Perspectives Online, The Magazine of The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Summer 2009 Issue

Kristy Kenney takes leadership skills from CALS to vet school

Kenney, here tending to a companion animal, hopes to become a large-animal vet.
Photo by Marc Hall

Kristy Kenney is a glass-half-full kind of person. When she talks about starting vet school in the fall, excitement practically beams out of her ears. She says she’s nervous, but she prefers to focus on the bright side.

“I had a really busy senior year, and I made it through, so I’m hoping that if I can handle that, then I’ll be able to handle vet school,” says Kenney, a participant in the College of Agriculture and Life Science’s Food Animal Scholars program. She also walked on to the N.C. State women’s basketball team and served as a resident adviser in Wolf Village.

“I’m excited,” she says. “The other option is to be afraid? No. I’d rather just be happy.”

The 21-year-old from Apex has a lot to be happy about. She maintained an impeccable academic record and graduated in May from the College’s Department of Animal Science and will enter N.C. State’s College of Veterinary Medicine in the fall.

“There’s a shortage of food-animal vets, so this program is designed for students who know they’re interested in food animals,” Kenney said. “Once you’re in, you’re guaranteed a spot in vet school as long as you maintain certain requirements.”

As an undergrad, she helped conduct research with pigs under the guidance of animal science professor Dr. Billy Flowers. The project focused on reproductive health and breeding, Kenney’s passion.

“It was fascinating,” she says. “It’s amazing how animals are created – how people are created – from just two cells.”

She also worked with cows as a member of the Animal Science Club, so becoming a large-animal vet began to feel like a calling, she says. At 5 feet 11 inches tall, Kenney says, “I always joke with people that I was built for them, so I might as well work with big animals, right?”

Kenney says she’s loved animals as long as she can remember. She animatedly tells a childhood story of a run-in with a cat that scratched her, and how, moments after that encounter and without any fear, she walked right up to a strange dog. “I’ve always been drawn to animals, never afraid of them,” she says.

A self-described over-achiever, Kenney graduated with a 4.0 GPA. She also worked a couple of summers at the Dixie Trail Animal Clinic. Her many experiences, especially playing ball for the late Kay Yow, sharpened her leadership and people skills, Kenney says.

Kenney was shooting hoops in Carmichael Gymnasium on campus in the early fall of her senior year when one of the team’s managers spotted her and encouraged her to try out for the team. “I thought he was out of his mind,” she says. But after several others encouraged her, she gave it a shot.

“I ended up getting a call back,” Kenney says. “And I can’t believe I did this, but I originally said no. My reasoning was this is my senior year. I want to tailgate, I want to do senior stuff, go on spring break … show cows with the Animal Science Club.”

But she reconsidered.

“It was like a try-out every day at practice,” she says. “My fear was I’d go through all those weeks, and they’d decide that they didn’t need me. But, two weeks into it, Coach Yow said she was going to make me a member of the team. From there it was a whirlwind.”

It was worth every moment of stress, she says, just to have had the experience of learning from Yow.

“Despite the fact that I was a walk-on, Coach Yow always saw my potential,” Kenney says. “She gave me chances. I got playing time this year because she took a chance on me. It was incredible.

“She is exactly the person you read about in the media. When she passed away, I felt like I wasn’t done learning from her yet. I’m so glad I said yes. Now that I look back, I can’t believe I was ever considering saying no.”

The word “excited” is a fixture in Kenney’s vocabulary as she describes the classes she’ll take in vet school. She’ll attend for four years and may tack on an additional two years if she decides to specialize.

“There’s just so much to look forward to,” she says. “I can’t wait to learn about the in-depth details of different processes that go on within the body. I’m so excited about surgery. In our second year, we’ll start spaying and neutering, and the third year, we’ll do general surgery.”

What advice would she pass along to someone just starting out at N.C. State?

“While being motivated is so crucial, having a life in college and making friends is also crucial,” Kenney says. “I’m so blessed to have good friends and have made good grades. I couldn’t have asked for it to happen any better for me.”

—Suzanne Stanard