Love of animals steers student toward veterinary track

By Jim Massey, Freelance writer

For as long as she can remember, Ella Gonzales has always had a love for animals.

Whether it was dogs, cats, hamsters, or even a pet snake, she was exposed to all kinds of domesticated animals as a youngster and decided she wanted to make a career of working with them. 

Gonzales, a native of Racine, enrolled at UW–Madison in the fall of 2021 in the Animal and Dairy Sciences Department with a goal of eventually gaining admittance to the university’s School of Veterinary Madison. Her path became even clearer when the department added animal and veterinary sciences as a major in the fall of 2023.

It’s not an animal, but it is a living creature, and Ella Gonzales got a close-up look at this spider during a biology class at UW–Madison.

“Madison is a great school academically and in the research field, for graduation rates and jobs after that,” she says. “My goal has always been to go to the big state school. I’m able to stay in the state I’m from and kind of expand the different perspectives I’m exposed to, but also commit to getting an education that will help me apply to vet school.

“I can go home when I want to but I’m still far enough away where I can focus on school.”

Gonzales is a first-generation college student, as her parents both entered the workforce immediately out of high school. She was a top-level student in high school, so her parents encouraged her to consider continuing her studies in college. 

“They have always supported me in my education,” she says.

She enjoys her classes and learning, so another four years of veterinary school doesn’t scare her.

“I’ve always heard that vet school is very rigorous, but going through the undergrad program here I have experienced some difficult classes,” she says. “I believe more now than ever that I can go to vet school, succeed there and become a veterinarian, because I have had experience with my college courses.”

During the spring semester of her sophomore year, Gonzales received a $2,000 Farrington stipend for her work in Dr. Jimena Laporta’s lab, working on heat stress in dairy cattle. Farrington stipends are awarded to students working on research programs as an undergraduate.

Gonzales, a second-semester junior, dabbled with the UW–Madison boxing club as a freshman and a sophomore and hopes to get back into the sport next year as a senior.

“It was just some physical activity to get out of my apartment and get some good exercise,” she says. “During my freshman year I went to a student organization fair and learned about the boxing club, so I decided to give it a try. I really enjoyed it – there’s a lot of cardio that goes into it – but this year my time is needed elsewhere. If my schedule opens up a bit next year, I’m hoping to get back into it.”

She has also taken an interest in history, and is working toward a history certificate in addition to her major in animal and veterinary sciences.

Ella Gonzales has a love for animals of any kind, even fish.

“Most of the classes I have enrolled in have been science orientated,” she says. “As a first-semester sophomore I decided to get away from science a little bit and use my mind in a different way. I like to learn about history, so I figured I might as well take some courses in it while I’m here. The certificate was a good option. It doesn’t require as many classes as a major, but it is something I can earn for the classes I take.”

Gonzales says she appreciates the variety of classes the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences offers undergraduates.

“They offer a wide variety range of courses that I’m interested in,” she says, “topics that I want to take and learn about. They also have a great research program, so it’s a way to do hands-on work and contribute to the general animal science field.”

Gonzales says her favorite class so far has been reproductive physiology, since she is considering going into a veterinary field that deals with reproduction. 

She says whether it be dairy cows, dogs or horses, there are a lot of factors that go into reproduction. 

“We got into dissection of animals and analyzing different samples under a microscope,” she says. “It’s a very hands-on class.”

Gonzales, 21, is planning on applying to veterinary school this September. She has already begun thinking about the various aspects of the application process.

With 32 veterinary schools in the U.S. and tens of thousands of students applying to get in, she knows the competition will be stiff.

“There are not only students from UW–Madison applying to get in (to the UW School of Veterinary Medicine) but from all across the country,” she says. “It’s very selective.” 

She doesn’t know if she will work toward being a small- or large-animal veterinarian, figuring she will be able to sort that out during her four years of veterinary-school training.“I just got a job as a veterinary assistant at a small-animal clinic here in Madison and I had some experience with cows working in Dr. Laporta’s lab, so I haven’t really decided on a strict career path yet,” she says. “I’m hoping vet school will expose me to all of that and I can make a more clear decision on my exact path forward.” “It’s always been what I’ve wanted to do,” Gonzales says.