DE PERE, Wis. — Since she was in first grade, Alicia Gehlhoff knew what she wanted to do with her life: care for animals.
“I never questioned it,” said Gehlhoff, a 2018 graduate of Florence County High School. “There was never a doubt in my mind. I always wanted to be a veterinarian. Most students are trying to find what they’re interested in, but I always knew. I would put little PowerPoints together to sell my parents on getting chickens or rabbits. I wanted experiences with various animals at a young age.”
At age 16, she began job-shadowing veterinarians at clinics in the area, seeing first-hand what their day-to-day lives looked like. That’s when she really became serious about her calling.
Gehlhoff, the daughter of Jim and Wendy Gehlhoff of Florence, Wis., was set to attend either the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, UW-Madison or the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, but her mother suggested she give St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wis., A look before making a final decision.
That decision, she said, was made “halfway through the tour” at St Norbert.
“The campus itself is so beautiful,” she said, adding, “I felt there was a real community here and believed I was going to get a lot of personal attention from the professors because of the small class sizes.”
In just a few weeks, Gehlhoff will graduate with a biology degree with an emphasis in biomedical science, becoming the only pre-vet major in the Class of 2022 of more than 500 students.
In February, Gehlhoff was accepted to both the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Minnesota Twin Cities veterinary medicine programs, her top two choices of the schools she considered. She will begin her studies at UW-Madison in the fall.
Gehlhoff’s acceptance into the program was no small feat. “It’s harder to get into veterinarian school than medical school,” she said. “The reason for that is there are only like 29 veterinarian schools in the country. They have a limited class size. Most of my classes at Madison will be around 100 students.”
Gehlhoff conducted research with Deborah Anderson, professor of biology and Gehlhoff’s academic adviser at St. Norbert. Gehlhoff said it was important to take advantage of options for upper-level biology courses, something that isn’t always available at larger schools.
“Alicia is a highly motivated, hardworking and focused student with a generous, optimistic personality,” Anderson said. “She will use her academic talent to succeed in vet school.”
In addition to being a part of the honors program, Gehlhoff made the dean’s list every semester and participated in a number of extracurricular activities. She was involved in the pre-vet club and worked with the college’s Violence Against Women Act grant team and Title IX office.
Gehlhoff was instrumental in developing a for-credit course to educate people on sexual assault. The course is being reviewed for approval at St. Norbert.
She served as a mentor for younger students in the biology, chemistry, computer science and math programs, through St. Norbert College’s Women in STEM program. She also served as an academic peer mentor and teaching assistant.
“Those were some of my favorite experiences, for sure,” she said.
She also tutored kindergarten through eighth-grade students in math and served as an aide for students with learning disabilities at Aldo Leopold Community School in Green Bay, Wis.
To top it off, she spent her summers job shadowing at veterinary clinics in De Pere, Seymour and Florence. This summer, she’ll return home to Florence to work at Nose to Tail Animal Hospital, with owner Dr. Kim Van Laarhoven.
“Alicia has proven to me she knows how to handle the path in front of her and the obstacles needed to achieve her dream,” VanLaarhoven said. “I believe wholeheartedly that Alicia will be putting her all into accomplishing a veterinary degree and becoming a great success.”
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