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Begin With Freedom  MARENA FLEMING

While training service dogs for veterans, mentoring students as a resident assistant and preparing for veterinary school, Marena Fleming is driven by one thing. Discover how her journey from artist to aspiring veterinarian impacts the lives of those who have dedicated their careers to protecting our freedom.

Marena stands on a brick path outside of Core Dining Hall with a service dog sitting in front of her.



Forge your own path

Marena Fleming has always loved animals. But as she was growing up, art was a far bigger part of her life and her schooling. Initially, she planned to major in either the visual or performing arts — both passions of hers. Then, she attended a one-day event at a nearby veterinary school, and that's when something clicked: Art may be what she loved, but becoming a vet might be what she pursued.

Clemson, the top-ranked national public university in South Carolina, had long been Marena's first-choice school. When it came time to select her major., even though science was a change of direction from her art background Clemson still had what she was looking for: She chose to major in animal and veterinary science with a concentration in pre-veterinary science.

“Because of the hands-on learning provided at Clemson's six animal farms and the research opportunities we have in the Honors College, I knew that my experiences here would prepare me for vet school. And they have.”

Marena is standing outside an outdoor facility with a cow standing to her left. Marena is petting the cow with one hand and holding the lead in the other. Marena works with a colleague to operate machinery inside a Clemson research facility.

Build your community

Marena also joined the Clemson University Honors College. And then, she signed up to live and work in the Women in Animal and Veterinary Sciences (WAVS) Living-Learning Community. Both campus opportunities helped her more seamlessly adjust to life away from home and the academic rigor of her degree program.

The Clemson Honors College

More than 1,500 of Clemson’s most academically competitive students belong to the Clemson University Honors College. For the 2020 incoming class:
- Average ACT score: 33.
- Average SAT score: 1480.
- Average high school class rank: top 4.7 percent.

Marena is sitting and having a conversation with another student inside a meeting space on campus.

“My earliest days on campus were really exciting for me. It was intimidating at first to be around people who wanted to be vets their whole lives. But having a perspective that was different from the science focus helped me understand and view things in a way that really sets me apart.”

Living-Learning Communities
Growing Demand
for Agricultural

The demand for animal agricultural industry professionals continues to grow nationwide. About 50% of graduating seniors go on to further their education, and other graduates, including those leaving with graduate degrees, go on to work in the profession.

Palmetto Fellows

The Palmetto Fellows program provides awards ranging from $6,700 to $10,000 per year based on an academic level and major.

Scholarship Opportunities
Clemson’s ranking for

— U.S. News & World Report, 2022

Experience a new view

In pursuit of her Clemson degree, Marena found a passion for her work with animals inside the classroom, but perhaps more notably, outside it, as well. Memberships in student organizations including Block and Bridle, HOSA Future Health Professionals and the Pre-Vet Club provided hands-on experiences that have both inspired and informed her veterinary science work.

It was through the Pre-Vet Club that she made one of her most meaningful connections. The director of an organization that trains service dogs for veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injury spoke at a meeting about starting a puppy-training program with Clemson students. Marena, who has family ties to the military, including her father who served in the U.S. Navy, was immediately drawn to both the service aspect and the challenge of training an animal.

Marena hands off a service dog to a man in military uniform in front of a pair of park benches and some bushes.
Marena is posing in front of a statue of a man who is dressed in military uniform carrying books.

Starting the summer after her first year, Marena began working with Cooper, a golden retriever named after Clemson’s R.M. Cooper Library, teaching him different tasks, like turning on a light switch, while socializing him to ensure he has the right disposition for service work. He has now become a valuable companion for a veteran in need.

As a service dog in training, Cooper went everywhere Marena did on campus. He was by her side at two football games in Death Valley in the fall, and he lived with her on campus in the dorm, where she also served as a Resident Assistant. She’s since started training a second dog, Clementine, who also lives in her residence hall.

Learn by doing

At the Batesburg-Leesville Animal Hospital, a small-animal vet practice, Marena got hands-on experience working side-by-side with veterinarians, doing everything from taking appointments to trimming animals’ nails to giving them their shots and other preventive medicines. She has even had the opportunity to assist with surgical procedures.

Her on-campus experience has included opportunities to learn by doing, as well. Interested in breast cancer research, she used the freedom Clemson offered her to pursue that interest and joined an undergraduate research Creative Inquiry project called “Bioinformatics for Cancer Genomics,” where she studied the racial disparities of patients diagnosed with breast cancer.

Marena is smiling while feeding a baby kitten milk from a bottle.
Marena works with a colleague in a lab to observe and measure a substance in a test tube.

Explore opportunity everywhere

Working with small animals, be it training them or treating them, has been a large part of Marena’s personal pursuit. But for her coursework at Clemson, much of the hands-on learning is tied to its campus farms. Through her classes, she’s worked with horses, pigs, sheep and cows, and discovered how much she enjoys exploring a different part of the animal and veterinary sciences program.

She signed up for a class called livestock exhibition techniques and learned how to train a beef heifer.

Did you know?

Clemson Agricultural College opened July 6, 1893, with course offerings that included dairy and veterinary sciences. Facilities included a barn, seed rooms and space for forages.

Marena crouches down next to a group of cows in an inclosure that are eating food off the ground.

Did you know?

Clemson Agricultural College opened July 6, 1893, with course offerings that included dairy and veterinary sciences. Facilities included a barn, seed rooms and space for forages.

Diversify your experiences

Although Marena’s days are now predominately science-focused, she continues to find ways to tap into her lifelong love of the arts at Clemson. In addition to visual art, she also played stand-up bass in her high school orchestra.

While at Clemson, she has added acting to her artistic portfolio. A directing class for performing arts majors advertised an “open call” for students to act in 10-minute plays; Marena auditioned and was cast.

“I feel like coming to Clemson has been so much more than I expected — in a good way. I was opened up to a lot of different ideas and opportunities that I never imagined, much less expected, to happen to me. I’ve been free to explore my interests and create lasting impact for someone else.”

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