Ever since she was a young girl, JJC alumna Jenna Larios,'17, said she has always had a passion for animals. "I was always that girl that could play with cats and dogs all day long and not have a care in the world," she said.
With the help of JJC's veterinary technician program, Larios has now turned her long-time compassion for animals into a career.
Larios was born and raised in the western suburb of Wheaton, Illinois. After graduating from Wheaton Warrenville South High School, Larios said she was unsure about what she wanted to do with her life. Ultimately, she decided to stick close to home and enroll nearby at the College of DuPage.
While attending COD, Larios recalls that she often felt left out. "During my time at COD, I often felt like I just floated by each class because nothing ever piqued my interest," she said. Then, Larios saw something she would never forget. "One day, I was watching TV and I saw a veterinary technician commercial for another school. I said to myself, 'I always wanted to be a veterinarian when I was younger, so why not look into this?'
Shortly after that, Larios began researching veterinary technician programs in the area and discovered that JJC had one.
Larios said JJC became a "perfect fit" for her educational goals.
"I chose to study at JJC because the program was close to home and it allowed me to train in a field that I finally found interesting," she explained. "I also liked that the program was accredited and it was one of the top programs in the state."
Larios credits JJC professor, Eileen McKee, for helping her succeed during the intensive two-year program.
"No matter what, Mrs. McKee was always there to support me," she said. "I remember plenty of times that my self-confidence would begin to drop, but she always reminded me that I was smart and that I could do it."
While at studying at JJC, Larios worked fulltime as a vet tech at a general practice and an emergency clinic. She was a member of the Vet Tech Club and also participated in the college's study abroad program with a trip to Guatemala.
"My study abroad trip at ARCAS Wildlife Protection in Guatemala was an unforgettable experience," she said. "I had the chance to work with native South American animals like parrots, toucans, monkeys and jaguars. I also learned how to feed these animals, analyze their lab samples and prepare vaccines."
Inspired by working with such animals, Larios spent her second externship working at the Wildlife Center in Virginia. She said she found the externship experience to be extremely valuable.
"Working at the wildlife center allowed me to learn things about the veterinary world that I never knew existed. I got the chance to work hands-on with black bears, eagles and even some endangered species."
As a part of the veterinary technician curriculum, students are required to complete two externships before they graduate. The externships can range from animal clinics to universities and zoos. One reason for placing students on-site for two different externships is that students can test the waters in different career fields without committing to a full-time career.
When looking back at her time at JJC, Larios said one of her favorite memories was kennel duty.
"One of the most rewarding things about this program is being able to take care of real animals. Throughout the semester, we got to learn how to do things such as blood draws. We also got a chance to train and play with animals, so that is always fun. At the end of the semester, we get to see some of these animals be adopted and actually go home to a good and loving family. I think that is the best part of it all. Overall, it's a lot of work, but you also build a connection with the animals."
After graduating from JJC, Larios wasted no time taking her career to the next level. After successfully passing her Veterinary Technician National Exam (VTNE), she secured a one-year paid internship with the Wildlife Center of Virginia, which will start in September. She said she is excited to be going back to a familiar environment.
"I am very excited to return to the Wildlife Center of Virginia. During my externship, I had such an amazing time there and I learned so much. This experience is something that I will take with me forever," she said.
For new and future JJC students, Larios advises them to use resources like Disability Services and Counseling that JJC provides.
"Everyone at JJC is here for your benefit. They all want you to succeed no matter what. If you have a specific career or end goal in mind, just work hard. No matter what anyone says, you can achieve it. I did!"
For more information about JJC's vet tech program, visit www.jjc.edu/vet-tech/Pages/default.aspx or call 815- 280-2286.