Photo of Yessenia Picha with an alpaca courtesy of Mushtaq Memon.
PULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University’s veterinary college might seem an unlikely place to learn how to better diagnose a sick Peruvian hairless dog or pull a cria (baby alpaca) from an alpaca’s womb during a breech birth. But for Yessenia Picha, a veterinary graduate student and Fulbright scholar from Peru, WSU offers just what she needs to excel at her profession in her home country, especially where female veterinarians are in short supply.
What’s more, Picha, 29, is reportedly the first woman veterinarian in Peru to attend veterinary graduate school on U. S. soil.
And she just can’t get over how much we on the Palouse adore our animals.
Impressed by WSU
How Picha came from a city built with volcanic rock in the Andes mountains to the fertile soil of the Palouse is as intriguing as the story of her life here.
She first traveled to WSU at her own expense four years ago at the urging of her veterinarian boss in Peru, she said. Because that country has fewer academic requirements than in the U.S, she had completed her degree and was working as a veterinarian.  Much of her work involved alpacas – distant relatives of the camel that resemble small llamas. Quizzical, big-eyed creatures, they are bred mostly for their luxurious silky fiber to make clothing and blankets.
“My boss had been to this university and was impressed by the people who taught and did research,” said Picha, a petite woman with dark, alert eyes. “He thought I could become a better veterinarian by studying here.”
“Becoming better at what I do”
During her three-month visit, she studied under veterinary reproduction professor Ahmed Tibary, who shared his impressions with colleagues, including Mushtaq Memon.
“He explained that she was here on campus all the time, so curious and eager to learn,” recalled Memon, associate professor of comparative animal reproduction.  “I remember talking to her afterward and how she told me in broken English that she loved it here and wanted to attend graduate school.”
But there were two problems: Picha had little money and spoke little English. So Memon, who had just returned from a Fulbright fellowship in Oman, encouraged her to apply for a Fulbright scholarship and wrote a letter of recommendation.  Picha returned to Peru and applied to the highly competitive international education program.  Not only did she receive Fulbright funding for WSU graduate school, but also for a rigorous English language program.
“I can hardly believe it. I came to visit and now I am in school again, learning so much – and in English! – and becoming better at what I do for a living.”
A different animal dynamic
The budding animal doctor’s advisor is Tibary. She also works closely with Memon, learning about large animal reproduction, which even includes a herd of alpacas living at WSU. The alpacas here are gentler than those in Peru, said Picha, probably because we treat them more respectfully.
“At home, alpacas don’t like people much because we view them more as business subjects and don’t show much them affection. They ignore us and spit on us. But here, they are gentle and obey. I had no idea alpacas could be so kind or so smart.”
The same can be said of horses.  Peru, legendary for its Andean peaks, lush jungles and ancient Incan ruins, isn’t home to many horses, Picha explained. Until she came to WSU, she had never even touched a horse. Gently prodded by professors and fellow students, she nervously approached one, expecting it to kick and spin with the force of a bucking bronco.  Instead, it simply nuzzled her with a wet nose.
“It was amazing,” she recalled. “In Peru when we think of horses, that’s not the image that comes to our minds.  They are so much more domesticated here.  It is a good thing, I think.”
Making a difference via teaching
More women than men work in veterinary medicine in the U.S., but in Peru, it remains a man’s world, said Picha.  When she returns, she will tend to sick animals – the hairless Peruvian dogs, the macaw parrots and the alpacas – but she also wants to teach.
 “It’s how I can make the biggest difference,” she said.
Which suits Memon, a Fulbright ambassador, just fine.
“The idea that she’ll go back and apply what we’ve taught her and teach it to others, and the idea that she can be a mentor to other young women with limited educational opportunities, I’d say that’s a big accomplishment – for her and for WSU.”
Yessenia Picha, 509-330-6790,
Media contact:
Linda Weiford, WSU News, 509-335-3581,