A MAPP to a Bright Future

Cummings School’s M.S. in Animals and Public Policy prepares students for a career of helping animals
Two smiling women holding a confiscated crocodile leather shoe brought by USFWS agents
Helene Flittie, VG23 and Becca White, VG23 pose with a confiscated crocodile leather shoe brought by USFWS special agents. Photo: Malaya Franden, VG23

While most academic programs struggle to find and articulate what makes them unique, the M.S. in Animals and Public Policy (MAPP) program at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine has no such issue: it is one-of-a-kind. Other programs may study animals through a theoretical or academic lens, however, no other program is based at a veterinary school and focuses on improving animal policy.

“MAPP students learn to evaluate evidence and link what they learn to impacts on animals, people, and the environment,” says Dr. Allen Rutberg (he/him), program director and associate research professor in the Department of Infectious Disease and Global Health. “They build on those links to advocate for community policies and practices that will benefit everybody.”

“The MAPP program originated as part of an effort to professionalize the field of animal advocacy,” says Dr. Emily McCobb, V00, VG02 (she/her), associate clinical professor, director of the School’s Shelter Medicine Program, and a MAPP graduate. “Being at a veterinary school, the MAPP program is science-focused and places its students within a community dedicated to helping animals.”

McCobb serves as a core member of the MAPP faculty, along with Dr. Rutberg; Seana Dowling-Guyer, associate director, Center for Shelter Dogs; and Dr. Megan Mueller, A08, AG10, AG13 (Ph.D.) (she/her), associate professor. 

Foundational Coursework Sets the Stage for Exploration

The MAPP program’s flagship Animals in Society course provides an in-depth look across many different areas of animal policy and well-being. Modules on wildlife, companion animals, farm animals, and laboratory animals provide students with historical and political perspectives on today’s animal controversies. “We feel especially strongly that helping students see the viewpoints of people with whom they disagree is fundamental to a MAPP education,” says Dr. Rutberg. “If they’re going to be constructive advocates, they need to know where they might find common ground with political opponents.”

Another distinctive portion of the MAPP program is its Human-Animal Interaction seminar, which provides students with foundational knowledge about the psychology that underpins the human-animal bond. Mueller says, “We focus extensively on understanding and evaluating research evidence in the field. To be an effective professional, you must understand the evidence and how to translate it into practice and policy.”

In policy advocacy, communication is key. “We insist on face-to-face learning,” McCobb explains. “Government interactions are face-to-face. They require making connections and presenting your material to the right people in a concise manner.” Student presentations, discussion, and writing assignments directed at the public and policy makers are woven throughout the program and emphasized in Dr. Rutberg’s Policy Communication course.

There are other benefits, too. “As our students are working, they connect with guest speakers who are employed in the field and use those connections to get externships and prepare to secure jobs,” says McCobb.

With Faculty Support, Students Find Their Paths 

The program caters to individual educational and career aspirations. “We invest in each student,” McCobb explains. “Each receives intensive faculty mentoring and support. I’ve heard from many students that they feel they did not feel supported in their academic life prior to enrolling here. The MAPP program helped them to figure out what they wanted to do and how they could make an impact in that area, and they were supported to pursue their goals.”  

MAPP students can customize their education by pursuing electives in animal welfare, behavior, law, conservation, and shelter policy, then dive deeper into a specific interest through independent assignments and research projects.

But discovering one’s passion can take some time. According to McCobb, many students who are interested in the MAPP program are passionate about animals, but they sometimes struggle to decide what to do next. “Most students are focused on animal welfare, human-animal bonds, or the impact of animals on the environment, and they soon find out that there are many options available to them,” McCobb shares. “Many career options exist in animal advocacy or policy, in nonprofits and in government, and this program prepares them well to learn about them and then develop the skills to be successful in those careers.” 

Small class sizes enable MAPP students to develop a strong, collaborative community. “They really get to know each other, and thrive on interacting with each other, with faculty, and with guest speakers. You’re immersing yourself in a professional network,” says Mueller.

Research Connections Open Career Options

The MAPP program resides in Cummings School’s Center for Animals and Public Policy, a national thought leader that conducts and encourages the study of complex issues around the impact of animals in society. MAPP students benefit from and participate in the Center’s research. 

Research led by McCobb and Dowling-Guyer centers on the welfare and behavior of companion animals, with special attention to the importance of accessible veterinary care in diverse communities. Dr. Rutberg’s research and policy advocacy focuses on helping people appreciate and live with wildlife, while Mueller explores the psychology of human-animal relationships in communities. In addition to providing opportunities for student research, the faculty’s professional connections help place students in externships with partnering organizations in government, animal protection, and animal sheltering. 

MAPP graduates find many career paths by which to help animals and people. Some pursue law school, a Ph.D., or veterinary medicine; but most graduates work at animal shelters, animal and environmental protection non-profits, university offices that enforce regulatory compliance in the use of lab animals, and government. 

Among some notable recent alumni, Esther Lam, VG19, drafted a bill protecting animal welfare for Guam; Gabrielle Reisner, VG22, serves as a U.S. food business manager for Compassion in World Farming; and Caroline Bonfield, VG23, helps shape shipping policy to reduce emissions through a position with Ocean Conservancy.

“This program does an exceptional job preparing students for a fulfilling job and career,” Mueller says. “It has a robust network of alumni, including organizations with multiple alumni of our program. They know the skills that our students and graduates have, so they want to hire them.”