Class of 2027 GDB Scholarship Recipients

University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine first-year students Aliyah Luntsford and Morgan Berndsen are this year’s recipients of Gentle Doctor Benefit scholarships. The interest from the Gentle Doctor Benefit endowment provides significant scholarships to two incoming students. Additionally, the college provides $100 scholarships to each member of the incoming class.

Aliyah Luntsford

Aliyah Luntsford is a native of Cairo, Missouri, a small village in the north central area of the state. Luntsford earned her Bachelor of Science degree in animal sciences at Mizzou. From an early age she knew that she wanted to pursue veterinary medicine.

“When I was young, my parents bought me a veterinarian play set,” Luntsford said. “I would constantly be giving my stuffed animals checkups, and I think that’s where my interest in the field really began. As I got older and started shadowing at local clinics, I knew that veterinary medicine was the career for me. I just fell in love with it. I love not only helping animals, but also people, and that is where my true passion for pursuing this career lies.”

Luntsford was accepted by multiple veterinary schools but was sold on the strong community of the Mizzou CVM. The friendly nature of students, staff, and faculty, as well as the two-plus-two curriculum, cemented her decision. “I wasn’t 100 percent sure I would be going to Mizzou when I was first accepted,” Luntsford said. “Now that I am reflecting back on the veterinary education I have already received, I cannot imagine myself anywhere else.”

As a first-year student, Luntsford has not chosen a specific path for her veterinary medicine career but has a wide range of interests to explore along the way. “I’m interested in wildlife and exotics, mixed animal practice, emergency medicine and potentially specialization,” she said. “As of right now, I’m just going with the flow and will see where these next four years will take me careerwise.”

Luntsford is active in many extracurricular groups including the Gentle Doctor Benefit Student Committee, the Mizzou Graduate Professional Council, the Student American Veterinary Medical Association, the Student Chapter of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, the Student Chapter of the Emergency and Critical Care Society, the Student Chapter for the Society of Theriogenology, the Student Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Veterinarians, and the Raptor Rehabilitation Project. She also works at the Veterinary Health Center as an office support assistant.

Outside of school, Luntsford spends her time exploring and trying new things. “I always try to travel on my long breaks from school and enjoy going on short road trips whenever I can find the time,” she said. “I also try to be outside whenever I am able. I love to hike with my dog, hammocking, or really any activity that will get me sunshine and fresh air. I’m also an avid reader and have recently gotten into weightlifting.”

The honor of being named a GDB scholarship recipient is not lost on Luntsford. “The scholarship means everything to me and the amount of gratitude that I have for receiving it is indescribable,” she said. “This scholarship really solidified my choice in committing to Mizzou. Imposter syndrome in veterinary school is real, but this scholarship tells me that I am exactly where I need to be with my life.”

Morgan Berndsen

Morgan Berndsen, a native of Breese, Illinois, hopes to pursue a career in mixed animal general practice close to her hometown. For Berndsen, the allure of mixed animal practice comes from the variety that it offers. “I love the idea that every day comes with different challenges and experiences,” Berndsen said.

Berndsen is a graduate of Southeast Missouri State University. She says her drive to become a veterinarian comes from her love of helping both people and animals. “I want a career that works just as closely with animals as it does people, and veterinary medicine is the perfect mix for me,” she said. “Knowing that as a veterinarian I have the ability to help both an animal and a person at the same time brings me joy like nothing else. I love the variety of opportunities this field brings and that I can be a part of the change that drives the profession even further forward.”

When choosing which veterinary school to attend, Berndsen was not sure where she wanted to end up. Things became clearer after visiting Mizzou for her interview. “I immediately felt at ease with the student ambassadors and my interview panel, even though I was anxious about my interview,” Berndsen said. “Seeing the school and how the professors and students interacted with each other made me feel like I was at home.”

Berndsen participates in a variety of clubs including Swine Club, Bovine Club, Small Ruminant and Camelid Club, Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Club, Foal Team, and the Theriogenology Club. She was recently elected as the SAVMA vice president and is currently serving as the vice president-elect, learning how to best perform in the role when her term begins with the next academic year.

Outside her life as a busy veterinary student, Berndsen enjoys going upland bird hunting with her father and their two German shorthaired pointers, Chase and Jet. She also enjoys trap shooting, which she did competitively for nine years before leaving for college. Her other hobbies include reading and kayaking.

Berndsen says the scholarship provides significant relief for the financial burden of veterinary school. “It’s no secret that veterinary school is expensive, especially as an out-of-state student,” she said. “This scholarship decreases the strain on my finances and gives me the opportunity to take out fewer loans for my first year in school, until I can obtain my in-state residency. Having this scholarship really helps me feel even more grateful for the school I chose and lessened the burden of out-of-state tuition.”

By Nick Childress