Craig Mullenax is a senior veterinary student. Not senior as in, “fourth year,” but senior as in, “has been invited to join AARP.”
At age 57, Mullenax has neatly trimmed gray hair, crow’s feet and a gracious manner. He favors artisanal cheese and might be overheard singing the baritone part in Puccini’s opera “Madama Butterfly.”
He is the oldest veterinary student at CSU.
“What the heck are you doing in vet school? You’re an old man,” people tell him.
Mullenax explains it this way: “We go to school for our own gain. But more important, we should go for increased knowledge and talents to help people in need. We have a duty to grow our gifts and give them away, so we should all keep learning.”
Enriching education through diversity
Last month, Mullenax began training in Colorado State University’s Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Program – the oldest student ever to enter the program. He was admitted along with 147 other freshmen. Their average age is 25, and 82 percent are women, a demographic common at veterinary schools across the country.
That puts Mullenax in a distinct minority.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Colorado State values diversity in all forms as students prepare to meet global challenges that require new ways of thinking.
“We know students learn from faculty, yet their education is greatly enriched and broadened by other students,” said Dr. Ashley Stokes, assistant dean for admissions and student services. “Our DVM Program seeks to admit cohorts of students who are well-prepared for a rigorous curriculum and also bring with them a variety of interests, experiences, backgrounds and ideas. This helps create an ideal learning environment.”
In addition, Stokes said, leaders of the DVM Program anticipate that diversity in veterinary ranks is increasingly valuable as the profession seeks innovative solutions for global health challenges, especially those at the interface of human, animal and environmental health. This concept is embodied by the One Health movement.
These are the very ideas that motivated Mullenax to pursue a career in veterinary medicine after multiple volunteer trips to India during the past decade. With experience running a large goat dairy in Longmont, Colo., Mullenax traveled to villages near Bhubaneshwar, on India’s northeastern coast, to provide herd-management services to subsistence farmers.
He visited families raising goats and water buffalo, offering help with artificial insemination, vaccination and deworming, among other needs. It soon was clear to Mullenax that, to be effective, veterinary clinical services must be provided with an understanding and respect for the economic, social, political and even religious context.
During one trip, Mullenax was called to help a bull that had been maimed in a vehicle collision. Because Hinduism holds cattle as sacred, the animals often wander villages and streets without restriction. As a revered animal, the suffering bull could not be euthanized, so Mullenax splinted its legs and hoped for the best.
He also witnessed the custom of mixing manure with water and sprinkling it throughout a home. The practice, considered purifying, also has potential to spread pathogens and infectious disease.
“As future veterinarians, we are going to have to respect and accommodate these beliefs and practices,” Mullenax said. “I don’t see how we can be effective clinicians without paying attention to this bigger picture.”
Pursuit of a fourth career
With motivation from his volunteer experiences in India, Mullenax hopes to work in international veterinary medicine. His mantra comes from Mahatma Gandhi: “Learn as if you were to live forever.”
With this core belief in lifelong learning, Mullenax is pursuing his fourth career. After earning a bachelor’s degree in music and nonprofit administration from Northwestern University, he worked for Lyric Opera of Chicago, then became executive director of a symphony orchestra. He spent several years in real estate investment. Then Mullenax owned a dairy goat farm of 350 milking does outside Longmont; he became adept at the demands of livestock health and husbandry and trained in France to make specialty goat cheese.
Born in Denver, Mullenax grew up in Colombia and Ecuador with parents who also were veterinarians focused on international agricultural development. Yet his own philosophy about education, combined with career experiences and travels in India, drew Mullenax to veterinary medicine.
Like other freshmen veterinary students, he spends his days in the Anatomy Building classroom, laboratory and study cubicles. He admits to a Type-A personality, but balances the inclination to fixate on quiz scores by considering broader goals.
“There are huge needs in the world, and we need to work to address them. That’s the most important goal,” said Mullenax, who earlier earned a master’s degree in public health from the Colorado School of Public Health at CSU.
Veterinary school is “extremely demanding,” Mullenax said. “I love it.”
And with that, he was off to study for his first anatomy exam.
DVM Class of 2019
A look at this fall’s entering class of students in CSU’s Doctor of Veterinary Medicine Program:
- 148 students total
- 10 students will train for two years at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and complete the program in Fort Collins as part of a new partnership between the two universities
- 1,587 applicants
- 75 DVM students from Colorado; 16 other states represented
- Average admitted GPA is 3.6
- DVM freshmen class is 82 percent female
- Average age is 25, with an age range of 21 to 57
- 42 in the DVM Program are the first in their families to complete college degrees