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CCCC VMT graduate making impact in Hawaii

Click to enlarge,  Central Carolina Community College Veterinary Medical Technology graduate Sam Geiling teaches at Windward Community College in Hawaii's only veterinary technology program accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association. She serves as president of the Hawaii Veterinary Technician Association.

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Central Carolina Community College Veterinary Medical Technology graduate Sam Geiling teaches at Windward ... (more)

09.13.2021College & CommunityCollege GeneralCurriculum Programs

By William "Chip" Pate

SANFORD - It's hard to overstate the impact Sam Geiling has had on her profession in Hawaii, where she teaches at Windward Community College in the state's only veterinary technology program accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association.

When the Central Carolina Community College graduate won the Frances Davis Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, an honor presented to the best teachers across the entire University of Hawaii system, she was praised as "the heartbeat of the veterinary technology program," the only one of its kind in the entire state.

Geiling helped create it, taking a one-year certificate program in veterinary assisting, where she began her teaching career, and expanding it into a two-year associate degree in veterinary technology.

She later had a major role working with architects to build a new, state-of-the-art facility to centralize instruction and now serves as coordinator for a new, three-year hybrid program combining remote and in-person instruction to expand opportunities for Hawaii residents living on islands other than Oahu, where her college is located about 10 miles northeast of Honolulu.

It's quite a resume for anyone, but especially for someone who began in central North Carolina, where she acquired her expertise, her passion for teaching and the Associate in Applied Science in Veterinary Medical Technology, her only academic degree.

An Uphill Climb

If those achievements weren't enough, one of Geiling's most notable accomplishments may be helping create the Hawaii Veterinary Technicians Association and secure state licensure for veterinary technicians. That one was an uphill climb.

At the time, Hawaii had no educational or training requirements for veterinary technicians at all. Each veterinarian hired their own staff and trained them however they saw fit. Geiling remembers an early public hearing in the state legislature on her proposal to create licensure. Speaking in favor was Geiling, alone. Aligned against her were the state auditor and the state veterinary board, who didn't see the need to credential veterinary technicians.

Things seemed bleak until the debate took a turn.

"I got up to give my testimony and made the simple point," she said. "If you polled the entire room and asked them if the person putting their animal under anesthesia had gone to school or did they just come from a job flipping burgers, they would all assume they went to school, but is it more likely they hadn't."

It proved to be a persuasive point and the bill passed later that year.

It was a hard battle, Geiling said, but one worth fighting. She explains how rigorous veterinary technology programs must be to care properly for animals, largely because they cover so much material in such a short time. Over two years -- or three years in Windward's new hybrid program -- students learn technical content in weeks that could take many years "on the human side," as she puts it.

Nursing. Lab testing. Phlebotomy. Dentistry. Anesthesia. X-ray. "And on the human side, they have just one species," Geiling says. "We have dogs and cats and horses and birds, and there are species variations between those. It's an insane amount of information."

An Unexpected Journey

Her path is something Geiling never anticipated. A native of northern Minnesota, a place she describes as "The Land of Snow and Ice," Geiling arrived at CCCC about 15 years ago after serving four years in the U.S. Navy on two different aircraft carriers.

She always loved animals. Growing up, Geiling learned every dog and horse breed, probably because she made a beeline to the animal section every time she visited her local library. Even when librarians tried to broaden the young student's perspectives by pushing her from nonfiction to fiction, she agreed only after asking one essential question: "Do you know where the dog and horse stories are?"

So, as her military discharge date approached, Geiling started searching for veterinary schools and veterinary technology programs to launch her next phase of life and ended up living in Raleigh and studying at CCCC's Lee Main Campus in Sanford. It was a decision that changed her life -- not only because of the education she received, but the people she met.

Even now, more than 4,700 miles and a decade and half removed from her experience in Sanford, Geiling effortlessly lists teachers who helped her succeed. There was Nancy Robinson, now retired after 39 years teaching the same laboratory techniques courses that Geiling teaches now. Then, there was Dr. Kim Browning, a veterinarian and CCCC instructor, who had Geiling in one of the first classes she ever taught.

To this day, Dr. Browning says Geiling "absolutely stands out" as an extraordinary student and a "mature, team player" -- someone who sincerely wanted all of her classmates to succeed. "You see some students who have that extra spark, and Sam had that extra spark," Dr. Browning says. "She always stood out to us. We all knew Sam was going to accomplish good things."

But most of all there was instructor Jonathan Loftis. "He was a huge influence on me as I was starting the program," Geiling explained on a transpacific video chat, taking a few seconds to gather herself as she started to describe someone who was clearly more than a teacher, but also a mentor and friend. "I would have a question about something and he was always my 'go-to': Tell me what I do about this and tell me what I do about that." Loftis passed away five years ago, when Geiling was working in Hawaii and pregnant with her first child. She named her son Jonathan.

Making Her Own Impact

Dr. David Krupp has a unique perspective on the Windward Community College veterinary technology program. As a professor of biological and marine sciences, he appreciates the importance of veterinary science. As the current interim dean of academic affairs, he understands the challenges of running academic programs. But, most importantly, as the parent of a graduate from Windward's veterinary technology program, he has seen first hand what an impact Geiling's work has had on students.

In fact, he describes it as a life-changing experience for his daughter. "Sam was, and still is, her mentor," he said in an email conversation. "As a result of my daughter's involvement in Vet Tech, she is now doing amazing things. Most notably, she now works at the only vet that does surgeries on native and endangered Hawaiian birds and seabirds. She loves this work."

And that's what may matter most to Geiling.

Though she hasn't even reached 40 years of age, Geiling has advanced from adjunct lecturer to assistant professor and now to associate professor, a position she began officially on the first day of August. She has shaped her state's only academic program in veterinary technology and helped build a facility to house it. She has helped create statewide licensure and the Hawaii Veterinary Technician Association, where she now serves as president.

But despite all of that, what seems to drive Geiling most is making sure her own students have the same chance for success that she did, thanks to a long list of teachers she cited by name, including teachers like Dr. Browning, Mrs. Robinson and Jonathan Loftis. "I always thought those were big shoes to fill," she says. "I always looked to them and wondered how they knew so much information. And now my students look to me and say the same thing.

"It's because I had awesome teachers who taught me now to learn. They set the bar high. And I do too."

To learn more about the Central Carolina Community College Veterinary Medical Technology program, visit www.cccc.edu/curriculum/majors/veterinarymedical.