Kaleigh Simmons

Kaleigh Simmons will graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Pre-Veterinary Science in May 2024. Growing up across the Connecticut River in nearby Hatfield, Massachusetts, Kaleigh knew from a young age that UMass Amherst would be the perfect school to help her achieve her goal of becoming a veterinarian due to the well-known Animal Science program, the location, and the high rate of students accepted to veterinary school. Currently, Kaleigh has been accepted to two veterinary schools and is awaiting additional decisions.

When Kaleigh was seven years old, she began riding horses. Kaleigh achieved both regional and national rankings through the United States Dressage Federation, the United States Equestrian Federation, the New England Dressage Association, and the Connecticut Dressage Association with her off-the-track thoroughbred lease horse, Coco. Kaleigh was also an active member of the United States Pony Club (USPC) and competed in both mounted and quiz rallies in New England, Virginia, and Kentucky. In 2016, she earned her C3 Dressage Specialty rating through the USPC. Kaleigh credits the USPC with her introduction to veterinary medicine and the development of her horsemanship, and also for teaching her skills like teamwork, communication, and responsibility.

In high school, Kaleigh began an internship at The Cat Hospital in Northampton, Massachusetts, under Dr. Maureen Ricksgers. As an intern, Kaleigh shadowed the doctor, maintained hospital cleanliness, and handled cats for routine and sick visits. When Kaleigh graduated high school in June 2020, Dr. Ricksgers hired Kaleigh as a veterinary assistant and her role expanded. Under Dr. Ricksgers’ guidance, Kaleigh has learned numerous clinical skills, such as venipuncture, radiographs,medication and vaccine administration, and IV catheter placement. She has particularly enjoyed monitoring anesthesia for Dr. Ricksgers’ surgery patients. Kaleigh’s experience at The Cat Hospital has developed her interest in general practice, primary care, and client education. She hopes to one day formulate lasting and meaningful relationships with her future clients and patients as a general practitioner, and further enhance the human-animal bond for people and their pets.

In May 2021, Kaleigh began working at the UMass Hadley Farm. Under the guidance of Alice Newth and Steph Puro, Kaleigh has learned about livestock handling and care, and has particularly enjoyed the time she has spent out on pasture with the flock during the summers. At the farm, Kaleigh has learned skills such as vaccine and medication administration, hoof trimming, tail docking, and ear tagging. She has observed Dr. Beltaire during a goat kid castration and a lamb necropsy, and has helped with lambings and lamb processing. She is very appreciative of the work that Alice and Steph have done to make the farm a great place to work and learn.

During the summer of 2022, Kaleigh added a third job to her schedule and worked as a veterinary assistant at South Deerfield Veterinary Clinic. Working at a mixed animal practice allowed Kaleigh to expand on the skills she had learned at both The Cat Hospital and the UMass Hadley Farm. Her role included recording accurate medical histories, performing in-house laboratory work, and assisting the doctors with exams.

In the fall semester of her senior year at UMass, Kaleigh enrolled in the Research Animal Management class with Dr. Carreiro. This was an eye-opening experience for Kaleigh as she learned about the importance of animals in research and the regulations that protect them. The lecture materials consisted of the husbandry of multiple animal species used in research, how research colonies are managed, and an overview of anesthetic drugs. In the laboratory portion of the class, she was able to dissect a mouse specimen, practice IV, IP, and SQ injections on live mice, perform a tail vein blood draw, and learn how to suture, place ID ear tags, and apply wound clips. As a culmination to all she had learned that semester, Kaleigh and her fellow classmates performed a survival surgery (an orchidectomy/surgical castration) on male mice. This has been one of Kaleigh’s favorite courses at UMass due to the small class size, the amount of hands-on experience she has gained, and the course content covered by Dr. Carreiro.

During her time at UMass, Kaleigh served as a Notetaker for Disability Services, a Peer Mentor for the Pre-Vet and Animal Science club, a Minute Mover for the fall 2022 and 2023 move-in weekends, a Teaching Assistant for Animal Science 103, and more recently, as a Peer Advisor for the VASCI department. She has also worked in the Albertson Lab since the fall of 2022 with PhD candidate Niah Holtz. Kaleigh has been able to create 3D renderings of cavefish for further anatomical analysis. Recently, Kaleigh has been working on virtually landmarking the jaw muscles of the many specimens. Outside of her academics and work, Kaleigh enjoys hiking, traveling, and spending time with her friends.

Kaleigh is extremely grateful to be a recipient of the Richard and Sandra Johnson Scholarship, the W.P. Brooks, W.B. Drew, and S. Upton Drew Memorial Scholarship, and the Ascension Farm School Fund. Kaleigh would like to thank her family (and her five cats) for always supporting her dreams; Alice Newth, Steph Puro, Dr. Beltaire, and her academic advisor, Dr. Jerry, for their support and guidance during her time at UMass; and lastly, Dr. Ricksgers, hospital cats Harry and Zeke, and the entire team at The Cat Hospital for helping her achieve her goals. Kaleigh cannot wait to make all of you proud as she enters this next chapter of her life.