Hanna Lambert graduated from Pearl River Community College on May 6, 2022, with an associate in arts degree and will enroll at Mississippi State University to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. Photo by Jacob Cochran, Pearl River Community College

Cooke Scholar Hanna Lambert Aspires to Open Veterinary Practice in Richton

Playing outside near her Richton, Miss., home during summer break, a young Hanna Lambert noticed one of the eight puppies recently born from a neighborhood dog walking with a pronounced limp it had not shown the previous day. Lambert had been feeding the puppies and suspected something might be wrong when this particular one displayed a recent lack of appetite, but observing the puppy hobbling around among its brothers and sisters further spiked her concern.

Rushing to its aid, Lambert inspected the animal more closely and soon discovered the cause: a quarter-sized tick attached to the puppy’s neck, hidden under its fur. She managed to remove the tick with her mother’s help, and to her relief the puppy quickly recovered and began walking correctly again within a matter of days.

Seeing that puppy’s suffering and finding a way to relieve it, Lambert says, was the spark that ignited her interest in veterinary medicine and animal care.

After she finishes her education, Hanna Lambert hopes to start her own veterinary practice in her hometown of Richton, Miss., a rural South Mississippi area in Perry County that currently has limited sources for animal care. Photo by Jacob Cochran, Pearl River Community College

Even today, Lambert continues to help any distressed animals she finds near her home in Perry County. In late 2021, as she drove down a back road in Richton, she spotted a Catahoula leopard dog sheltering under a fallen tree on the side of the road that was “all skin and bones.” Earning its trust, she took the dog home and into her care for roughly six months until it grew healthy enough to re-home through a local shelter in Richton.


“I was happy to be able to help her find a new home that could use a good furry friend,” Lambert says. “Being able to help animals close to home like that is a big part of why I want to someday be able to open up a private practice here in Richton.”

“In rural areas with abundant farmland like this, the nearest veterinary clinic might be as much as 45 minutes away from someone’s home, which is just too much in an emergency,” she adds. “Farms also mean plenty of large animals like horses and cows that need very different care from dogs or cats.”

Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Awards Financial Aid

Recently, the Pearl River Community College graduate received the chance to further pursue her childhood dream when she became a recipient of the Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship. Lambert is the eighth recipient of the scholarship from PRCC in the past eight years.

College students seeking to complete their bachelor’s degrees at four-year colleges or universities are eligible for the Cooke scholarship, which covers a significant portion of their educational expenses—including tuition, living expenses, books and required fees, a release from PRCC says. Awardees can receive up to $55,000 per year for two to three years at a four-year accredited undergraduate school for any area of study.

Cooke Scholars receive comprehensive advice to guide them through the transition into a four-year college. The foundation also helps students prepare for a career and provides opportunities for internship or to study abroad, as well as graduate-school funding and access to a network of Cooke Scholars and alumni.

The Jack Kent Cooke Foundation received more than 1,200 applications from 332 community colleges for the 2022 school year. The foundation named 100 Cooke scholars from 42 states out of the 440 students that its members named as semifinalists.

Lambert learned she had received the scholarship through a Zoom interview, which PRCC representatives had told her was intended to be an interview with PRCC president Dr. Adam Breerwood and Dr. Ryan Ruckel, dean of the Dr. William Lewis Honors Institute at PRCC’s Forrest County campus.

“I did the Zoom call from the kitchen at my house here in Richton,” Lambert says. “They were asking me questions about things like what it meant to me to be a semifinalist, or what it would mean to me to receive the scholarship and how it would change my life.”

“To be honest, I had heard about them doing something like this the previous year and had my suspicions of what was really happening,” she adds. “Even then, when they proved my suspicions correct and told me I’d received the scholarship, I was still freaking out and crying from excitement and joy. I’ve had my eyes set on this scholarship ever since I came to PRCC and have been taking all the necessary steps to make it to this point.”

Dr. Ryan Ruckel (left), dean of the Dr. William Lewis Honors Institute at PRCC’s Forrest County campus, interviewed Hanna Lambert (right) during the application process for the Cooke scholarship she ultimately received. Photo by Jacob Cochran, Pearl River Community College

Lambert began the application process for the scholarship in the fall of 2021, which starts with an eligibility quiz involving an applicant’s financial need, academic record and other qualifying factors. Jack Kent Cooke Foundation members read applications and select semifinalists by spring ahead of the upcoming semester.

By April or May the foundation names finalists and begins working with campus representatives to assign mentors to scholars, usually other Cooke scholars who graduated from the same college as the recipient. Those scholars then attend a weekend orientation to receive career counseling and leadership training before beginning classes under the scholarship.

“One of my first interactions with Hanna was in a classroom in 2020, all of us in masks at the time,” Dr. Ryan Ruckel recalls. “I was there to get to know the students here, and I saw she was a quiet person, even more so than others in class during those times. However, whenever she spoke it was always something valuable, and I quickly saw her as a great candidate for the Cooke scholarship.”

“She is someone who is always thinking about and paying attention to those around her,” the dean says of Lambert. “When she started interviewing for the scholarship with me alongside my wife, Terri Smith Ruckel, it was easy for us to see her strong work ethic and academic talent.”

Academic Career and Plans to Come

Lambert’s mother, Alison McLain, works as a mechanic at Southern Tire Mart in Hattiesburg, alongside Lambert’s brother, Dylan Lambert, who is a welder. The shop works closely with the Hattiesburg Police Department, with McLain and Lambert performing services such as installing lighting and caging used in police cars.

“My mother is a single parent who raised my brother and me on her own, and I told the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation that it would change my life to be able to take some of the burden off of her by finding success through school,” Hanna Lambert says. “My degree would also let me provide needed health care for pets, strays and other animals in my community. Through it all Dr. Ruckel and other advisors from the honors institute helped me so much with preparing a resume and assisting me with all the essays I had to write.”

During her days attending Richton High School, Hanna Lambert routinely made the honor roll and served in both the school’s Beta and Science clubs. Photo by Jacob Cochran, Pearl River Community College

Before attending PRCC, Lambert graduated from Richton High School, where she was a member of the Beta Club and Science Club and made the honor roll every year. As a Beta Club member, she was responsible for helping to organize service projects, including a trip to a nursing home one Halloween to paint pumpkins and play bingo with residents. She also helped organize a Science Club trip to the Global Wildlife safari park in Tangipahoa Parish, La., during which students got to ride in a wagon and feed animals such as giraffes and zebras.

Lambert graduated from PRCC on May 6, 2022, with an associate in arts degree with a focus on STEM—science, technology, education and mathematics—subjects. During her time at PRCC’s Forrest County Campus, she was a member of the Dr. William Lewis Honors Institute and the Beta Tau Gamma Chapter of the Phi Theta Kappa sorority.

She also served as vice president of fellowship for the college. In this role, Lambert was responsible for creating games and activities to help students get to know one another and to strengthen their bonds. Lambert also served as president of the PRCC Student Government Association, helping to plan campus events and organize visits from guest speakers.

Through her Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, Lambert plans to enroll at Mississippi State University and study veterinary medicine. Since MSU does not have a dedicated degree course for veterinary medicine, her campus adviser helped set her up with a course to study biological sciences and earn prerequisites to enroll at a veterinary school, Lambert says.

“From my first day at PRCC, my instructors have shown how much they care about all the students here and how thoroughly they understand their material every time they sit down with you,” Lambert says. “I’m grateful for all the time they spent helping me apply for my scholarship and all the leadership advice they’ve had to offer.”

Outside school, Lambert enjoys spending time outdoors with her two dogs, a Boston terrier named Cooper and a beagle named Little Baby. This summer, she plans to work with her aunt, Charlotte Sullivan, who operates her own unnamed private cleaning company, before beginning her classes at MSU in the fall.

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