Like many in the veterinary community, it was a love of animals that enticed Andrea Ackerman to become a veterinary technician 22 years ago. Ackerman, who is certified as a vet tech in Colorado and Wyoming, also loved the medical side of it, too, making it the perfect career choice, she said.
A few years ago, however, Ackerman decided she wanted to expand her career and do something different.
“I always liked teaching people,” she said.
So she started researching online bachelor degree programs to fulfill new goals of teaching veterinary technician classes at a community college. Ackerman, who had taken online classes in the past, said she knew online was the route she wanted to take.
“To me [an online program] is less challenging than going to school,” she said, pointing out that you can go on vacation or won’t miss a class due to weather.
She did note, however, that participants in such programs must be self-motivated and very self-reliant. It takes a certain personality to be successful, she said.
Another positive aspect is that you don’t have to reside in the same state as the online program. Ackerman lives in Loveland, Colo. The school she chose, Duquesne University, is based in Pittsburgh.
Ackerman chose Duquesne University’s Humane Leadership Bachelor’s Degree Program because it was the most comprehensive online program out there, she said, and is based on real-life subjects and issues.
The program’s students come from a variety of professions, according to the university, including animal shelter workers and volunteers, animal control officers, humane educators, veterinary technicians and even lawyers.
Some of the courses in the degree program include animal health and behavior in a shelter environment, recognizing animal cruelty, and interpersonal violence and studies in humane education.
Courses are available entirely online in an accelerated format. The accelerated format allows students to finish their undergraduate program in less time while still maintaining full-time student status for financial aid purposes, according to the university.
Ackerman received financial aid for the two years it took her to complete the program and graduated in 2009. She said that as a single parent, she could not have afforded to pay for school otherwise. Having the degree paid off right away, according to Ackerman.
“Having a bachelor’s degree helped me feel more confident in applying for a teaching position because a college teaching position is not an easy thing to get,” she said.
Ackerman, who also obtained a master’s degree in adult education from Colorado State University, now teaches at Front Range Community College in Fort Collins, Colo. She’s been teaching there for about a year and a half.
“I really love my job,” she said. “You get to the point when you have been doing something for a really long time you feel like you’re doing the same thing again and again. But the students are so excited. It’s the first time they have drawn blood, first time they have found a parasite under a microscope, first time they were able to properly restrain an animal. … Everything you are teaching them is so exciting to them, it gets you excited.”
Ackerman said that she always puts the humane aspect into the education. It’s not just about getting the catheter in, she said, it’s about the animal being as comfortable as it can be.
“You get so focused on the medicine, you forget that it’s not about how many blood draws you did today,” Ackerman said. “It’s about each one of these animals having the least amount of pain, the least amount of suffering while you are doing the procedure on them.”
If there’s one thing that Ackerman has learned from the program and her general reading it is that compassion tends to expand.
“If you teach compassion, it spreads,” Ackerman said. “Just like if you teach hatred, it spreads. It’s the same thing with the animals. The more compassionate you are toward these animals, the more the staff around you will be more compassionate rather than everybody just trying to get things done.”
In short, the more compassion the better, she said.
As for the future, Ackerman said that she can picture herself continuing to teach. She would also like to get involved with more animal welfare issues to make a difference, she added.