Vet with a Cause

November 13, 2019

By Adrienne Egolf

Photo by Scott Cook.

Biology and sociology double major Marissa Cobuzio ’19 is pursuing a career in mission-based veterinary medicine because she loves animals—and people.

There’s no doubt Marissa Cobuzio ’19 loves animals. So much so that for most of her life she’s dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. But talking to Cobuzio, it doesn’t take long to realize that at heart, she’s a people person. She’s effusive and energetic, and her passion for service peppers her conversation. Maybe that’s why her dual major in biology and sociology—two areas of study that even she admits are at the opposite ends of the scientific spectrum—makes so much sense for her.

As a member of Rollins’ Bonner Leaders Program—a cohort-based community service initiative that pairs students with local nonprofits—Cobuzio spent the last year and a half of her time at Rollins raising a black-lab-golden-retriever mix named Ari for Canine Companions for Independence (CCI). She also worked with the nonprofit to get Rollins approved as a service-dog-raising campus and developed alongside campus administration the infrastructure needed to continue the program for future Rollins students.

“The hope is to eventually apply to a residency program in the study of animal reproduction,” says Cobuzio, who started at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine this past August. Her long-term goal is to work for a mission-based organization like CCI, where she can continue fusing the passions for helping animals and people that she started honing at Rollins.

We recently caught up with the vet-in-training to find out how Rollins helped broaden her worldview and shape the path she’s on now.

Marissa Cobuzio walks with a service dog.
Photo by Scott Cook.

Now that you’ve been at Cornell for a few months, can you tell us a little bit about how you think your experience at Rollins prepared you to succeed at one of the country’s most prestigious universities? “Rollins definitely taught me how to prioritize my time in an efficient manner and gave me the opportunity to be involved with so many different things, like the Bonner program, a sorority, and being a puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence. The rigor of the science department at Rollins taught me how to study effectively in order to not just remember concepts and regurgitate them on an exam, but rather to think critically through the information so that I have a working understanding of it long-term. As a veterinarian, all of the information I am learning now will be relevant and important during the next three years and after I graduate, so I’m thankful that at Rollins I studied in a way that fostered actual learning rather than simple memorization.”

You’ve known you want to be a vet for a long time. What made you decide to study biology Rollins? “The one thing you’re going to get at Rollins that you’re not going to get at other schools is the faculty. My professors not only know my name—they actually really care about both my personal life and my success at Rollins. In other schools, if you’re in a lab with 50 students, it’s hard to have the professor help you with anything or get to do any of the techniques. At Rollins you’re in a lab of six people, so you have to do everything. I went to interviews for vet school and spoke about that, and it was very clear that I knew what I was talking about.”

How did studying sociology help enrich your pre-vet coursework? “I think that Rollins is very good at making sure you’re able to relate what you’re learning in the classroom back to what’s actually happening in the world. It’s constantly like, ‘This is the theory. This is what’s happening. So where do we see it and how can we fix it?’ A crucial piece that Rollins has that other colleges don’t is empowering students to take action based on what they’ve learned.”

You took action by raising a service dog for Canine Companions for Independence. What was that like? “I was volunteering for Florida Hospital for Children with their pet therapy program through Bonner and really loved it. I had never really gotten to explore the animal-human bond in that way before. I realized I wanted to shift focus in vet school more toward this route. Through that program, I met a Rollins alum, Bill Gordon ’76, who had been raising service dogs for a long time, so we worked together with CCI and Rollins for two years to make it happen. There was so much thought put into it—making sure there’s housing on campus and a system in place for bringing dogs to classes, determining where the dogs can and can’t go, giving the people raising puppies the support they need. It’s been a long ride, but I’m so thankful to everyone who helped make it a reality.”

Marissa Cobuzio ’19 and one of her mentors, biology professor Jay Pieczynski.
Marissa Cobuzio ’19 and one of her mentors, biology professor Jay Pieczynski.Photo by Scott Cook.

How did the relationships you formed at Rollins set you up for success? “One of my mentors, [biology professor] Jay Pieczynski, helped me conduct mock interviews for vet schools, helped me research different programs, and helped me with requirements and getting an internship. He also encouraged me all along the way. He made a personal investment in me to make sure I was on the right path, which was huge. When I got into vet school, he was the first person I told. Bailey Clark [in the Center for Leadership & Community Engagement] was my supervisor in the Bonner Leaders Program and was so wonderful at making sure I was caring not only for my academic health, but also my mental health and focusing on the things that really matter. I also loved working with sociology professor Amy Armenia, who was my thesis advisor. She always encouraged me and made sure I wasn’t overworking myself.”

How has the experience of raising a service dog shaped the path you’re planning for your career? “It’s something I’m super passionate about, and it has completely shaped what I want to do as a vet. I wanted to be a wildlife vet for the longest time, but I’ve talked to several of the vets at CCI, and they do a lot of work with the breeding. All the service dogs with CCI are bred in California, and they do a lot of genetic testing as well as just general research on dog longevity and quality of life, and there’s a mission behind it. That sounds so incredible to me—not only doing your job but serving other people in the process. I know now that I want to get a specialty in animal reproduction and work in service dog breeding. It’s shifted my mindset about what I could do as a vet and how that could affect people.”

You spent a semester in New Zealand while you were at Rollins. What was that like? “I always knew I wanted to study abroad. I love to travel. I’m pretty independent, so being away from home was not a stressor for me. I didn’t know where I wanted to study though, and I was kind of limited by my bio major because you have to keep on track. I wound up in New Zealand and loved it! I studied in Dunedin on the South Island—you can go 20 minutes one way and you’re at the beach, 20 minutes the other way and you’re at a mountain. I loved being active and learning about the environmental policies they have there, which are so incredibly different than those in the U.S. I did a conservation project with yellow-eyed penguins—the populations are declining really rapidly and they’re culturally important in New Zealand. Studying abroad helps you see that there’s so much more to the world. I would like to practice abroad at some point, even if it’s just for a few years.”

Marissa Cobuzio, in her commencement attire, walks down steps with a service dog.
Photo by Scott Cook.

Is that global perspective something you developed in your time at Rollins? “The Rollins approach educated me about the world in general, which I think is really important—not just for vet school, but for being a functioning human in the world. Also, applying to vet school and having them see that I wasn’t just focused on biology but on being a person in the world as a veterinarian was really important. You can’t just study something in isolation. That’s not how it works. Understanding all the different influences on what you want to study is important, and being in the honors program at Rollins did that for me.”

What are some of your favorite Rollins memories? “I have a lot but one that stands out is when I raced at Dad Vail Regatta as a novice 4 boat for the women’s rowing team. We weren’t sure we would even make it past the first heat and ended up placing third in a huge upset in grand finals. It was a day I’ll remember forever.”

What are you going to miss most about Rollins? “This is cliché, but for sure the people. My best friend, the professors, my Bonner family—the people have made it a really wonderful experience. That’s another thing Rollins taught me: It’s so much more about who you do it with than what you’re doing.”

Students wearing caps and gowns walk to a commencement ceremony on Rollins College’s campus.

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