Student’s vision: helping others
reach their goals


 By Sarah Carey


Tyrell Kahan, a member of the UF CVM's Class of 2011.

Tyrell Kahan’s family provided the grounding to always shoot high and to visualize a life journey full of growth and service to others. Kahan himself created the vision and the path.

After eight consecutive years of undergraduate and veterinary school, the Lake County native is ready for the “real world”, largely because he hopes to one day share the lessons of hands-on practice with people in communities where veterinary needs are not being met.

“My grandmother had a saying: “If you shoot for the stars, you will land on the moon,” said Kahan, who will graduate from UF’s College of Veterinary Medicine along with 87 of his classmates on May 28. “I always tell people to reach high, because even if you miss the goal by a little bit, you will still be higher than if you would have shot low. If you plan to fail, you will definitely be successful at it and what have you really done in the long run.”

When Kahan, who says he loves goats and would like to land a job in a mixed animal practice, speaks of his dream of working  in international development, his philosophy of service shines through.

“One of the main reasons I wanted to go into veterinary medicine was because I wanted to find a profession that would let me help people,” Kahan said. “Not that my name will go down in the history books, but I want to have my own little impact. If I am able to teach people in developing countries how to put 10 more pounds on their goat, I will have probably fed 10 people for a few more days. I want to have the ability to do that.”

Kahan visited Liberia in the summer of 2010 through the group, Veterinarians Without Borders. During that time he helped to train community animal health workers how to recognize, diagnose and treat animal diseases.

“I had a lot of fun and really enjoyed the experience,” Kahan said. “It sparked my interest in international work, and I actually do plan to join the Peace Corps sometime in the future. Right now, I just want to get training and figure out what I’m doing before I’m put into a position like that, and then maybe I’ll get a master’s degree in developmental work.”

In fact, at one time Kahan considered pursuing a Ph.D., because he has an affinity for research. He’s also good at it; this year, he received a Phi Zeta award for the best student presentation in the large animal category. Kahan’s project examined the prevalence of different species of coccidia in goats.

“I found nine species, including the two most pathogenic ones,” Kahan said, adding in typically modest fashion, “I was surprised to do so well, since there were a lot of good presentations in my group.”

During veterinary school, Kahan was active in VOICE, a student club, speaking to underprivileged elementary school children along with other club members on various occasions during his years in veterinary school.

He says he hopes to always find ways to give encouragement to young people, because he understands that motivation and reinforcement matters — no matter how old you are.

“At this point in my life, an encouraging word is so important,” Kahan said. “I appreciated encouraging words early on, but right now as I’m looking at, what is my next step, I never realized how important it is to say, ‘you can do it; you can keep your dreams alive.’ Every encouraging word I get is building me up a little bit more.”

Growing up in a small community, Kahan said he received a good bit of mentorship, but didn’t have many positive role models of people doing the kind of work he aspired to.

“What I had as far as role models was an upbringing with people showing me how to be a real person and stay grounded,” Kahan said. “I have seen a lot of extremely smart people, but they don’t always have common sense. That part I got from back home, as far as setting priorities with family and goodwill at the very top of the list. Without that, I don’t care how much money you make, it will all be in vain.”

When he’d speak to young schoolchildren, it was clear to Kahan that many didn’t have the hope or faith to believe they could have a better future.

“What I try to do is tell kids that you can do whatever you want to do, you just have to put your mind toward it. At times, it is difficult for some of them to believe this especially when they come from tough backgrounds.  I grew up with people that to tell you the truth, might not have eaten that day if it weren’t for lunch at school. My family was not rich by any means but we always had what we needed, but I knew people who didn’t, and that had a profound effect on me.”

Pam Fitzgerald, volunteer program specialist with the Alachua County school system, began working with Kahan in 2006 through UF’s Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences (MANRRS) club, which Kahan was a member of.

“They did a program called AgriSmarts, where Tyrell went into classrooms and talked with kids about agriculture and careers in this field,” Fitzgerald said. “He began doing presentations to students in undergraduate school and got excellent reviews from teachers and students.”

She said she was surprised and pleased when, after starting veterinary school, Kahan began doing veterinary-oriented presentations for the Alachua school system.

“He has evolved from being just a presenter to being my go-to guy to ask for help,” Fitzgerald said. “He gets terrific evaluations when he does programs, and has seemingly recruited a like-minded group of presenters, all of whom get great reviews, too. They share their passion for being veterinarians with other minority students, as well as the general population of students.”

Fitzgerald said that while she wishes Kahan the best of luck professionally, she will greatly miss having him as a resource.

For his part, Kahan said he believes that his experience enables him to look underprivileged young people in the face and communicate with them empathetically.

“I can say, no matter what your situation is, you can do better than what you are doing,” Kahan said. “It’s the choices that you make. If you have a goal, make sure those choices are consistent with that goal and there will be a way made for you if you decide to take that path.”

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