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By Caroline Stamm '24
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  • Animal Science

According to statistics compiled by the U.S. Department of Education in 2019, nearly 75 percent of all animal science graduates from U.S. colleges and universities were white. Cornell’s Minority Animal Science Students (MASS) club aims to address this disparity by encouraging the success of underrepresented minority students inside and outside the classroom. Started in 2016, MASS is led by student president Brandon Garcia ’23 and faculty adviser Kristan Foster Reed, assistant professor in Cornell CALS Department of Animal Science. We connected with Garcia, Reed and former board member Amanda Cheung ’21 to learn more about the club and its significance to the department.

What motivates students to join MASS?

Garcia: The community is the biggest benefit. Our students advise one another on how to study, select their classes and share general advice on how to navigate the life of a college student in animal science. We provide students positive opportunities through special events, internships and scholarships. Since most of our members are animal science majors with a pre-vet concentration, we recently organized a symposium that brought together minority veterinary students from around the country to talk about their experiences in vet school. It’s fulfilling to create new experiences that provide members fun and educational opportunities.

Cheung: Being a part of MASS gives students access to a safe space in animal science where minority students and allies can connect with one another. MASS is not just a place to talk about animal science; the club focuses on diversity and aims to impact people and animals’ lives by building a community.

 

What is your favorite thing about MASS?

Reed: I love interacting with the students. I enjoy meeting everyone and hearing more about their backgrounds and their goals. I’ve worked with two MASS executive boards as a faculty adviser, supporting the organization and evolution of the boards. Being a board member provides great leadership experiences, and I’ve seen how rewarding it is for the students to accomplish so much for their fellow MASS members.

Cheung: I love the events and fundraisers we’ve held. We organized and led an empanada fundraiser to send money and supplies to the victims of the earthquakes in Puerto Rico. This fundraiser meant a lot to me; my family is from Puerto Rico, and seeing MASS members come together to help people in need who they didn’t even know was inspiring. We also partnered with the Texas Roadhouse restaurant in Ithaca to sell gift cards to benefit the Tompkins County SPCA. We’ve organized many in-person field trips and virtual events, and we hosted several successful minority veterinarian and vet student webinar panels.

How is MASS involved with the CALS diversity and inclusion committee within the animal science department?

Reed: The CALS diversity and inclusion committee was started in 2020, with an aim to address and develop action plans centered around diversity. I serve as chair for the animal science committee and have loved becoming involved in the group. My involvement in both the diversity and inclusion committee and MASS has been beneficial to bridge the gap between faculty, staff and students.

 

What is your vision for MASS?

Garcia: We are excited about an initiative Professor Reed is supporting to establish a pre-vet mentoring program, in collaboration with veterinary student groups at the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine and the Cornell Alumni Association. The program will provide students with the opportunity to form relationships with veterinary students who have once been in their shoes. I also would love to increase our membership. But most importantly, I want to build on the community of members we have already, which can be through our club meetings, the events we host or collaborations with other organizations.

Reed: I’d like to continue to evolve MASS so that their practices and governance are well established and defined to make the transfer of leadership easy. I also want the executive board to focus on the fun elements of the club, such as planning the events they can put on to support the club and the broader community.

Student Spotlights

Kayla Charles '17

“I am one of the co-founders of MASS. It has been a community at Cornell where minority students could feel empowered coming together regardless of ethnic background to help each other succeed, and it contributed to my acceptance to veterinary school at the Ontario Veterinary College. My favorite experience with MASS was hosting Dr. Diarra Blue from ‘The Vet Life’ for one of our workshops."

Sofie Wilson '21

“The impact that MASS has had on my life is truly immeasurable. MASS was one of the few clubs where I felt comfortable being myself during my undergraduate time at Cornell. This club provided me with a community of people who shared a passion for animals and served as my support system while applying to veterinary school. I would not be where I am today if it were not for Dr. Gavalchin and the extraordinary advice she provided. MASS has given me lifelong friendships, and I am forever grateful for this club.”

Manuel Cortes '25

“Joining MASS is like finding your favorite cousin at a family dinner. Cornell is my home, but MASS is somewhere I can fully talk about my interests in a safe space.”

Kayla portrait
Sophie Wilson and friends during graduation ceremony
Manuel Cortes portrait

This article is dedicated in loving memory to Jerrie Gavalchin, former associate professor of animal science and MASS faculty adviser.

 

Caroline Stamm '24 is a student writer for the Cornell CALS Department of Animal Science.

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