For Cynamon Gates, the decision to enroll at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) was an important part of the life and career plan she has been developing since fifth grade.

A junior, Gates sees majoring in animal science at the UAPB Department of Agriculture as a crucial step in achieving her dream job as an international veterinarian, according to a news release.

Gates is originally from North Chesterfield, Va. Her parents, Christopher and Candace Mitchell, live at Pine Bluff.

In addition to her regular studies, Gates recently completed a one-month Spanish language program in Antigua, Guatemala, during the summer semester of 2019. At the La Union Spanish School, she took intensive language lessons, learned about Guatemalan culture and agriculture, and participated in community volunteer and service-learning activities.

“Speaking and understanding Spanish became easier after about two weeks because I needed to use the language to communicate with others every place I went,” she said. “This turned out to be great practice outside the classroom. In the village of Ciudad Vieja, I was better able to socialize daily with my Guatemalan host family and new amigos.”

Gates said the study abroad experience is pertinent to her future career. During the program, she volunteered at Eco Farms, a sustainable farm operation in San Felipe, Antigua, where she gained hands-on experience with new gardening techniques and animal care practices.

“I was amazed at how sustainable the farm was and how the farmers met all their needs with no material wasted,” she said. “I fed and helped care for the farm’s dogs, chickens, geese, turkeys, rabbits and guinea pigs. I was able to mix their feeds, which were all made from maize kernels and organically-grown produce such as kale and bok choy that I picked by hand.”

Gates’ first experience abroad taught her other skills she plans to use in her future career.

“I learned how to deal with both tranquil and stressful situations in another country while using another language – something I will be faced with while pursuing an international career,” she said. “I was able to get outside of my comfort zone, be more open-minded and learn new study techniques.”

Gates said witnessing both human and animal poverty in Guatemala was a profound emotional experience.

“When I asked about the condition of the animals, someone told me, ‘It’s not that we don’t care about them, it’s just that we struggle to find food for ourselves,’” she said.

The experience fueled her intentions to become an international veterinarian and save helpless animals even more, Gates said.

“Ever since I was a child, dogs were my favorite animals, and I aspired to be a veterinarian,” she said. “As I grew older, I never once strayed from my destined path. However, I eventually realized I have a passion for all animal species on the planet and decided to broaden my career interests.”

Over time, Gates decided to strive to become an international veterinarian. Her goal was to educate herself in both domestic and foreign agriculture so she could someday help animals across the globe.

After graduation, Gates aims to join World Vets: International Aid for Animals, a non-governmental association that works to improve the health and wellbeing of animals, people and communities by providing veterinary aid and training in developing countries and by providing disaster relief worldwide.

“World Vets has a positive impact in over 45 countries,” she said. “They improve the lives of thousands of animals each year by providing free veterinary care through a volunteer force of over 4,000 individuals combined with financial support and donations.”

Gates said she chose to attend UAPB because she wanted to gain a meaningful education in the field she was interested in at a good value.

“The animal science program at UAPB is amazing,” she said. “It’s well-coordinated and informative, and the faculty and staff are very helpful in providing opportunities to help students reach their individual goals.”

After her trip abroad, Gates is now looking forward to the prospect of continuing to develop her Spanish language skills.

“I derive from Cuban-American heritage, and I have always been infatuated with becoming fluent in my own native language, as well as the languages of other cultures around the world,” she said.

Gates credits Karl Walker, interim chair of the UAPB Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, with being a great influence during her education so far.

“Dr. Walker has been a mentor and role model,” she said. “He has presented me with job and career opportunities and mentored me academically. He continues to be very supportive of my dream career.”

— Will Hehemann is a writer/editor at the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences.