Two Students Earn Veterinary Student Research Fellowship

Cummings School scholars receive prestigious fellowship from FFAR and AAVMC
A smiling woman with long brown hair kneeling down with her arms around a sheep.
Fellowship recipient Eleanor Kharasch, V25, interacts with a sheep on the Cummings School campus. Photo: Courtney Wallner, V25

Eleanor Kharasch, V25 (she/her), and Courtney Wallner, V25 (she/her), students and friends in the D.V.M./M.P.H. dual degree program at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, have been named as 2023 recipients of Veterinary Student Research Fellowships, sponsored by the  Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) and the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC). They are the first two Cummings School students to earn this fellowship.

Each year since 2019, up to 15 vet fellows are selected among applicants from accredited schools of veterinary medicine worldwide. They are provided with $10,000 and offered an opportunity to work with a qualified mentor and conduct research to advance global food security, sustainable animal production, and environmental sustainability. The fellowship culminates with presentations at the annual Veterinary Scholars Symposium, which will be held in Puerto Rico in August, where Eleanor and Courtney will share their findings to date. 

Researching the efficacy of a dewormer on regional farms
Collaborating with Dr. Rachael Gately, assistant clinical professor in the Department of Ambulatory Medicine and Theriogenology, Eleanor is sampling sheep and goats from farms in southern New England to determine the efficacy of a commonly used dewormer, fenbendazole.

“Through this research we will gain an understanding of the efficacy of this drug among these herds,” Eleanor explains. “Resistance of parasites to medications is a major challenge that producers face in the agricultural industry, and results in infections that are extremely difficult to treat. This research will allow for more in-depth parasite management strategies as we begin to understand the resistance levels for this region, which are currently unknown.”

Shocked and empowered to receive the fellowship, Eleanor will expand her research project. “I’ve been able to accommodate the larger sample size that I had hoped for because of the fellowship,” Eleanor says, “enabling me to do individual sampling at nearly 30 farms.” 

Eleanor grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, and learned about agriculture during visits to her mother’s native land, the Philippines. “I observed both large scale agriculture and subsistence scale agriculture—this ranged from production farms to families owning a single water buffalo.”

For Eleanor, those observations sparked interests in studying agriculture, getting involved in farms, and eventually becoming a veterinarian. After participating in Cummings School’s summer Adventures in Veterinary Medicine program as a high school student, Eleanor knew that she wanted to return as a veterinary student. “My only goal since I was younger was to attend school here,” she says. 

She earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science from the University of Vermont, and focused on the University’s student-run dairy management program. “We helped manage and care for the 50-head milking herd and sold our milk to Cabot [Creamery],” she explains.

While helping to manage the dairy herd, it piqued Eleanor’s interest in public health. “We learned about the prevention of infectious diseases, biosecurity and maintaining a safe food supply,” she explains, which led to her to apply to the M.P.H. program. 

Eleanor has concentrated her Cummings School education in the public health program, while also participating in the Student Livestock Organization. “We learn a lot from the large animal vets, and my favorite Tufts experiences are through this organization.”

She tailored her interests in large animal medicine and agriculture through a food safety course created by Dr. Meera Gatlin, director of the D.V.M./M.P.H. program and co-mentor of Eleanor’s research project. And last summer, Eleanor gained additional hands-on experience through an externship with the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, where she worked with Dr. Brianna Medina at numerous processing facilities.

Upon completion of her degree, Eleanor hopes to start working in a large animal practice. “I want to maintain my large animal skills and be involved with farms as clients,” she explains. “I hope to bring a public health perspective to my work and am so grateful for the endless support from my research mentors. I wouldn’t be able to do this without their expertise and guidance.”

Campus Beekeeping Project

A honeycomb of bees.
The large yellow mass is a new comb, filled with baby bees, made by Cummings School’s honey bees at Cummings School. In a week or so, pupal stage bees will emerge from the “capped brood. Photo: Courtney Wallner, V25

Courtney’s story, and the focus of her research, was recently captured in an article about restarting Cummings School’s beekeeping project, affectionately titled “Honey I Shrunk the Patients: An Introduction to Honey Bee Medicine and Management for Veterinary Professionals.”

“Gaining financial support for this project means the world to me,” Courtney says, noting that hers is a niche field, and most of the funding goes toward traditionally studied species in veterinary medicine.

This support shows me that there is interest and care for honey bees in terms of animal agriculture and veterinary medicine, which is highly encouraging. 

In addition to helping to fund the beekeeping project, the fellowship will enable Courtney to focus more effort to ensure the long-term survival of the project after she graduates in 2025. “We hope to make Tufts [Cummings School] a student chapter of the Honey Bee Veterinary Consortium and to make this a recognized student club through SAVMA [Student American Veterinary Medical Association], which is so exciting. And we can expand the project and get a lot more people involved.”

As classmates in the D.V.M./M.P.H. program, Courtney and Eleanor have forged a friendship, which has included Eleanor’s participation in the beekeeping project. “I have taught her what I know, and she has done so well,” Courtney says. “She has been my rock through this, and it’s filled my heart.”

Courtney looks forward to sharing what she has learned through the apiary [beekeeping] project at the Symposium in August. “There are a lot of good resources for people who want to begin beekeeping,” she says. “However, there are not as many resources for veterinarians who want to start beekeeping. I’m very excited to share what I have learned and, I hope, to generate more interest.”


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