Students’ diverse journeys connected by a shared goal

(Left to right) Joshua Ragasa, Jessica Lee, and Kylee Dayton.
(Left to right) Joshua Ragasa, Jessica Lee, and Kylee Dayton.

Inspired by gratitude for their own educational opportunities, veterinarian Beth Davidow and her husband, Mike Ford, established the Beth Davidow and Mike Ford DVM Student Scholarship at Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in 2018.

“Mike and I were really fortunate to have families that supported our education,” said Davidow. “We also graduated from school at a time when the cost was more reasonable. This allowed us to have a strong start in our professional careers and made it possible for me to start a business.

“The scholarship is a way we can help students have less debt and more freedom to buy a practice, start an innovative veterinary support business, or just less stress upon graduation.”

Davidow, a clinical assistant professor at WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, co-founded Animal Critical Care and Emergency Services, the first 24-hour emergency and multi-specialty hospital in Seattle. Ford is currently a senior scientist and was previously the director of conservation biology at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center.

Motivated not only to help alleviate veterinary students’ financial pressures, Davidow and Ford also recognize that there are inequities in the veterinary medicine field. In response, the scholarship’s recipients must be first-generation college or graduate school students or those from communities traditionally underrepresented in the profession.

“Veterinary medicine is a profession in urgent need of diversity and new voices,” Davidow said.

Since it was established, the scholarship has been awarded to three veterinary students, Joshua Ragasa, Kylee Dayton, and Jessica Lee. All are first-generation university students.

Ragasa, who will graduate in May, began the program in 2018 after receiving his bachelor’s degree in zoology at WSU.

Dayton received her bachelor’s in wildlife resources from the University of Idaho in 2014 and will complete the DVM program in 2023.

Lee graduated from the University of Washington in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and a minor in classical studies. She began her DVM studies in 2020 and will graduate in 2024.

In this joint interview, Ragasa, Dayton, and Lee reflect on their unique journeys, education, and plans for the future.

Why did you choose a career in veterinary medicine?

Ragasa: I wanted to be a veterinarian from the first time I tuned into Animal Planet as a child. I remember watching these veterinary professionals work with animals and being fascinated by their ability to improve animals’ health and well-being. From that moment, I knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Dayton: Being with, caring for, and learning about animals is something I’ve been drawn to my whole life. Veterinary medicine also allows me the opportunity to connect with others. I enjoy bonding with others over something we’re equally passionate about – animals!

Lee: I am studying veterinary medicine not only for my deep love of animals but for my deep love of people. Helping and healing animals is to serve my community – people of all social, economic, and cultural backgrounds.

Share a significant challenge in your life or education – and how you met or overcame it.

Ragasa: The most difficult challenge I have faced is struggling with imposter syndrome as a minority in a predominately white cohort. Although I have not experienced any mistreatment in the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine, it has been difficult to feel comfortable because there is not much minority representation amongst faculty and students. As I progressed through the veterinary program, I overcame this challenge by interacting with classmates I could relate to through academics and other interests.

Dayton: During my first and second years, my family suffered several significant losses. This time also overlapped with the beginning of the pandemic. It was extremely difficult to balance the grief and hardship with the immensely heavy workload and pressure of veterinary school. I leaned on the support of family and friends and consistently evaluated where I was prioritizing my time and energy.

Lee: One of the most difficult challenges in my life was during the onset of COVID, as anti-Asian sentiment grew. I was away at veterinary school and not able to protect my parents and grandparents in the ways I wanted to. Channeling my desire to protect our Asian-American elders, I created some flyers to post in Seattle’s Chinatown to alert the Chinese elderly to take precautions. During this time, I also made a conscious effort to connect more deeply with my Chinese roots.

What is the achievement you are most proud of?

Ragasa: The achievement I am most proud of is being accepted into WSU College of Veterinary Medicine because all my hard work was validated. As a first-generation university student, I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to pursue higher education. My parents have sacrificed a lot for my siblings and I to pursue our dreams and achieve our goals. Without their support, I would not have the ability to follow my passion and fulfill my lifelong goal of attending veterinary school. I know I have made my family proud.

Dayton: The process of being accepted into veterinary school was not straightforward for me. I didn’t go to college planning to go to veterinary school. So, when I decided to apply, it took me three years to get accepted–and a lot of grit and determination to persevere.

Lee: Most recently, I found out I was first in my class! This achievement helped validate that my hard work every day does indeed pay off. To some degree, it also helped lessen some of the imposter syndrome we all face.

What are your goals for the future?

Ragasa: My short-term goal is to successfully transition into becoming a veterinarian in the real world by learning as much as I can from my peers and working well with my co-workers. My long-term goal is to give back to low-income communities by providing free or low-cost veterinary services.

Dayton: My goal is to have my own practice. I would like to provide shelter medicine resources to local rescue groups and low-income clients, and I am also deeply committed to providing compassionate and respectful end-of-life care.

Lee: I would love to create an animal sanctuary/rescue where local youth can feel free to be themselves and learn more about rescue animals. I also plan to volunteer my time in shelters and low-cost clinics while providing mentorship and monetary support to communities in need.

How has the Beth Davidow and Mike Ford DVM Student Scholarship impacted your educational journey?

Ragasa: This scholarship has reduced the number of loans that I needed to obtain during veterinary school and has allowed me to focus more on my academics instead of worrying about the financial aspect of school. I am very grateful for the support Beth Davidow and Mike Ford provide to veterinary students like myself.

Dayton: The debt we take on as veterinary students can be overwhelming and feel debilitating at times. This scholarship helped reduce my loans and takes some pressure off thinking about loan repayment and finances after graduation, which I am extremely grateful for.

Lee: I am so grateful to be a recipient of the scholarship. I cannot thank them enough for believing in me and investing in my education. The scholarship is even more meaningful given that my benefactors’ goals resonate so deeply with my own.