can have as a mentor to other African-American and minority students pursuing this field. I understand that this career choice is not only for me, but a sign of hope, progress, and achievement for all those from my community who will one day follow in my footsteps. My contributions as a veterinarian will include protecting the health and wellbeing of animals and their owners, and will extend beyond the clinic and into the community. More specifically, my contributions will include educating the community on proper animal care and animals’ importance to mental health and the environment.
DR: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
MS: Those 10 years will involve schooling and externships, but I plan to pursue my dreams of becoming a zoo veterinarian at Disney’s Animal Kingdom or another zoo, and to increase my conservationist activities.
Maya is clearly well on her way to becoming a harbinger for positive change in the veterinary community. With her deep passion and drive for veterinary medicine and an already impressive résumé, Maya’s enthusiasm and first-hand experience at TUCVM will also greatly inform and enrich the Ready, Vet, Go Veterinary Mentorship program.
Thanks for chatting, Maya!