Vital Signs: January 2015 Vol. 4, Issue 1

A message from Dean Cyril Clarke

Diversity Initiatives Move Forward

Dear friends and colleagues,

At Virginia-Maryland, we are committed to fostering an inclusive environment for all members of our community and promoting diversity within our college and our profession. Much progress has already been achieved, especially in the area of student admissions. In recent years, the college has experienced a significant increase in the number of students from underrepresented populations, thanks to successful student recruitment and retention efforts. The college also participates in the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges’ DiVersity Matters initiative and has an active student chapter of Veterinary Students as One In Culture and Ethnicity (VOICE).

Last fall, Virginia Tech launched InclusiveVT, a new approach to advancing diversity and inclusion that puts the responsibility on college deans and other senior leaders. As a part of this effort, the college selected three new initiatives:

  • Search Advocate Program – The college will identify and train search advocates who will serve on search committees for open faculty and staff positions. These search advocates will be college employees trained in the search and selection process who will help develop and review position descriptions, provide research-based information about unconscious cognitive and structural biases, and suggest strategies to help mitigate the effects of any biases. We hope to begin training this summer and fully implement the program by August.
  • Summer Camp and Mentorship Program – This program will expose underrepresented students to the field of veterinary medicine in the hope that they will not only choose it as a career path, but also our college as the one they wish to attend. Camp participants will be offered various activities to evaluate their skills and competitiveness as future veterinarians, sessions to help them experience veterinary medicine as an exciting career path, and mentorship. We will offer continuing mentorship to students after the camp, including the opportunity to interact with veterinary practitioners in their hometowns. This spring, Academic Affairs will be recruiting participants for the summer camp to be held in July.
  • Dual Study/Career Program – To ensure that minorities have supportive personal relationships while living in Blacksburg and to advance diversity in our community, we will explore the feasibility of creating a dual-career/study program for our students, modeled after a similar program for Virginia Tech faculty. This initiative will try to identify gainful employment or a sponsored graduate study opportunity for a spouse/partner of a minority student, provide an added level of support to students as they transition to veterinary school with their families, and offer a recruiting tool to market to prospective minority students.

Our goal is not only to advance diversity and inclusion, but also to enrich the educational experiences of our students. I am particularly excited about the potential for the Search Advocate Program. During my time at Oregon State, a similar program greatly improved the faculty recruitment and search process, and I am hoping for similar results here.

I have many reasons to believe that 2015 will be a banner year for the college. With your help, we can create a more welcoming and inclusive environment that will increase our diversity and ultimately strengthen our college, community, and profession.

Dr. Cyril Clarke, Dean

Featured Stories

Candidates ride a shuttle bus to the Smith Career Center for interviews. They are accompanied by first-year veterinary student Bethany Cain (front row, left) of Morgantown, West Virginia.

College attracts second largest applicant pool in North America

Prospective students have completed campus interviews at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine that will help determine whether they spend their next four years in Blacksburg.

More than 1,200 individuals applied to begin studies at the veterinary college this fall, representing the second largest applicant pool in North America, according to figures from the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC). The college invited 312 applicants for the Class of 2019 to complete interviews on Jan. 17-18 for 120 available seats at the college.

“These individuals rose to the top of a highly competitive application process,” said Dr. Jacque Pelzer, director of admissions and student services. “We’ll be notifying them about whether they have been accepted into the veterinary college next month.”

In recent years, the college has accepted approximately 40 percent of those interviewed into its Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program and its popularity as a “college of choice” has continued to increase. It had the third largest U.S. applicant pool in 2014 and the fourth largest in 2013.

Read more about our prospective student weekend.

Dr. X.J. Meng

Dr. X.J. Meng elected to the National Academy of Inventors

Dr. X.J. Meng, University Distinguished Professor of Molecular Virology at Virginia Tech, has been named a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors (NAI).

Meng, a virologist at the veterinary college, studies emerging and reemerging viral diseases that impact veterinary and human public health. Virginia Tech President Tim Sands is the only other member of the university community who is a NAI Fellow.

“I am very pleased to welcome Dr. Meng to the Academy,” Sands said. “The honor is well deserved and his work exemplifies Virginia Tech’s spirit of research and discovery in service to humanity.”

Read more about Meng’s recent honor.

Dr. Bess Pierce accepted the Bustad Award at the American Veterinary Medical Association's Veterinary Leadership Conference in Chicago on Jan. 9.

Dr. Bess Pierce named Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year

Dr. Bess Pierce, associate professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences, has earned the highest veterinary honor in the nation for work in the human-animal bond.

The American Veterinary Medical Association presented Pierce with the 2015 Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award at its Veterinary Leadership Conference in Chicago on Jan. 9. Named for the late Leo K. Bustad, former dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University and past president of Pet Partners (formerly Delta Society), the award recognizes a veterinarian’s work in preserving and protecting human-animal relationships through practice, community service, teaching, or research.

“Bess Pierce is a truly remarkable and accomplished individual who embraces the honor of Dr. Leo Bustad,” wrote Dr. Zenithson Ng, clinical assistant professor of community practice at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, in his nomination letter. “She is a true community leader and philanthropist who has made significant contributions to the area of the human-animal bond in veterinary medicine, and we are all looking forward to what she will accomplish next.”

Read more about Pierce’s recent honor.

TRACKS: our new biannual college magazine.

College launches inaugural issue of biannual magazine, TRACKS

The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine has launched a new magazine to highlight how it is protecting and enhancing animal and human health. The college’s Office of Public Relations and Communications distributed the inaugural issue of the biannual magazine, TRACKS, this winter and plans to release the second issue this spring.

Feature stories in the new magazine cover a wide range of topics:

  • Companion animal clinical trials
  • New research network a "win-win" for all parties
  • What Va-Md Vet Med is doing to diversify the profession
  • Animal success stories
  • How regenerative medicine stimulates the body's own repair mechanisms

Browse the entire first issue of TRACKS.

The veterinary college's Food Animal Field Services team, including Dr. Sherrie Clark, perform ultrasounds on sows to determine if they are pregnant.

Fourth-year students get hands-on education on the farm

When you think of a veterinarian, you may picture someone in a white coat holding a stethoscope to a cat or dog. But students at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine are learning all sides of their chosen profession. Some are trading in their white coats for boots and overalls after graduation.

“All fourth-year veterinary students complete a clinical rotation in production management medicine,” said Dr. Sherrie Clark, associate professor of theriogenology in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences and section chief for production management medicine, which oversees Food Animal Field Services.

Veterinary students assist professors and clinicians with the full range of Food Animal Field Services calls. The service provides on-farm patient care and preventive health care to animals within a 35-mile radius of Blacksburg, Virginia. It also performs farm consultations for veterinarians throughout the region. Much like the college’s Equine Field Service, Food Animal Field Services is an ambulatory service that accepts routine calls from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and provides 24-hour emergency care year-round.

Read the university spotlight on our Food Animal Field Services.

Dr. Bill Pierson is a member of the college's charter Class of 1984 and served as hospital director from 2008 to 2014.

Dr. Bill Pierson steps down as hospital director; interim director named

Dr. Bill Pierson, who served as director of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital since 2008, stepped down from the position in December. Dr. Terry Swecker, professor of production management medicine in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, has been named interim director.

“Dr. Pierson has provided extraordinary service to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital and the college,” noted Dean Cyril Clarke. "During his tenure as director, his many accomplishments include a significant increase in clinical case submissions, establishment of a satellite clinic in Roanoke, and development of new specialty services. In his day-to-day administration of the VTH he has acted with integrity, dedication, patience, and good humor.”

Pierson will serve as a faculty member in the Department of Population Health Sciences and focus on his biosecurity and infection control efforts. He plans to spend six months engaged in research and cooperative program development at the Southwest Border Food Safety and Defense Center at New Mexico State University and the Max Planke Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, Germany.

Pierson earned a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science from the University of Delaware and a master’s degree in poultry science from Purdue University. He completed his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, where he was a member of the college’s charter Class of 1984. Pierson also has a doctorate in veterinary medical sciences from Virginia Tech and is board-certified by the American College of Poultry Veterinarians.

The Virginia Tech Beef Cattle Health Conference will include presentations on several topics to help beef cattle producers improve the health of their herds.

College to host Virginia Tech Beef Cattle Health Conference, Jan. 31

The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine and Virginia Cooperative Extension are hosting the Virginia Tech Beef Cattle Health Conference on Saturday, Jan. 31 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Designed to give beef cattle producers an opportunity to learn strategies to improve the health of their herds, the conference will take place on the veterinary college’s Blacksburg campus, located at 245 Duck Pond Drive.

The morning program will include presentations from faculty members in the veterinary college’s Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences and elsewhere. The afternoon will feature rotating, 30-minute labs at Virginia Tech’s Alphin-Stuart Livestock Arena.

Learn more about the upcoming conference.

Student Spotlight

Wall participated in small animal surgery clinics and observed and assisted with surgeries and diagnostics at two veterinary teaching hospitals in Bolivia.

Elizabeth Wall combines veterinary medicine, Spanish skills on Bolivia mission trip

Elizabeth Wall knew that she wanted to be a veterinarian since age 8, but it wasn’t until she was in high school that she learned about the Christian Veterinary Mission (CVM). Her church gave an update about the work of a CVM fieldworker and she left the presentation feeling “amazed.”

“I looked for ways to get involved with CVM as soon as I got to veterinary school and I participated in two one-week trips during my classroom years of vet school,” said Wall, who is now a fourth-year student at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, in a Q&A on the Christian Veterinary Mission’s blog.

Wall visited Haiti in 2012 and Honduras in 2013. One of her peers, Erica Geary (DVM ’14), who went to Haiti with her, participated in a fourth-year apprenticeship in Mongolia for six weeks that piqued her interest in missions further. “She came back with a much more detailed understanding of missions and discernment,” Wall said. “I had often wondered where I fit into global missions—whether travel was a fun adventure for me or if living in another country was more of a long-term calling.”

Read the student spotlight on Wall’s trip to Bolivia.

Focus on Faculty: Kerry Redican

Kerry Redican

Kerry Redican is a professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences and an associate director of the Master of Public Health program. He holds a bachelor’s degree from California State University at Long Beach, a Master of Science in Public Health degree from the University of California at Los Angeles, a Master of Public Health degree in health administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a doctorate in health education from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Redican also has a dual appointment as a professor in the Department of Basic Sciences at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.

What are your current responsibilities at the college? If you teach, what do you teach?
I am a professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences (MPH program) and teach Fundamentals of Public Health, Program Development in Health Education, Health of the Elderly, and Comparative Health Care and Public Health Systems. I also conduct research and participate in service activities.

When did you come to the college, and what brought you here?
I have been at Virginia Tech for over 30 years and a faculty member at VA-MD Vet Med for over four years — prior to that I was a faculty member in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Before coming to Virginia Tech, I was a faculty member at Arizona State University for three years. I didn’t care much for the Arizona heat. I had a number of different opportunities and I chose Virginia Tech because of the quality of the university, the excellent collaborative environment, vision of the leadership, and the land-grant focus.

Read the full Q&A with Redican.

Alumni Corner

Veterinarian Lisa Aumiller runs HousePaws
Mobile Veterinary Service.
Aumiller uses a microscope in the van.
(Photo by John Ziomek/Courier-Post)

New Jersey veterinarian Lisa Aumiller (DVM ’99) comes to pets’ pads

Lisa Aumiller has been a lover of animals since she was a child.

“I was always bringing things home in my pocket, and my dad would say, ‘No, you can’t have that one,’” she recalls with a smile. “I’ve always loved our fur babies.”

Born in Kentucky, Aumiller and her family moved to Cherry Hill when she was in the sixth grade. She graduated from the veterinary school at Virginia Tech in 1999 and worked at South Jersey pet hospitals for the next 11 years.

But something was missing.

“I felt stuck. The first place I worked was very busy, and I’d be seeing a pet every 12 minutes or so,” she says.

“The next place was a lot slower, but was very corporate. They were just out to make a buck, to tell me I had to give vaccines when I didn’t think the pet really needed them.”

So in 2010, armed with a stethoscope, a microscope and a truck, she launched HousePaws Mobile — a vet service that makes house calls.

Read more about Aumiller and her mobile veterinary service.

Around the College

Video: Horse without a treadmill

“Horse on a Treadmill” became a Hokie sensation after Virginia Tech videographers featured Lola, the horse, in football halftime promotional spots. But why was the horse on the treadmill in the first place, and where have researchers taken the science since? University Relations has produced a video to answer these questions about research at the college’s Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, Virginia.

Veterinarians continue their education at Equine and Food Animal Conference

Dr. Scott Pleasant, professor of equine field service, gives a presentation at the Fourth Annual Equine and Food Animal Conference for Veterinarians on Friday, Jan. 9. The veterinary college hosted the no-cost conference to provide veterinarians with continuing education credit. Faculty members in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences gave presentations on a number of equine and food animal topics ranging from regenerative medicine therapies, to new techniques in equine podiatry, to medication use in food animals. Participants also toured the newly renovated Veterinary Teaching Hospital. View a Facebook photo gallery of the conference.

Blacksburg Rescue Squad members visit clinical skills lab

Members of the Blacksburg Volunteer Rescue Squad paid a visit to the veterinary college’s clinical skills lab in December. Rescue Squad Captain David English (who was recently named chief) brushed up on his skills in responding to veterinary emergencies with the help of Dr. Pamela Ferrante, who is both a local veterinarian and a rescue squad member, and Dr. Meghan Byrnes, multi-disciplinary laboratory instructor at the college. Using the lab’s models that resemble live animals, English was able to practice bandaging, intubation, and other skills that might be useful during an emergency. Last January, another Blacksburg rescue squad member saved a cat that had been in apartment fire and needed oxygen.

One Health Club releases “zombies” on unsuspecting veterinary college

Virginia Tech’s One Health Club hosted a day-long mock outbreak at the veterinary college on Friday, Oct. 31. More than 150 faculty members and students at the veterinary college, as well as Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine (VCOM) students, participated in the mock outbreak. Organizers placed stuffed animals around the school with wristbands attached to them. If a participant picked up an animal, they were then “infected” and had to put on a wristband, record the time and location, and take two more wristbands to infect others — with a simultaneous outbreak occurring at VCOM. In the afternoon, a wrap-up discussion and presentation focused on the epidemiology of the outbreak. Dr. Tanya LeRoith, clinical associate professor of anatomic pathology, also took the virus home and “infected” her children, who dressed as zombies for Halloween. Pictured, left to right: Karah Markins, third-year veterinary student; Anna Katogiritis, second-year veterinary student; Audrey Germane, third-year veterinary student; and Geoff Hall, second-year VCOM student.

Students build dog houses for Casino Night silent auction

First-year veterinary students took some time out of their busy studies to build dog houses for a silent auction at the Third Annual Casino Night fundraiser scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 31. The students built 20 dog houses in the college’s multi-disciplinary labs to raise money for the hospital’s Compassionate Care Fund and local charities. Organized by Alpha Psi, Omega Tau Sigma, and the Student Chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Casino Night fundraiser provides financial support when an animal’s owners are either unknown or cannot meet the financial burdens of treatment. Last year, students raised $9,000 for the Compassionate Care Fund.

Awards & Activities

Lynn Young (left), director of alumni relations, presented Dr. Frank Pearsall (DVM '84) with a resolution from the Alumni Society Board.

Alumni Society recognizes Dr. Frank Pearsall

Dr. Frank Pearsall, who retired in December after 24 years of service as director of development, was recognized by the Va-Md Vet Med Alumni Society for his dedicated service to the college. Lynn Young, director of alumni relations, presented Pearsall with a plaque on behalf of the Alumni Society during a retirement reception in December.

The Alumni Society acknowledged Pearsall’s many accomplishments at the veterinary college, as well as his lasting legacy. During his tenure, the college raised more than $52.58 million and established numerous student scholarships and endowed professorships. Pearsall is a member of the college’s charter Class of 1984.

Melissa Corley with Dean Cyril Clarke

Melissa Corley named January Staff Member of the Month

Melissa Corley, small animal ICU technician at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, has been named the January Staff Member of the Month. Corley not only loves her job, but is a model ICU technician, according to her nominator.

“She’s always eager to hear why I might have assessed a patient differently and what she can do to improve,” her nominator wrote. “Melissa has a great skill set upon which she is always building, and she works well with everyone.”

Read more about the Staff Members of the Month.

More Awards & Accolades

Clayton Caswell, assistant professor of bacteriology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, received a three-year, $300,000 grant from the American Heart Association on “Characterizing virulence-associated small RNAs of Brucella abortus.”

Dr. Nick Dervisis, assistant professor of oncology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, presented at the Translational Nanomedicine Forum co-sponsored by the Virginia Tech Fralin Life Sciences Institute and the veterinary college on Nov. 12. Dervisis is conducting a clinical trial on the use of gold nanoparticles with a targeted laser therapy to treat certain forms of cancer in dogs.

Jessica Douthat, specialty medicine technician, recently completed her training to become a licensed veterinary technician. Jessica has been with the college for five years and currently works in the Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s neurology and cardiology services. 

Laurel Eckstrand, a first-year veterinary student, was chosen as a Creative Corner submission winner by SCAVMA’s Vet Gazette journal. View her award-winning submission.

Dr. Shawna Klahn, assistant professor of oncology in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, was named a Virginia Tech Scholar of the Week by the Office of the Vice President for Research. Read more about Klahn’s research and accomplishments.

Sarah Krones, third-year veterinary student, is presenting at the World Veterinary Association/World Medical Association Global Conference on One Health in Madrid, Spain, on May 21. The conference aims to bring together veterinarians, physicians, students, public health officials, NGOs, and others from different world regions to learn, discuss, and address critical aspects of the One Health concept. Previously, Krones presented at the First International Who’s Who in One Health Webinar on Nov. 10, 2014. The webinar brought together noted One Health leaders, advocates, professionals, and students in real-time to discuss global One Health efforts while providing a forum for dialogue within and across disciplines. Krones and Theofanis Liatis, a student from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece, discussed the “IVSA Standing Committee on One Health (SCOH): From Theory to Practice.”

Briana Petruzzi, a graduate student in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, won an award for an oral presentation at the Conference of Research Workers in Animal Diseases in Chicago on Dec. 6-8. The American College of Veterinary Microbiology presented Petruzzi with a cash award and a plaque.

Dr. Siba K. Samal, associate dean of the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine was named the 2014 Distinguished Veterinary Microbiologist by the American College of Veterinary Microbiologists (ACVM). This is the highest recognition accorded to an individual in the U.S. and Canada by the ACVM. Samal has contributed significantly to veterinary virology, identifying a new group of aquatic viruses, determining the first complete genomic sequence for many important animal viruses, and developing Newcastle disease virus as a vector vaccine against human and animal pathogens. He was honored at the 95th Annual Meeting at the Conference of Research Workers in Animal Disease (CRWAD) on Dec. 9, 2014, where he presented the ACVM Distinguished Microbiologist keynote speech entitled, “Viral Pathogens: Lessons learned from Newcastle Disease Virus.” He was also honored at the annual banquet of the ACVM on Dec. 7.

Dr. Phillip Sponenberg, professor of pathology and genetics in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, won the 2014 Most Likely To Take Over The World Senior Superlative award from The Academic Minute, a program produced by WAMC Northeast Public Radio.

Dr. Dee Whittier, professor of production management medicine and bovine specialist in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, spoke at the Delaware Ag Week Seminar for Beef Cattle Producers on Jan. 12. He gave presentations on “Selecting and Caring for a Herd Bull” and “Using Available Tools to Take Advantage of the Good Times in the Beef Industry.”


Stephen A. Smith, Kurt Zimmerman, David M. Moore. “Hematology of the Domestic Ferret (Mustela putorius furo).” Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice. January 2015.

David M. Moore, Kurt Zimmerman, Stephen A. Smith. “Hematological Assessment in Pet Rabbits: Blood Sample Collection and Blood Cell Identification.” Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice. January 2015.

Nicole M. Lindstrom, David M. Moore, Kurt Zimmerman, Stephen A. Smith. “Hematologic Assessment in Pet Rats, Mice, Hamsters, and Gerbils: Blood Sample Collection and Blood Cell Identification.” Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice. January 2015.

Kurt Zimmerman, David M. Moore, Stephen A. Smith. “Hematological Assessment in Pet Guinea Pigs (Cavia porcellus): Blood Sample Collection and Blood Cell Identification.” Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice. January 2015.

Upcoming Events

January 31Virginia Tech Beef Cattle Health Conference
VA-MD Vet Med Main Campus — Blacksburg, VA
February 10Equine Medical Center Tuesday Talk: "Perinatal Foal Care"
Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center — Leesburg, VA
February 26 – 28 — 2015 Virginia Veterinary Conference
Roanoke, VA
February 28 — Alumni Board Meeting
Blue Ridge Room, Hotel Roanoke — Roanoke, VA
March 6Human-Animal Bond Symposium
The Inn at Virginia Tech — Blacksburg, VA
March 10Equine Medical Center Tuesday Talk: "Equine Behaviour"
Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center — Leesburg, VA
April 3 — 2015 DVM Program Spring Awards Luncheon
The Inn at Virginia Tech — Blacksburg, VA
April 11VA-MD Vet Med Open House
VA-MD Vet Med Main Campus — Blacksburg, VA


Vital Signs is published throughout the year by the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.

  • Dean: Dr. Cyril R. Clarke
  • Produced By: Office of Public Relations and Communications
  • Director: Sherrie Whaley
  • Content Editor: Michael Sutphin
  • Web Editors: Alison Elward, Jesse Janowiak
  • Contributors: Joe Cooney, Alison Elward, Michael Sutphin, Sherrie Whaley
  • Photography / Videography: Alison Elward, J. Scott Parker, Michael Sutphin, Elizabeth Wall,
    Sherrie Whaley, John Ziomek

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