Alex Andryszak, a 2010 graduate of Erskine College and until a couple of months ago an admissions counselor at his alma mater, has packed up and moved to Scotland, where he is studying veterinary medicine at the University of Glasgow.
“I applied last October and was invited for an interview in Boston in February 8th,” he said. During that week, an alumni event for the University of Glasgow was also scheduled in Boston, and Andryszak decided to stick around to meet some people who had experienced living and studying at the school.
It was at the alumni event, just two days after his interview, that the University of Glasgow’s admissions director pulled him aside and asked whether he had checked his email that day.
“She told me that I had received an offer to attend their vet school,” Andryszak recalled. “I was floored, and asked whether I could hug her. She laughed and said, ‘Of course, I’m used to it.’”
A graduate of the South Carolina Governor’s School for Science and Mathematics who was awarded an E.B. Kennedy Scholarship at Erskine, Andryszak is no stranger to competition. He had heard that it was hard to get into veterinary school, and the numbers confirm it.
“There are only 29 vet schools in the United States, and their classes range from 65 to 140 members. With thousands of applicants across the country it is quite competitive,” he said. “In Europe there are only four schools that are accredited according to American standards.”
Restrictions are placed on the enrollment of students from North America—Andryszak said they constitute only about a third of the veterinary school’s entering class. “So this year, Glasgow only accepted 35 North American students.”
His parents, who are marine biologists, were excited when he applied to the famed institution, and when he was accepted, “My friends were mostly surprised, almost as much as I was, when I told them that I was moving to Scotland.”
Veterinary medicine is by no means a second-choice career for Andryszak, though he did consider other options. “I have wanted to be a vet since my senior year of high school,” he said. “I had been planning on going to medical school, so I worked at a med school, doing research, for a summer.”
During that summer experience, he realized that he liked medicine, “but the human medical field was changing dramatically,” he said.
“There were more and more people specializing and insurance plays a major role in the medical field,” he said. Uncomfortable with the idea of specializing, or maybe being forced to specialize, he started looking into veterinary medicine.
“I haven’t looked back since,” he said.
Neither vegetable nor mineral
Asked whether his primary interest is in small-animal practice or in large-animal practice, Andryszak’s answer is—yes.
“Ideally I would like to do both,” he explained. “I would like to work in very rural areas working with livelihood animals. This would consist of traveling to farms and working mostly with the livestock and horses, but also any other animals that the farm may have, such as dogs and cats. This style of veterinary work is called mixed practice.”
His parents joke with him about wanting to be James Herriot, the Yorkshire veterinarian who wrote a series of books, beginning with All Creatures Great and Small, about his mixed-practice veterinary career, inspiring a television series in the United Kingdom.
“I figure there aren’t very many vets that are better than him,” Andryszak said. “Plus, I am already on the right track — he is an alumnus of Glasgow.”
Set to succeed
Andryszak identifies several factors that have helped to prepare him for this next step in his academic career, including a basic one — his decision to come to Erskine for his undergraduate degree.
“I chose Erskine because it had a fantastic biology department that took an interest in me as a prospective student,” he said.
The attention Andryszak received before he enrolled continued once he began his studies that first fall semester.
In addition to mentors in the biology department such as Dr. Mary Lang Edwards and Dr. David Ritland, he cites Professor of English Dr. Brad Christie (now interim vice president and dean of the college), who has directed many theater productions at Erskine and, for Andryszak, “helped diversify my education on and off the stage,” he said.
He credits Erskine’s small class sizes with allowing him “to become closer to my teachers than I could have done at a bigger school” and said he was given the opportunity “to ask for help when I needed it.”
His closest friends were a bit surprised that he chose Erskine, he said, because he had been planning to go to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “Now, when my Governor’s School friends and I get together, I tell them about the experiences I had at Erskine and they are impressed with what this school offers.”
But wait, there’s more
Certainly the academic rigor he faced at Erskine will help him handle the courses at a demanding veterinary school. But for Andryszak, there’s more to the story. “My Erskine experience has helped to build foundations in many aspects of my life,” he said.
More than anything else, he said, “I was able to build very strong friendships with many people,” and those friendships have a spiritual component that makes them stronger.
He carries with him to Glasgow the knowledge he gained as a biology major, his experience as an admissions counselor at his alma mater, and something extra.
“Erskine has helped me to appreciate people and to realize that every single relationship one is involved with is an opportunity to learn,” he said. His attitude should serve him well as he takes up residence in Scotland, far away from family and friends.
As for his work in the admissions office, “I am very proud of the fact that I have been able to be a part of Erskine’s future,” he says. He looks forward to seeing future graduates succeed.
“For every student, Erskine offers a different experience, but there is one constant,” Andryszak believes. “Erskine is a small school that helps its students achieve their big dreams.”