For Maria “Pia” Gomez, family has always been important. In her native Peru, it is customary for extended families to share a residence. As a child, she, her parents and siblings resided with her maternal grandparents.
“My grandfather and I picked out my first dog together,” Gomez said. “He instilled my love for animals.” It was that love for animals and the exposure to agriculture that she gained on her paternal grandfather’s farm that attracted her to veterinary medicine.
But it was a sense of family and community that brought Gomez to Mizzou.
“It wasn’t in my top picks before I visited,” she said. “I was focused on schools that were closer to home, but I left just knowing, I wanted to be here. It just felt like home.”
Gomez moved with her parents, who are teachers, and two siblings from Arequipa, Peru, to Rockford, Illinois, when she was 8. She earned a bachelor’s degree in animal sciences with a minor in chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While at the University of Illinois, Gomez explored the world of animal sciences by working at the veterinary college’s wildlife clinic, assisting her professor in swine reproductive biology research, volunteering at the local humane society, and being an active member for the Illini Service Dog Training Program.
With a younger brother still in high school and an older sister pursuing a master’s degree in nursing, the $7,000 Gentle Doctor Benefit Scholarship came as a welcome surprise for Gomez.
“It was definitely helpful, especially as I’m from out of state. My parents can’t help out with our secondary education as much, so my whole family is very grateful.” Gomez said.
Gomez said she is keeping her options open as to what area of veterinary medicine she would like to pursue. This summer, as a veterinary research scholar, she will be working with the Research Center for Human-Animal interaction. She particularly enjoys working with dogs, and while an undergraduate, trained service dogs and donated them to people with disabilities. She said she would like adopt a dog and train it to be a therapy dog next year.
In her spare time, Gomez enjoys being part of intramural sport teams, cooking, and spending time with friends and of course, dogs.
“Any time I can spend with a dog, that’s what I do,” she laughed.