“Engine” of support
propels student’s
desire for public service


Senior student Van Brass, left, with junior student Morgan Guoan during the sophomore professional coating ceremony May 13. Brass assisted the sophomores in signing the professional pledge.

For Van Brass, his upcoming graduation from veterinary school is not a matter of seeing light at the end of the tunnel, but rather a reflection of that huge engine in the rearview mirror.

“Instead of feeling like I’ve accomplished a lot, I think of other people who have contributed time, effort and money to help me reach this point,” Brass said. “It’s not just the four years of veterinary school, but all the years of preparation that I think about.”

He added that he truly felt that he embodied the concept of a child being raised by a village.

“From my pastor, my scoutmaster, my aunts and uncles, there was just a really big support group,” said Brass, who graduated from high school at the age of 16 and is now 28. “I cannot accept any honors alone.”

Van Brass, ('11), is shown at left in February 2010 with fellow veterinary students Melanie Anderson ('13) and Benjamin Carter ('13), in Washington, D.C. during the second annual Student Veterinary Legislative Day, during which 60 students from 27 veterinary schools learned more about the legislative process.

Originally from Monroe, La., Brass received his undergraduate degree from Southern University in Louisiana. He will graduate from UF’s veterinary college as one of nine students who have completed the new combined DVM/MPH degree program.  

“This is the first year we have had students graduate from the combined DVM/MPH program,” said Dr. Paul Gibbs, associate dean for students and instruction at the college.

Although Brass has yet to land his “dream job,” he is still hoping to work in the public health field.

“I have learned through my four years here that there is definitely a place in public policy in veterinary medicine,” Brass said.  “My dream job would be to be a Congressional advisor on issues pertaining to veterinary medicine and public health, but I’ve been open to other possibilities. Due to my background, I didn’t come to school focused on clinical medicine, but I have found a great appreciation for that, as well as for public health.”

Brass is known to many at the UF CVM as the founder of of UF’s chapter of Veterinary Students as One in Culture and Ethnicity, known as VOICE. In its first year, the group held food and clothing drives for low-income Gainesville residents. In its second year, the group focused on direct community outreach, and this past year, VOICE partnered with the college in a food and clothing drive that resulted in more than 1,150 pounds of food being donated to the Bread of the Mighty Food Bank and approximately 550 pounds of clothing, shoes, toiletries and other supplies donated to the St. Francis House homeless shelter in Gainesville.

“I have always been taught to serve,” said Brass. “One reason we started VOICE here was to encourage diversity,” he said. “I wasn’t exposed to veterinary medicine until just before I graduated from high school. For a lot of kids, that would have been too late. That’s why we have done a lot of talks at the pre-school and kindergarten level, to get to kids at a younger age.”

Pamela Fitzgerald, volunteer coordinator for the Alachua County school system, said she first learned about VOICE from Brass in April 2009 when she was looking for someone to talk about careers in veterinary medicine for various spring “Career Day” events.

“He was most enthusiastic about talking with our students at both the elementary and middle school levels, and organized a couple of small groups of veterinary students to present at Chiles and Ft. Clarke,” Fitzgerald said, adding that the VOICE speakers consistently received “excellent reviews” from both students and teachers.

“Without Van Brass’s enthusiastic leadership, many Alachua County Public School students might not have learned about the possibilities of becoming a veterinarian in such an engaging way.”

After receiving his undergraduate degree, Brass worked for three years as an animal health technician with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“I knew then that public health seemed to be my calling,” Brass said. “I knew I’d probably pursue a master’s degree in public health once I finished my veterinary education, and once I found out about the new dual degree program, I thought that would be an excellent opportunity to take advantage of.”

Brass said he felt the MPH degree was an invaluable tool for veterinarians who want to make a difference by helping to protect the nation’s food sources from genetic and zoonotic diseases, and to ensure not only the public’s health but also the safety and well being of food animals.

And Brass definitely wants to make a difference.

“One of the things that has been imprinted from my background is to strive to leave something better than I found it,” he said, adding that he had been inspired by programs such as the St. Francis House veterinary clinic, through which UF veterinary students participate as part of their shelter medicine rotation with Dr. Natalie Isaza, and the Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS) program, coordinated by Dr. Amy Stone, which provides veterinary assistance to the pets of people with disabling illnesses.

“Those programs are examples of how you can give back to the community,” Brass said. “I’m still young and smart enough to know that life changes, and plans change, so I’m keeping my eyes and ears open to ways to contribute to the greater good of veterinary medicine.”

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May 2011

Public service a way of life for new graduate

New dual-degree program offers tool for student to explore new avenues of public service.

Service Dog Day a success

Service Dog Day brings two K-9s, other dogs to UF for free eye and heart screenings.

Coating ceremony held May 13

Financial guru Suze Orman was in the audience at the Professional Coating Ceremony May 13. She offered this quote: “Money Well Spent.”

Student shoots for the sky

Tyrell Kahan, a member of the college’s Class of 2011, believes in shooting for the stars.

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