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Penn Vet Honors Innovation with 2015 Student Inspiration Awards

By: Ashley Berke Published: Oct 29, 2015

(From left) The 2015 winners are Christiana Fischer, V’17, Katherine Very, V’17, Meghana Pendurthi, V’17, Ashley Cherry, V’17, and Jonathan Madara, a 6th-year VMD-PhD student.

Ashley Cherry, Christiana Fischer, Jonathan Madara, Meghana Pendurthi, and Katherine Very received Penn Vet’s prestigious Student Inspiration Awards for 2015. Their winning projects include a partnership with Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences on model aquaponics systems, a media fellowship program, and an immersion experience on international animal welfare and public policy.

Launched in 2008, the award is presented annually to Penn Vet students who demonstrate the potential to significantly advance the frontiers of veterinary medicine and expand the profession’s impact on the well-being of animals and society. The award comes with funding from the Hill Foundation to bring each project to fruition.

“Penn Vet students are some of the best and brightest in the world,” said Penn Vet Dean Joan Hendricks. “They impress me every year with their innovation and professionalism. Our 2015 Student Inspiration Award winners carry on this tradition of excellence, and I look forward to watching them bring their ideas to life for the benefit of society and the veterinary profession.”

Penn Aquaponics Project

Cherry, a second-year student and native of Huntington, West Virginia, and Pendurthi, a second-year student and native of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, received $25,000 for their winning proposal, “Penn Aquaponics Project.” The funds will be used to develop a commercial aquaponics system at Philadelphia’s W.B. Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences, combining the farming of tilapia fish with hydroponics-based agriculture. The system will demonstrate a potential model for sustainable farming methods in urban spaces.

Additionally, Cherry and Pendurthi plan to develop a course for Penn Vet students on fish health and production. This course will give students the opportunity to develop a skill set for careers in aquatic medicine, and will allow Penn Vet students to engage with their local community.

“We are really excited to share our love of aquatics with both our Penn Vet community and the Greater Philadelphia community. Aquaponics systems are perfect for the city because they can fit a large variety of size and shape options,” said Cherry.

“We hope this project will be the beginning of a larger movement to increase urban agriculture practices,” said Pendurthi. “Aquaponics systems have the potential to provide fresh vegetables and lean protein to communities that otherwise may have limited access to healthy food options.”

Veterinary Experts Transmitting Science (VETS) Media Fellowship

Madara, a sixth-year VMD-PhD student and native of Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, received $12,500 for his winning proposal, “VETS Media Fellowship.” In conjunction with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, this program will provide select veterinary students with immersive media training to successfully communicate the important role veterinarians fulfill in society at large.

“Many people trust their veterinarians, but not many people realize how widely veterinary medicine impacts their daily lives, and how much expertise veterinarians can contribute to many diverse issues of public importance,” said Madara. “The purpose of the ‘Veterinary Experts Transmitting Science’ Media Fellowship is to change that misperception.”

International Animal Welfare and Public Policy

Fischer, a second-year student and native of Howell, New Jersey, and Very, a second-year student and native of Murrysville, Pennsylvania, received $12,500 for their winning proposal, “International Animal Welfare and Public Policy.” The funds will be used to establish an immersion experience for Penn Vet students at the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale dell’Abruzzo e del Molise (IZS) in Teramo, Italy. Students involved in the program will establish international veterinary connections and learn about animal welfare from a European perspective.

“Our trip to Italy will focus on animal welfare initiatives, since Italy is a great model for welfare practices,” said Fischer. “The entire nation practices no-kill shelter medicine, meaning unwanted pets do not face death if they are brought to a shelter. Italy also has an excellent model for large animal welfare, especially animals entering the food chain.”

The students’ short-term goals are to study the differences in legislative policies in different European countries and to establish connections with Italian leaders in the veterinary and public health fields. The long-term goal is to create a sustainable partnership between Penn Vet and the IZS so that students involved in the program can become ambassadors for the advancement of animal welfare around the world.

“Christiana and I are thrilled and honored to receive this award for our international project,” said Very. “One of our goals was to create a program that will live on long after we have graduated from Penn Vet. This award will be instrumental in ensuring that sustainability. We are very excited about the potential of this program to inspire Penn Vet students to become leaders and ambassadors in animal welfare, as well as the One Health initiative and legislative policymaking.”​​​