Archived News

Scholarship Winner Mentored by Veterinary Faculty

April 5, 2010

The following news item was provided by Kathy Keatley Garvey news representative at UC Davis:

DIXON—Melissa DiFrancesco of Vacaville, a University of California, Davis student studying to be a surgical equine veterinarian, is the winner of the $3000 Ester Armstrong Memorial Scholarship from the Friends of Dixon May Fair.

The scholarship memorializes fair industry veteran Ester Armstrong of Rockville, a former director of the California Division of Fairs and Expositions who served as interim CEO of the Dixon May Fair for three years, beginning in May 2006. She died in May 2009 after a long struggle with cancer.

JoAn Giannoni of Dixon, chair of the scholarship committee and secretary of the Friends, said the judges were very impressed with DiFrancesco’s qualifications. “She is amazing,” she said. “Her accomplishments are outstanding.”

A 2008 graduate of Vacaville Christian High School, DiFrancesco plans to receive her bachelor of science degree in neurobiology, physiology and behavior and a doctorate in veterinary medicine.
DiFrancesco served as a resident barn supervisor and feeder at the UC Davis Equestrian Horse Center for several months and is now doing an internship in equine medicine at UC Davis.  She assisted UC Davis veterinarian Nicola Pusterla with a research project investigating vaccination against the equine disease, Lawsonia intracellularis, in foals. The work, co-authored by DiFrancesco, was published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine. (Read about Dr. Pusterla on page 11 of the April 2004 edtion of The Horse Report )

DiFrancesco volunteers with the Solano Feral Cat Spay and Neuter Clinic and also at spaying programs in Sacramento and Oakland. She plans a veterinary medicine-based mission trip to Mexico this September.
The Ester Armstrong Memorial Scholarship is the top college scholarship given this year by Friends of Dixon May Fair, which awarded a total of $12,000 in college scholarships this year to seven Solano County residents planning agricultural careers.

Five students in the four-year college category, including DiFrancesco, are sharing $10,000 in scholarships, and two students are sharing $2000 in the two-year community college category.
Other recipients of scholarships in the four-year college category:
•    Ashley Holton-Westhaver of Fairfield, a 2008 graduate of Armijo High School who is studying ruminant nutrition at California State University, Chico
•    Charles Hamilton of Rio Vista, a 2009 graduate of Rio Vista High School, who is studying agribusiness/crop science at California State Polytechnic University (Cal Poly), San Luis Obispo
•    Molly Carlson of Fairfield, a senior at Justin-Siena High School, Napa, who will attend Cal Poly this fall, with plans to become a veterinarian
•    Kenneth “Casey” Koch of Vacaville, a senior at Vacaville High School, who will attend Cal Poly this fall with plans to become an agricultural engineer

Two other students each received $1000 scholarships to two-year community colleges:
•    Nathaniel Benning, a senior at Dixon High School, who plans to attend American River College this fall to study welding and fabricating
•    Rebecca Ann Ivanusich, a senior at Dixon High School, who plans to attend Sacramento City College this fall with a goal of becoming an agriculture teacher
Several of this year’s college scholarship recipients are repeat winners: DiFrancesco, Hamilton, and Holton-Westhaver.

Judging the scholarships were Giannoni; Tootie Huffman of Vacaville, treasurer of the Friends; and three members of Friends: Vacaville veterinarian John Howard; and UC Davis staff Kathy Keatley Garvey of Vacaville and Carrie Hamel of Dixon.

The Friends, an all-volunteer group headed by Donnie Huffman of Vacaville, is the fundraising arm of the Dixon May Fair and raises funds through the sale of beverages. It is comprised of some 100 members.
The group has awarded scholarships since 2006. Eligible to apply for the annual scholarships are Solano County residents planning a career in agriculture of an agricultural-related field. They must be enrolled in or accepted for enrollment in a four-year accredited college or university or an accredited community college located in California. 

Giannoni said the recipients are selected on their personal, civic and academic experience, academic standing, personal commitment and goals, leadership potential, civic accomplishments, and agricultural interests. Desired but not mandatory is 4-H, FFA or Grange experience. 

Each applicant must submit a personal statement of no more than two typed pages, double-spaced, explaining "why you are pursuing your desired career and what you hope to accomplish," Giannoni said. 

Applicants must include a copy of their transcript (accumulative and current), along with two letters of recommendation. One letter must be from a professional educator. For further information, contact the Friends of the Fair, P.O. Box 242, Dixon, CA 95620, or access the Web site,

Kathy Keatley Garvey

To learn how you can support veterinary education at the School of Veterinary Medicine, please call our Development Office, 530-752-7024 or visit