For as long as she can remember, Darryl Ann Girardin of Presque Isle, Maine, has been passionate about animals, especially big ones. And since the eighth grade, when she researched the best pre-vet schools in the country, she’s known she was going to study at the University of Maine. Ironically, she also grew up without any household pets and, before she came to UMaine, had no experience with large animals.
“The first thing I did was volunteer at Witter (UMaine’s teaching and research farm) and work in the calf pens,” she says. “The farm is a mile down the road with a 40-cow dairy herd and 12 standardbreds. I enjoyed getting the hands-on experience. There aren’t that many (universities) where you can do that.”
As a freshman and sophomore, Girardin continued to volunteer doing livestock chores. She describes the three months between her sophomore and junior years as “one of the best summers of my life” because she started daily milking chores, beginning at 3:30 a.m. Her animal and veterinary sciences coursework involved the care and handling of both cows and horses.
In her junior year, Girardin was deciding on possible topics for her senior capstone and honors theses, including the biosecurity implications of infectious disease outbreaks on farms, with the help of her academic adviser, Dr. Anne Lichtenwalner. Lichtenwalner is an assistant professor of animal science and a University of Maine Cooperative Extension veterinarian who directs UMaine’s Animal Health Laboratory, a campus-based service for Maine veterinarians, livestock producers and animal owners.
In addition to providing a variety of diagnostic services, including necropsies and research, Lichtenwalner works with veterinarians, farms and industries to help control problems related to animal health in the state.
“I realized I really liked learning about the mechanisms of disease,” says Girardin, who graduated from UMaine in May. “I had already started applying to vet schools, but realized I wanted to do more than I originally thought. I wanted to do something with food animal health and infectious disease, possibly become a state vet, monitoring diseases while helping to keep production high and implications to the environment and animals low.”
By the end of her junior year, Girardin had decided to pursue a master’s degree in public health, focused on infectious disease and public policy as they relate to domestic food animals. After that, she’ll pursue her degree in veterinary medicine.