It’s always stunning to me how much we can learn from listening to another’s experiences; how much we have in common, how our goals run in tandem, if not right with, those of another. Talking with my ACTE Past Fellow Mentor was this kind of experience – affirming, motivating and communal. Kandy Smitha, the current instructor of Advanced Life Science: Animals and Veterinary Careers at J. Everett Light Career Center in Indianapolis, Indiana, is my assigned mentor and was kind enough to lend me some of her precious time.
In our discussion Kandy spoke with passion about her career paths in both human and animal medicine. A born teacher, Kandy did not find her way to the teaching profession until after she had already been a veterinary technician and a human nurse. After starting her career in animal medicine and biology, Kandy then moved to human medicine then heard the call to teach a Certified Nursing Assistant course at a local career and technical education center. Once in the world of teaching career and technical education, Kandy moved into teaching animal science, creating a Veterinary Assisting class which was the first stand alone course of its kind in Indiana. From there came a separate career pathway in Veterinary Careers with a new Workplace Specialist license in Veterinary Careers. She now teaches another class of her own creation and the only one of its kind in Indiana. The Advanced Life Science: Animals course has grown to a two-teacher program, and includes a veterinary clinic in the building where local veterinarians regularly visit to train students and treat animals.
The program, so successful they have to turn kids away, has motivated Kandy to expand her influence from her own career and technical education program to statewide impact and initiatives. Currently she is working with the Core 40 Committee, a combination of CTE teachers, the Indiana Department of Education, PLTW and other education organizations to acknowledge the quantity and quality of science being taught in several CTE programs. Through the Core 40 Committee Kandy’s goal is to create more science credits available and earned through CTE courses making CTE an even more valuable and flexible option for students and schools. Through this Kandy also acknowledges CTE teachers need support and training to explicitly teach the science already embedded in their curriculum. Working with traditional science teachers to achieve this end not only builds relationships between content areas, blurs the line between traditional science and CTE science, supports CTE teachers in teaching specific science skills, but also supports traditional science teachers in expanding their understanding of CTE, how to teach application-based science and to appreciate the partnership CTE can offer a traditional science program.
As impressive and inspiring as all of that is, Kandy doesn’t stop there. She has also created an entirely new curriculum to be taught in high school career and technical education centers or in community college programs, Veterinary Assistant. Think of the Veterinary Assistant as the animal medicine equivalent of a Certified Nursing Assistant, Patient Care Technician, or Medical Assistant. Such a curriculum or certification does not exist in Indiana. Legislation currently exists that prohibits such certifications in animal medicine, or more clearly only provides for associate degrees in Veterinary Technician, pre-veterinary programs, or veterinary programs. Kandy has been working for several years to partner with a legislator to bring a bill forward to change this. Kandy would like to create a whole other career path for people seeking to work in animal medicine. Certification paths, ranging from a semester to three semesters of coursework, can start people in a living wage animal medicine career and lead people onto greater experience or education in the field. Talk about inspiring. Kandy has it in spades.
Conversations with people who are like-minded, motivated and on-the-move have a galvanizing effect on me. People who think differently challenge me in a much different way. I appreciate, and need, both. My conversation with Kandy had that galvanizing effect and helped me see that although I am an advocate of quality CTE and have worked hard to promote career and technical education course growth, updates and revisions in our district I could do more. Much more. I’ve always been frustrated for my kids who want to work in animal medicine but do not or cannot go to school for three years to earn their Veterinary Technician degree. “Why isn’t there a certification program?”, I wondered. I wondered, but what did I DO? Kandy wondered and worked. Thanks, Kandy, for your time, your dedication to your craft and CTE, and for taking time to talk with me. I’m feeling motivated and on-the-move.