The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech officially welcomed 128 new students with a “white coat” ceremony following a four-day orientation designed to prepare them for their professional training.

First-year students walked across the stage to receive their white coats and a stethoscope at the Inn at Virginia Tech on Aug. 25. The incoming Class of 2021 arrived in Blacksburg after making it through a highly competitive application period as the second cohort of students in the veterinary college’s new doctor of veterinary medicine curriculum.

Cyril Clarke, dean of the veterinary college, spoke to students during the ceremony about the white coat’s significance as a symbol of professionalism and the science-based nature of veterinary medicine. He also emphasized that the incoming students have been afforded a rare opportunity to become veterinarians. More than 1,600 prospective students applied for admissions in the Class of 2021, the second largest applicant pool in North America, according to figures from the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.

The veterinary college was one of the first U.S. veterinary schools to hold a white coat ceremony. During the event, students also received a stethoscope to mark their transition into the profession and were welcomed by representatives from the Virginia, Maryland, and West Virginia veterinary medical associations.

Earlier in the week, first-year students completed orientation activities intended to produce well-rounded and professional veterinary students. In addition to lectures, tours, and presentations at the college, students visited the Alta Mons campground in Shawsville, Virginia, for a day of team-building exercises designed to boost their leadership, self-confidence, and communication skills.

First-year student Robert Wise of Eldersburg, Maryland, appreciated the visit to Alta Mons. “My favorite part of orientation was the camaraderie with everybody and how everybody came together as a family,” said Wise, who studied biology at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington (UNCW) before applying to the veterinary college.

Wise, whose twin sister is also starting veterinary school at North Carolina State University this fall, originally wanted to become a marine biologist.

“I began studying marine biology at UNCW but realized I wanted to take a more hands-on approach,” he said. “I discovered that I can make a change right in front of me and make a difference in the world through veterinary medicine.”

Wise is not the only new veterinary student with a family member in the profession. Theo Rouselle, of Lyon, France, is following in the footsteps of his father, a veterinarian and veterinary pathologist.

“I’ve always been around animals, but I had a life experience with a suffering animal that made me want to be able to alleviate that suffering,” said Rouselle, who was born in Ithaca, New York, but grew up in France. He studied at La Doua in Villeurbanne, France, and the University of Grenoble. “What made me want to come here was the hands-on work. The experience that I’m trying to find here will help me go into any field. I haven’t decided yet what I want to do, but the education I’m going to get here will help me.”

Rouselle also appreciated the ropes course at Alta Mons. “I got to meet my teammates, and that was fun,” he said. “As a foreigner coming here, it was really fun sharing your life experiences.”

All of the students in the Class of 2021 arrived with formative experiences to prepare them for the rigors of a four-year professional degree program. Maxwell Leslie, of Saint Louis, Missouri, studied biology and psychology at the University of Missouri and graduated in 2012.

“During my undergraduate studies, I did four years of research, and one of my research projects turned into a job after graduation. I was working full-time as an HIV researcher,” Leslie said. “Then, I needed a break and decided to go and see the world. I moved to Shanghai and taught English and biology.”

Leslie and his fiancé recently moved from China to the United States so that he can pursue his dream to become a veterinarian. “I like the balance that the profession offers between working with animals but also the biology and pathology behind it,” he said. “Veterinarians also get to work with people and clients, which I think is a cool dynamic. You need to be a people person but also a researcher. That’s a good mesh between the things that I really enjoy.”

Leslie cited the new doctor of veterinary medicine curriculum — which integrates the basic and clinical sciences in new courses organized around functions of body systems, incorporates team-based learning, and provides for early entry into the clinics — as one of the reasons for choosing the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.

“The curriculum takes a holistic approach to the students, which is nice because they really care about your mental health and physical wellbeing while also teaching you veterinary medicine,” Leslie said. “It’s a well-rounded program.”

The Class of 2021 includes 85 Virginia and Maryland residents and 43 out-of-state students who arrived with a 3.4 average cumulative grade point average. Outside of Virginia and Maryland, they represent 14 states, plus France and Brazil.