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Never giving up on her dreams

Closeup of Jesse Cogdill with a patient
Fourth-year veterinary student Jesse Cogdill poses with a golden retriever named Samson, who is a volunteer blood donor at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Jesse Cogdill could have given up on her dreams of becoming a veterinarian at many points.

Like when her first application to veterinary school was rejected back in her home country of South Africa.

Or, years later, when an academic advisor told her she had very little chance at being accepted into the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program at Washington State University without an undergraduate degree.

Or even as she contemplated four long years of intense study away from her husband.

But here she is, at 32 years old, only a few weeks away from graduating at WSU. 

“Never let anyone get you down,” Cogdill said. “You can achieve whatever you want, as long as you work hard, and you believe in yourself.”

While she will be older than most of her peers when she receives her degree, from a young age her love of animals shone brightly. Her childhood was always filled with animals – dogs (seven at one point), horses, ponies, and more. For that, she can thank her father.

“My dad, he really loved animals,” she said. “I think that’s where I got it from.”

Still, it wasn’t until after high school when Cogdill was working at a veterinary clinic she realized she wanted a career in veterinary medicine. Her father would not have been surprised at her choice, but he wasn’t there to encourage her to pursue her dreams. Midway through Cogdill’s senior year of high school, he died from complications of diabetes. 

The loss was devasting for Cogdill, who struggled to cope and remain focused. Her grades suffered, and when she applied to enter a seven-year veterinary medicine program in South Africa, she was denied. 

Cogdill did not give up and felt pursuing an undergraduate degree could make her a more attractive candidate. Before enrolling, she decided to take a year away in an au pair program and arrived in February of 2014 in the United States. 

She settled in with a young family in Washington state. By the end of the year, she met and was engaged to her husband, Steve. And the U.S. is now home.

“The plan was for me to just come here for a year and go back and work on getting into veterinary school back in South Africa, but then I ended up meeting Steve,” she said. 

Cogdill still had her mind set on practicing veterinary medicine and after finishing a veterinary assistant program in Renton, she enrolled at Bellevue College to complete the prerequisites required for veterinary school. Despite being discouraged by her advisor to apply at WSU without an undergraduate degree, Cogdill submitted her application. 

Now, she is counting the days until graduation and when she can begin a new chapter of her life. Cogdill will initially be going into general practice, but, long term, she can see herself in a more specialized field, like emergency and critical care or cardiology.

Most of all, she is looking forward to once again being with her husband at their home in Renton, Washington. They’ve now been married seven years, but the past four years have mostly been spent apart, with Steve working on the west side and Jesse immersed in her studies in Pullman.

“Long-distance wasn’t as hard as we thought it would be because vet school keeps you really busy and his job kept him really busy,” Cogdill said. “But now more than ever, because it is so close, it has been a little bit harder.”

The long-distance relationship has been made easier by the great friendships she formed during veterinary school.

“There was a big group of nontraditional students in my class. We all come from really diverse backgrounds, but we are in the same sort of stage of life where we are a couple of years older, and we know what we want out of life,” Cogdill said. “We are really supportive of each other, too. I have made some best friends.”

She is also excited to see her mother, stepfather, and siblings who are hoping to make the trip to Pullman for her graduation. It has been three years since she has seen any of her family.

And while her father will not be there, she knows he would be proud. 

“My dad was a really big part of bringing animals into my life – he just loved animals so much,” Cogdill said. “While he’s not here to see what I am doing, I know he would be really happy.”

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