Changing the Lives of Animals Is No Easy Feat, But An Online Penn Degree Can Help

June 17, 2021
By Suzanne Kapral

Suzanne Kapral’s grand vision is to change children’s lives with the help of farm animals and agriculture. This is no easy feat, but her tenacity and pursuit of learning led her to seek ways to make this a reality. 

She began this journey over a decade ago with Hillside Farms. The non-profit, educational dairy farm holds grief camps that immerse children who have experienced trauma in a farm environment to learn about agriculture, sustainability, and where their food comes from, while at the same time working with professional therapists and nutritionists to process and heal from trauma related grief. Children are grieving due to loss of a loved one through illness, accident, murder, or suicide. Many children are in foster care due to neglect and abuse. Other children have parents in active addiction. Others have one or more parent in jail. 

But how could she take this mission to the next level?  

Determined, Suzanne sought out new opportunities, and when she heard about Penn Vet’s Graduate Certificate in Animal Welfare and Behavior, it was a clear choice.  

In fact, the founder of Hillside Farms, Dr. Doug Ayers, was a Penn Vet Alumni who could not recommend Penn Vet enough for its empowering and transformative educational experience. Suzanne saw it as coming full circle – pairing a Penn Vet education with an empowering mission to create lasting change. 

“If it weren’t for Penn Vet and this exciting opportunity, there is no way I would be where I am today. Penn Vet has catapulted me and my vision forward” 

The graduate certificate program, taught by internationally renowned Penn Vet faculty, would provide her with an insightful and comprehensive overview of the fields of animal welfare and behavior, and human-animal interactions. Further, the certificate program was Suzanne’s first step towards a Masters of Science in Animal Welfare & Behavior, giving Suzanne an opportunity to further her learning and education with a Masters degree while balancing her responsibilities and goals for Hillside Farms. After such a positive experience with the graduate certificate, continuing to pursue the Masters degree was a no-brainer for Suzanne. 

Her fellow students from all over the world in the fields of veterinary research, experience and other animal-related interests would bring her the depth and breadth of unique perspectives, all with the flexibility she needed to balance being a student and running development, marketing, and education at Hillside Farms. For her, being an online student provided much-needed versatility and flexibility. 


Children's Grief Camp where children interact with farm animals
Children's Grief Camp where children interact with farm animals


At first, she was intimidated by returning to education after so many years of working, but soon found that it was a home away from home. Her experience was inclusive and challenging, where she met connections that will last for the rest of her professional and personal life.  

Suzanne’s experience with her classmates proved that the Penn Vet students are people who want to share their knowledge to help you become the best professional, and person, you can be. There were no silos, only sharing and growing together. 

Her goal is to truly embody One Health, One Welfare and One World. Proving that the farm-based grief camps are not just beneficial in helping children but that the interaction is also positive for the farm animals. With a holistic view from Penn Vet’s courses such as Applied Animal Welfare and Behavior, her goal is to expand the ecosystem of farm-based grief camps in order to reach and serve even more children who have experienced trauma.  

Aerial view of the 412-acre farm 
Aerial view of the 412-acre farm 


“The one thing we talk about at Penn Vet is that we are all interconnected: One Health, One Welfare, One World.” 


Dr. Doug Ayers and Suzanne Kapral (Dr. Ayers was a Penn Vet grad and Hillside's co-founder & visionary).  
Dr. Doug Ayers and Suzanne Kapral (Dr. Ayers was a Penn Vet grad and Hillside's co-founder & visionary).  


“My favorite part of Penn was being led by the most incredible professors. It’s exciting and humbling to me. They further fuel my passion and commitment to making this world a better place.” 

Suzanne’s story demonstrates how tying together interconnected fields of interest with a world class education can be the first steps to changing the world. 


It all starts at Penn.