Students in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Animal Science can choose from a wide variety of career paths across multiple disciplines in animal agriculture. But Zane Wanjura ‘24, animal science major from Weimar, has something different in mind. He has his sights set on medical school to become a neurosurgeon.
For many students at Texas A&M University, the path to medical school begins as an undergraduate majoring in biomedical sciences. Wanjura wanted to ensure he could thrive as a student pursuing his passion for medicine while staying true to his agricultural background and experiences.
Upon learning his dream of becoming a doctor could be a reality through animal science, Wanjura knew what path to take — a degree in animal science with minors in biomedical sciences and psychology.
He remains involved in his family’s cattle operation and makes the most of his student experience by being part of multiple agricultural student organizations throughout the College.
Wanjura said he is committed to “doing” school, which led to him earning both the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Department of Animal Science Outstanding Junior awards as well as the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Student Council Finance Committeeman of the Year. He has been inducted into the following honor societies: Phi Kappa Phi, Gamma Sigma Delta, Phi Eta Sigma and Alpha Zeta, and is also a 12th Man Kickoff Team Foundation Scholar.
He shared his experiences in the department, how he juggles the demands of coursework and student life, what led him to pursue medicine and much more.
Why did you choose to attend Texas A&M?
I chose to attend Texas A&M because of the values, traditions and experiences it has to offer. I can say our family has been Aggies forever. I truly believe that I bleed maroon.
Why did you choose animal science?
I am a fourth-generation cattle producer, grew up showing steers and heifers, was active in 4-H and FFA, and served as a Texas 4-H Livestock Ambassador. When it came time to choose a major, I attended an animal science prospective student session and met with an adviser in the department. After speaking with her and learning about the science option within the animal science degree plan, I knew this was the department I wanted to be a part of and was the perfect fit for me.
Speaking with the adviser also helped me to understand how animal science could allow me to complete all prerequisites for medical school while still being involved in the agriculture industry. Due to my experiences with 4-H and the industry, I felt most comfortable in the Department of Animal Science and had already made some essential connections with Texas A&M faculty.
I also learned about Agriculture and Life Sciences to Medicine, Ag2M, as part of the Early Assurance Pathway Program with Texas A&M University School of Medicine from a family friend. After learning about this program, I discussed it with my advisor and made sure I completed all the necessary courses during my freshman year to be able to apply.
Tell us about your experience in the Ag2M Program.
The Ag2M Program is one of nine Early Assurance Pathway Programs offered through the School of Medicine. Ag2M is designed for outstanding College of Agriculture and Life Sciences students interested in medical school and a career as a physician or physician scientist. During my sophomore year, I applied, submitted letters of recommendation and interviewed. I was one of three students accepted.
My acceptance into the program fully commits me to attend the School of Medicine where I will work to earn a Doctor of Medicine. As part of the Ag2M Program, I completed a 10-week Pathways to Medicine Seminar course during the 2022 fall semester at the school. I also must complete 60 hours of community service and 60 hours of shadow/clinical experience each year.
What impacted your decision to pursue medicine as a career?
I have been interested in a career in medicine for as long as I can remember. I even have Halloween pictures to prove it. I know a lot of little kids want to be a doctor when they grow up, but I stuck with my dream.
As an infant and young toddler, I was sick quite often. My pediatrician, Dr. Michele James, spent a lot of time making sure to get an accurate diagnosis for me. I spent many days going to specialists, having blood drawn and undergoing tests. This led to a close relationship with Dr. James and helped me understand that I wanted to serve others through medicine when I grew up.
Do you have an idea of what area of medicine you would like to pursue?
I was convinced that I wanted to specialize in neurosurgery in September 2017. My grandmother had been having terrible migraine headaches and was diagnosed with normal pressure hydrocephalus. She had surgery to place a ventriculoperitoneal shunt to help drain the extra cerebrospinal fluid from her brain. This experience made it clear to me that I wanted to become a neurosurgeon because I was so intrigued with how the brain functions. I had the opportunity to visit with both the neurologist and neurosurgeon about my grandmother’s condition. This opportunity allowed me to see what their career entails and sparked an interest like no other.
What activities have you been involved in as a student, and how have they helped you academically and personally?
I have been involved in:
- College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Student Council: vice president of finance and Finance Committee member.
- Saddle and Sirloin Club: Ag Council representative.
- Department of Animal Science Ambassadors: chair of the Programs and Recruitment Committee.
- San Antonio Livestock Show and Rodeo Beef Cattle Skillathon intern.
- Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo intercollegiate livestock judging intern.
- Texas 4-H Roundup management team intern.
- ANSC 117 Texas Barbecue teaching assistant.
These activities have helped me build lifelong relationships. When you feel personally connected to a group or organization you begin to see purpose and fulfillment. I believe I have always been inclined to serve others, be a leader and be involved. These qualities help me stay driven and focused and, ultimately, help me achieve my goals.
What has the experience been like studying two minors?
After choosing to major in animal science, I knew I still wanted to take courses relating to human medicine. This led me to the biomedical sciences minor, which allowed me to take genetics and microbiology courses that focus on medicine. With my interest focused on the brain, I chose to add a second minor in psychology, which allowed me to take classes learning how and why people think the way they do. With a major and two minors, I take a full course load of 15 or more hours each semester. The coursework has been demanding, but I am always up for the challenge and school is my passion. I believe my high school advanced placement and dual credit courses, along with my extracurricular activities, set the pace for me early on and I have been able to manage the demands of academics and leadership organizations.
In your opinion, what makes the Department of Animal Science special?
The Department of Animal Science truly feels like a family. The professors and staff know you by name and are willing to help you whenever needed. Texas A&M is a huge campus, but the department is full of familiar faces. For me, there are students I showed with, students I served on Texas 4-H Council with and students I competed against in public speaking competitions in my classes and organizations. I really feel like I am part of a big family here and not just a number.
What were your favorite classes?
My favorite animal science class would have to be ANSC 101 with Chris Skaggs, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for stakeholder relations and associate dean for student development for the College. I took this class my first semester of freshman year and learned many valuable life lessons. The class taught us about creating our resumes, getting involved on campus and how to be a successful student. I value this class because I was able to meet many of my friends there and still use the skills learned today as they are applicable to all careers.
My favorite non-animal science class is Physiology of Domestic Animals. This was one of the required classes for my biomedical sciences minor. I greatly enjoyed learning about all the body systems and how they function. While this class focused on domestic animals, it taught me many things that are relevant to my future career as a doctor.
Who is your favorite animal science professor?
My favorite animal science professor is Jeffrey W. Savell, Ph.D., vice chancellor and dean for Agriculture and Life Sciences and a meat science professor in the Department of Animal Science. I had Dr. Savell as a professor for both the honors Meats class and Texas Barbecue. He is truly a remarkable man who cares about his students and their success. Now in his role as vice chancellor and dean, I have been able to work with him as part of my involvement in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Student Council. Dr. Savell has consistently reinforced that choosing to come to this college for my undergraduate degree was the right choice.
Do you have any key mentors?
My biggest mentor and role model is my mom. She has always supported me in anything and everything I do. Her favorite saying to tell me and my sister is, “the sky is the limit.” Mom has helped instill a drive, passion and motivation that has helped me succeed and do well in my academic endeavors.
Kara Matheney, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agriculture and natural resources agent in Washington County, was my first county agent. She believed in me from the beginning and helped set up key opportunities for me to get every experience possible through Texas 4-H. These experiences have led to lifelong personal and professional connections. Kara was one of the first people to suggest that I go the animal science route on my journey to medical school.
What advice would you give to incoming students?
Get involved. There is something for everyone and everyone needs to find their group. Texas A&M, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the Department of Animal Science have helped me flourish. Organizations are the life of a college campus. This is where you will meet some of your best friends, future colleagues and greatest mentors.