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New scholarship award relieves tuition burden for final two years of D.V.M. program

Claudia Guinansaca-Aguilar, D.V.M.’23, and Natalie Zatz, D.V.M.’23, are the inaugural recipients of the Reducing Educational Debt (RED) Scholarship at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Photos provided.

In dedication to its strategic priority of reducing veterinary student debt, the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) has established a new scholarship to provide full tuition assistance for two years of the recipients’ D.V.M. education. The RED (Reducing Educational Debt) scholarship goes to two rising third-year veterinary students and enables tuition-free education for their final two years of their education at CVM. Awardees for the scholarship must have the traditional selection criteria of academic excellence and financial need, while also exhibiting unique qualities, experiences and future goals.

“The college is addressing this priority with a three-pronged approach,” says Kristin Pennock, director of student financial aid at the college. “One is to provide individualized financial management and loan counseling; two is to integrate learning opportunities for business and entrepreneurship skill development into curricular offerings; and the third is to increase funding for scholarship support.”

While the inaugural awardees are limited to two students, the college hopes to increase this number as they receive more funding to support the RED scholarship. “Our ultimate goal is to make the veterinary profession achievable and affordable for all worthy students,” says Alison Smith, director of development. “We’re eager to expand the program with more funding so that even more deserving students can benefit from a reduced financial burden and enter the profession with greater opportunity.”

Inaugural recipient Claudia Guinansaca-Aguilar, D.V.M. ’23, had to work hard to reach her dreams of attending veterinary college. “As the daughter of Ecuadorian immigrants, I was used to being resourceful to get ahead; I had to find hands-on veterinary experience myself,” she says. “I struggled initially because I spent breaks cleaning houses with my mother and couldn’t afford unpaid experiences.” Guinansaca-Aguilar eventually was able to work as a veterinary assistant after college, and found she thrived in the profession, despite still having to navigate financial struggles. “In my life, I have never not had to think about money,” she says, explaining how that fact makes the RED scholarship so powerful for her. “It feels unreal — I’m in denial still. The peace of mind this scholarship gives me is so valuable. I am just so grateful to the donors and everyone else who made this possible.”

Natalie Zatz, D.V.M. ’23, also an inaugural recipient, has also weathered adversity to get to veterinary school. After her mother passed away from cancer when Natalie was eight years old, she shouldered many responsibilities. “Raised by my resilient father, a Moldovan immigrant and single parent, I became passionate about helping others. I helped my dad and younger brothers with housework and paperwork, and as a first-generation college student, I helped my brothers navigate school and college applications.”

Zatz dreams of becoming a public health veterinarian working on emerging and zoonotic diseases. When she got word that she had been selected for the RED scholarship, “Immediately, I felt much lighter knowing that a huge financial burden had been lifted from my dreams of pursuing a career in veterinary public health,” she says. “I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to represent Cornell through this award, and I am honored and humbled to have been selected.”

Both Guinansaca-Aguilar and Zatz represent the passion and dedication that the college looks to support and sustain in aspiring veterinarians. “My big goal is paying it forward,” says Guinansaca-Aguilar. “I’m really proud of my background and the community that raised me, I want to make this profession more accessible to the Latinx communities — to be the kind of person that I needed when I was younger.”

“Before receiving this scholarship, I felt like my dreams of a career in public health were only just that, dreams,” says Zatz. “The RED Scholarship has now opened the doors for pursuing additional training in either an M.P.H. or a Ph.D. after completion of my D.V.M. degree. This additional training will allow me to become a better leader to have a large impact through my future public health career.”

“The college is committed to doing all it can to support our veterinary students in achieving financial independence and wellbeing,” says Lorin D. Warnick, D.V.M., Ph.D. ’94, Austin O. Hooey Dean of Veterinary Medicine. “The RED scholarship is a great example of that dedication, and I’m extremely proud of Claudia and Natalie for all that they have done to garner this scholarship. I look forward to watching their careers progress. We are very appreciative of all the generous donors who help support scholarships in the College of Veterinary Medicine. I hope this new scholarship program will inspire others who share our goals of reducing educational debt and helping make the profession broadly accessible to well-qualified students.“

Written by Lauren Cahoon Roberts