For nearly as long as she can remember, helping animals has been a passion for Amanda Wagoner.
The 2007 Lander University graduate said she grew up owning dogs and cats, and the furry creatures helped her develop a love she plans to turn into a career.
In the fall of this year, Wagoner will enter Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Science, one of only about 30 veterinary colleges in the nation.
"Vet school is extremely competitive, so I'm very excited about being accepted to Mississippi State," Wagoner, of Columbia, said. "I feel like that is where my heart is telling me to go."
Wagoner, who was a member of the Beta Beta Beta biological honor society and Chi Sigma Christian organization while at Lander, said one of her long term-goals after the four-year program at Mississippi State is to return to Columbia to work at a veterinary clinic. Though she hasn't yet decided what type of veterinary medicine she would like to practice, she is certain she wants to work with dogs and cats.
"I want to work with small animals, though I'm focusing now on specializing in one area. I've volunteered at internal medicine clinics for the past two summers, but I don't have experience in a wide variety of veterinary medicine fields," Wagoner said. "Vet school will give me a taste of everything so I'll know exactly what I want to do."
Wagoner said she enjoys the special connection animals have with their owners and other humans.
"What I enjoy most is the bond you have with them, especially dogs and cats. If you've had a long day at work or at school, as soon as you walk in the door, they are there waiting on you. They don't care what kind of mood you're in," she said, laughing. "They love you no matter what."
Wagoner has had her sights set on vet school since middle school, and she said she concentrated on that goal through high school and college. At Lander, she took as many animal science courses as possible, including animal development, physiology and comparative vertebrate anatomy.
"I've always been focused on what I needed to do to get into vet school. Being able to take those kinds of courses was a great experience, and they helped improve my application," she said.
Along with Mississippi State, Wagoner was also accepted into the veterinary program at Tuskegee University in Alabama. Lander associate professor of biology Michael Runyan said being accepted to multiple veterinary schools isn't unheard of, but it is certainly a notable accomplishment.
"While there are a number of medical schools across the U.S., vet schools are somewhat rare. Acceptance to vet school is extremely competitive because there are so few of them," said Runyan, who served as Wagoner's adviser during her time at Lander. He said her acceptance to Mississippi State is a wonderful opportunity for not only Wagoner, but also for future Lander students.
"Amanda will be able to establish a good reputation for Lander and its students, and hopefully that will open doors for other students who want to follow the same path," he said. "The stellar thing about Amanda is her dedication. She's incredibly enthusiastic about what she is going to do for the rest of her life."
That dedication and enthusiasm led Wagoner's parents to establish a scholarship in her honor at Lander, which will be used to help future students who have an interest in veterinary and biological sciences.
Wagoner also has a passion for working with elephants, and she said she hopes to eventually travel to Africa and use her training to help the large creatures.
"I'd like to take a couple of years away from the veterinary practice to travel to Kenya and do some work with the elephant refugee program," she said. "There has always been something special about elephants for me. One of my very first toys as a baby was a toy elephant, and that might have sparked my interest in them."
But for now, Wagoner said she is excited to be taking the next step in accomplishing her lifelong goal.
"I'm looking forward to being able to go out and live my dream," she said. "This is something I've wanted to do for a very long time."