The League of VetaHumanz: Encouraging Kids to Use Their Powers for Good!

Dr. San Miguel standing in front of a van full of boxes wearing a mask and a cape.
Pink Phoenix, alter ego of Dr. Sandra San Miguel, preparing to pass out Vaccine SuperPower Packs described later in this post. Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Sandra San Miguel.

“I’m Pink Phoenix, leader of the Vetahumanz League of superheroes, and it’s the best job in the world.” The League of VetaHumanz is a superhero league for veterinarians, founded and led by Pink Phoenix, the alter ego of Sandra San Miguel, D.V.M., Ph.D. Through support from the NIGMS Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) program, the league seeks to diversify the veterinary profession.

Members of the league work with elementary students across the country to give them a sense of belonging to the veterinary profession. “I’m most proud of bringing people together who share the mission and vision with all their heart,” Pink Phoenix remarks. “Nobody can just be a member of the league. You have to earn the cape.” The league has over 400 certified role models throughout the country who are either veterinarians—VetaHumanz—or veterinary school students—VetaHumanz in training.

Teams of these role models partner with local schools or community centers that support under-resourced students of color. They build relationships with the kids and organizations as they deliver veterinary-based STEM activities, lessons developed through the SEPA program that’s “basically vet school for K-4 students,” according to Pink Phoenix. Through the league’s “See Us, Be Us” model, the students see VetaHumanz who look like them, and they start to realize that becoming a veterinarian is a possibility.

Akila Bryant standing in front of a purple field with one arm raised in a superhero pose.
Violet Alchemy, alter ego of Akila Bryant. Credit: VetaHumanz website.

One VetaHuman in training, Violet Alchemy (alter ego of Akila Bryant), recalls working with students who were asked to draw a veterinarian. “I noticed a young African American girl drawing a blonde-haired veterinarian,” Violet Alchemy says. When she asked the student about her drawing, the student said she’d never seen a veterinarian who looked like her. “It’s my goal as a future veterinarian to change the narrative of what a veterinarian is supposed to look like so that more African American students can see themselves in this profession and feel empowered to discover their superpowers.”  

A trading card with the name “Megalodon” across the top and Dr. Hines in front of a shark tank wearing a cape and raising an arm in a superhero pose. At the bottom: a picture of Dr. Hines as a young boy and the text, “League of VetaHumanz.”
Collectible card for Megalodon, alter ego of Vacques Hines, D.V.M. Credit: Courtesy of Dr. Sandra San Miguel, with design by Allison Gardner.

But what about the kids who don’t live near a VetaHumanz role model team? Not to fear: The SuperPower Packs are here! The league created SuperPower Packs to reach kids, no matter their geographical location. Each pack has a collectible card featuring one of the VetaHumanz with their backstory, superpower, and a picture of them as a kid (so the student can envision themselves as a veterinarian). The pack also includes a letter from the superhero telling the student what they do and how they became a veterinarian. The student can don the included cape to borrow the superhero’s powers—and they might need them as they play the game or read the book also included in the pack.

One of the SuperPower Packs is about vaccines. “It’s easy for vets to explain the value of vaccination in a context that people can relate to a little better,” says Pink Phoenix. “We get our dogs and cats vaccinated to keep them and the other animals they’re around healthy.” The SuperPower Pack highlights veterinarians as scientists developing vaccines, as communicators, and as protectors of public health. “People often see us as protecting animal health, but all veterinarians take an oath to protect public health,” says Pink Phoenix. In the pack, students get a book titled VetaHumanz Need Vaccines, Too! (available online in English and Spanish) that explains germs and how vaccines give both people and animals superpowers in the form of antibodies to fight them.

The SuperPower Pack box with its contents on display: a book, mask, trading cards, and a letter.
Contents of the Vaccines SuperPower Pack. Credit: VetaHumanz website.

Even though their in-person programs were on pause due to the pandemic, the league was able to distribute the Vaccine SuperPower Packs through community partnerships already in place. They also gave away packs to kids who were vaccinated at community health centers. The kids received a superhero cape and encouragement that, with their cape, they were ready to get their superpowers from the vaccine. And as Pink Phoenix says, “Even though it sometimes hurts to get superpowers, once you’ve got them, you’re powered up! So use your powers for good!”

The most recent addition to the league’s resources is a podcast where Pink Phoenix interviews other VetaHumanz to learn about their superpowers and how they became a veterinarian or a veterinary student. Listeners can hear the excitement of what it’s really like to be a vet—which goes much farther than being a family doctor for dogs and cats.

Keishla Marrero Acosta standing in front of green plants, with a silver cape and one arm raised in a superhero pose.
Chamaleona, alter ego of Keishla Marrero Acosta. Credit: VetaHumanz website.

The league is not only having a positive impact on the elementary students who participate but also on its members. VetaHumanz gain experiences and skills that make them better professionals. Chamaleona, alter ego of VetaHuman in training Keishla Marrero Acosta, says that being part of the league has helped improve her communications skills. “We have to put very complicated terms and definitions into the simplest forms in order for kids to understand.” She adds that as a veterinarian interacting regularly with clients from various backgrounds and education levels, “it’s important for us to know how to efficiently pass on information.”

For those interested in becoming a veterinarian, Pink Phoenix recommends getting out there and trying new things: “Being a veterinarian is about being open to learning—using your personal experiences and applying them in your own unique way.” The league tells students that they gain their superpowers by going through life’s challenges. Pink Phoenix continues, “If you don’t try new things, you’ll never find out what powers you’ve got.” So remember: Use your powers for good!

The League of VetaHumanz program is supported by NIGMS SEPA grants R25GM137169 and R25GM137169-02S1.

3 Replies to “The League of VetaHumanz: Encouraging Kids to Use Their Powers for Good!”

  1. Super proud of the work they do and of my daughter, the VetaHuman in the Keishla Marrero Acosta training. Help others in disadvantage achieve their dreams and goals. That enhances the profession of veterinary medicine. Excellent initiative. Blessings.

  2. It is exciting and heartwarming to see young professionals actually passionate about their profession and sharing it with younger children. Akila I am so proud of you as a young Black woman, your dedication, and commitment you are truly an outstanding exceptional human being. I love you my niece.

  3. I think that this is a wonderful initiative. My daughter is a young black woman who loves animals. She tried the Vet Tech program at a local Community College, but the deck was stacked against her. Rather than provide training to acquire the necessary skills, she was expected to already possess the necessary skills.

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