While the Swine Club at the University of Missouri was valuable professionally for both Anna Hartke and Mark Wendell, it also proved to be special on a personal level.
Hartke and Wendell grew up in different parts of Illinois and both arrived at Mizzou as animal sciences majors in 2016. They had a couple of courses together during their freshmen year, but they first struck up a conversation during a Swine Club meeting as sophomores.
Those conversations led to a relationship, which continued as the couple earned their degrees in 2020 and transitioned to MU’s College of Veterinary Medicine to pursue their Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degrees. Hartke and Wendell are now engaged, with their wedding set for June, just three weeks after they will earn their DVM degrees.
“We’re obviously both so happy that we chose the University of Missouri,” Hartke said. “Our experiences here have been nothing but positive, and we’re thrilled that each of us will soon have two degrees from Mizzou. The friendships and relationships we’ve built are so meaningful and our hands-on learning experiences have been vital as we prepare for our professional careers.”
Hartke and Wendell grew up less than 130 miles away from each other, in Teutopolis and Jerseyville, respectively. Both grew up in families who worked with animals. Hartke’s family farming operation included hogs and crops; Wendell’s father is a small-animal veterinarian.
“I knew I wanted to find a major related to animals,” Hartke said. “I was already thinking about veterinary school while in high school. I toured a few colleges but the faculty I met with at MU were stellar. I knew right away that I was going to fit right in.”
“I always had an interest in veterinary medicine, considering that my old man is a veterinarian,” Wendell added. “Plus, my brother went through the animal sciences and veterinary medicine programs at Mizzou and he had great experiences. That really made my decision very easy.”
Wendell was excited to follow in his brother’s footsteps at Mizzou – including working with Trista Strauch, an assistant teaching professor and student advisor within the animal sciences degree program. Strauch was one of several professors who made an impression on both Wendell and Hartke during their undergraduate years. They said that Tim Safranski (professor), Rodney Geisert (professor) and Jonathan Green (associate professor) all made positive impacts on them, both inside and outside of the classroom.
“There is a long list of professors who were amazing to work with,” Wendell said. “The faculty were so willing to not only advise us on animal-related interests, but also on our own personal goals. They gave us so much insight into the industry.”
“I loved working with all of my professors in the animal sciences program,” Hartke added. “I felt a great connection with Dr. Safranski, especially, because of my interest in swine. He was a great mentor for me and helped guide me with several decisions that I had related to the industry.”
Safranski is the state swine extension specialist and also served as advisor for the Swine Club. Hartke and Wendell eventually served as officers in the Swine Club, with Hartke taking a job with the Swine Teaching and Research Farm at MU. The couple also traveled with Safranski to China during a CAFNR study abroad experience. Wendell participated in the program twice.
“During my first experience there was no African Swine Fever there, so we were able to visit a ton of hog farms and see thousands of pigs,” Wendell said. “Unfortunately, the second time we were only able to see a couple pigs because of the disease. However, we were still able to do a lot – and both programs were great in their own ways. We formed a great bond with all of the participants and built a deeper connection with Dr. Safranski, too.”
Hartke and Wendell both held industry internships during their time in the animal sciences program as well. Hartke spent a summer with Purina Mills working with their national sales team. Wendell took an internship with DNA Genetics, a family-owned swine genetics company located in Nebraska.
“Our internships were just part of the great hands-on learning we were able to do while at MU,” Wendell said. “There are also so many great laboratories on campus and farms in mid-Missouri that help each animal sciences student gain important experience before entering the workforce.”
After earning their animal sciences degrees, sticking around Columbia was an easy decision for the couple. Both Hartke and Wendell were extremely interested in becoming veterinarians and had heard great things about the program at MU, so they jumped at the chance to apply to the College of Veterinary Medicine. Both were accepted and are now just a semester away from earning their DVMs. They recently took their boards, too.
Mizzou’s program includes two years spent primarily in classrooms and laboratories and two years devoted to clinicals in the MU Veterinary Health Center.
“Veterinary school is definitely tough, but our professors have been amazing the entire time,” Hartke said. “They have been so nice and are willing to work with you on anything. Our questions are very welcomed, and you can tell that they’re passionate about teaching.”
Hartke and Wendell said they will be returning to Wendell’s family veterinarian operation after finishing their degrees. They will join Wendell’s brother, who is already part of the Wendell family practice. Hartke and Wendell also recently closed on a house – with some acreage – as they are hoping to have some livestock of their own.
“We have a lot of goals, and we’re excited to take those first steps in a few months,” Wendell said. “We have such a strong support system in place, and we have Mizzou to thank for that. The friendships we developed will look a bit different, but we know they will continue to grow.”
As Hartke and Wendell reflect on their time as Tigers, both said that the people they met and the relationships they built stick out the most. They also both appreciated all of the opportunities that they were able to pursue, especially during their time in the animal sciences degree program.
“In animal sciences, you can take on as much responsibility as you want,” Wendell said. “There are a ton of opportunities to develop leaderships skills and take complete ownership of your work. I honestly can’t describe how meaningful being part of this program was. Both Anna and I have grown so much. When we see problems now, we don’t turn away – we use the skills we’ve learned to solve them.”
“I know it sounds cliché, but I love that when you’re in CAFNR, you’re part of the family,” Hartke added. “I also just really appreciate the pride people have for MU. There are so many great people at this university and I’m glad we’ve been able to be a part of it for so long.”