Vital Signs: January 2017 Vol. 6, Issue 1

A message from Dean Cyril Clarke

A new initiative to tackle student debt

Dear friends and colleagues,

After they graduate from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, DVM students enter a field with positive career prospects and employment rates above the national average, but many of them still face challenges because of the high cost of veterinary education and the resultant debt burden. The college has been consistently taking steps to address this issue for years, including incorporating business and financial management into the curriculum, limiting tuition rate increases, offering scholarships, and engaging in the broader student debt conversation facilitated by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. However, we are not satisfied with the progress made and are now taking these efforts to a new level.

Last month, the college’s Executive Board approved a new initiative to develop a coordinated plan to address student educational debt. We are appointing a task force charged with drafting an action plan for addressing this problem and establishing metrics for measuring our progress. This task force will include representation from our DVM students, recent graduates, veterinary practitioners, faculty, college administration, and outside consultants. I will co-chair the task force together with Dr. Jennifer Hodgson, associate dean for professional programs.

Among the issues to be addressed are DVM tuition rates, DVM enrollment, scholarship support, cost-efficient delivery of the diagnostic and clinical curriculum, use of tuition income across the college’s mission areas, personal financial literacy of students, accelerated pathways to DVM completion, incorporation of innovation and entrepreneurship in the curriculum, and the compelling need to advance diversity.

The college continues to be aware of and responsive to the issue of student educational debt and, through this initiative, we hope to make a positive impact on this challenging problem. I am confident that our work will not only improve the situation for current and future students, but also contribute to the national conversation concerning this issue.

Dr. Cyril Clarke, Dean


Featured Stories

PuppyU graduates
The charter class of Puppy University — which included Tucker, Esme, and Koda — garnered significant media attention in December.

Puppy University charter class destined for lives of service

Virginia Tech’s spring commencement might be a few months away, but the celebrations came early for a few nontraditional graduates. The first cohort of puppies in the college’s Puppy University program graduated on Thursday, Dec. 8 in Blacksburg.

The college teamed up with Saint Francis Service Dogs, a Roanoke-based nonprofit, to raise three puppies for service dog training. Over the past year, the charter class of puppies — Koda, Esme, and Tucker — spent their weekdays at the veterinary college in a structured program of care where they learned foundational skills, such as walking on a leash or traveling on a bus.

The program not only supports puppies on their path to become professionally trained service dogs, but also offers veterinary students important lessons on the human-animal bond. Veterinary student participants in the puppy raiser program have the option of earning course credit during their fourth year by completing a presentation about their work. In addition, six undergraduate work-study students have been engaged in the care and training of the puppies.

Read more about Puppy University’s charter class on the college website. Also, check out the media coverage from the Roanoke Times, WSLS Channel 10, WDBJ Channel 7, WSET Channel 13, and WFXF Roanoke.

X.J. Meng
In February, X.J. Meng will receive the SCHEV Outstanding Faculty Award at an awards ceremony featuring Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

X.J. Meng earns SCHEV Outstanding Faculty Award

X.J. Meng, University Distinguished Professor of Molecular Virology, has received the 2017 State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) Outstanding Faculty Award.

The award, sponsored by the Dominion Foundation, is the commonwealth’s highest honor for faculty in Virginia’s public and private colleges and universities, recognizing their commitment to excellence in teaching, research, knowledge integration, and public service.

Meng, who is a virologist in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, is one of 12 faculty members given the 2017 award, selected from 97 nominees. He will be recognized at an award ceremony on Feb. 16 at The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia.

Read more about Meng’s recent honor.

Coy Allen and Daniel Rothschild in the lab
Coy Allen, (left) an assistant professor of inflammatory disease in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, and doctoral student Daniel Rothschild prepare reagents to detect and characterize IRAK-M in cells.

Researchers help the body protect itself against inflammation and colon cancer

Could inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancer be prevented by changing the shape of a single protein?

There is an intimate link between uncontrolled inflammation in the gut associated with inflammatory bowel disease and the eventual development of colon cancer. This uncontrolled inflammation is associated with changes in bacteria populations in the gut, which can invade the mucosal tissue after damage to the protective cellular barrier lining the tissue.

But Virginia Tech researchers found that modifying the shape of IRAK-M, a protein that controls inflammation, can significantly reduce the clinical progression of both diseases in pre-clinical animal models. The altered protein causes the immune system to become supercharged, clearing out the bacteria before they can do any damage.

The research team included Coy Allen, assistant professor of inflammatory disease in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, and Daniel Rothschild, a combined Ph.D./DVM student at the college. Their findings were recently published in eBioMedicine.

Read more about Allen and Rothschild’s research.

Veteinarians and students helping a patient
Veterinary students assist with neutering a cat in the college's Small Animal Community Practice.

A day in the life of a veterinary student

Although life can be hectic for fourth-year students at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, it can also be rewarding.

Michael Nappier, assistant professor of community practice in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, highlights the ups and downs of students on their clinical rotation with the college’s Small Animal Community Practice in an article for

“Do you feel nostalgic about the good ol’ days of vet school? Missing the simpler times before you had to go out into the ‘real world’ of veterinary practice?” wrote Nappier, who followed students from their early-morning arrival at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital until the end of their shift.

Read the full account of “A day in the life a veterinary student.”

Nicholas Catanzaro
Nicholas Catanzaro is a Ph.D. student working in the laboratory of X.J. Meng, University Distinguished Professor of Molecular Virology.

Fellowship helps grad student study how swine virus suppresses the immune system

A graduate student at the veterinary college is investigating how a virus responsible for significant economic losses in the swine industry causes disease and suppresses the immune system.

Nicholas Catanzaro, of Lewiston, New York, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, hopes that his research on porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) will eventually help scientists develop safer, better vaccines. He was recently awarded a two-year, $95,000 fellowship from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture for his research.

“This is one of the most economically devastating global swine pathogens and causes more than $600 million in economic losses in the United States alone each year,” Catanzaro said. “My fellowship looks at how the virus causes disease in pigs. That’s important because scientists are trying to make safer, more-effective vaccines for pigs against the virus.”

Read more about Catanzaro’s research.

NAVC reception invitation

College to host reception at North American Veterinary Community Conference

The college is hosting a reception for alumni and friends at the North American Veterinary Community (NAVC) Conference in Orlando, Florida, in early February 2017.

The reception will be held at the Hilton Orlando on Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m.

Presented by the veterinary college and the Alumni Society, the event will allow alumni and friends to reconnect with classmates and faculty and learn about exciting new programs within the college.

The NAVC Conference will take place at the Orange County Convention Center from Feb. 4-8 and typically includes more than 16,000 attendees from 70-plus countries. On Feb. 6, the college will also have an exhibit booth for visitors and alumni to learn more about the college and its programs.

Student Spotlight

Amber Roudette
Amber Roudette enjoyed taking in the natural beauty of Maui during her externship with At Home Animal Hospital in Kahului, Hawaii.

Amber Roudette broadens her horizons with Maui clerkship

Amber Roudette of Richmond, Virginia, is a fourth-year veterinary student pursuing the mixed species track at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. She is the past president of Veterinary Students as One In Culture and Ethnicity (VOICE) and previously wrote about her reflections on the Iverson Bell Symposium and her 2015 summer exchange in India.

As I planned my fourth year clinical rotations, I decided to seek an opportunity that would allow me to explore someplace new. I made a list of the cities where I had friends who could host me, and out of Nashville, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Seattle, and Maui, the obvious winner was Maui. I did a quick Google search and called eight small animal clinics within an hour radius of my friend Christopher, who had moved to the island in 2015. One clinic called me back to offer an externship. I was ecstatic.

Read Roudette’s account of her travels and externship with At Home Animal Hospital in northern Maui.

Around the College

Prospective students interview for Class of 2021

This month, prospective Doctor of Veterinary Medicine students completed campus interviews that will help determine whether they spend the next four years in Blacksburg. A total of 1,605 individuals applied to begin studies at the veterinary college this fall, and the college invited 336 applicants for interviews for the 120 available seats in the Class of 2021.

Virginia Tech Beef Cattle Health Conference returns to campus

The Virginia Tech Beef Cattle Health Conference drew a crowd of 280 cattle producers and veterinary students to participate in lectures and demonstrations on Saturday, Jan. 28. Co-sponsored by Virginia Cooperative Extension, Farm Credit, and the veterinary college, the day-long conference featured special guest Andrew Griffith, an assistant professor of agricultural and resource economics at the University of Tennessee who discussed the economic outlook for the beef cattle industry. Following morning presentations, participants traveled to the Alphin-Stuart Livestock Arena on campus for rotating, 20-minute labs on beef cattle health topics.

AAVMC’s Andrew Maccabe discusses diversity initiatives at college

Andrew Maccabe, chief executive officer of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), visited the college in January to discuss the AAVMC’s DiVersity Matters initiative and the efforts of the association and member colleges to attract a student body that reflects society. Pictured (left to right) are Veterinary Students as One In Culture and Ethnicity (VOICE) officers and faculty advisor W. Edward Monroe, Andy Xin, Kayla Miner, Andrew Maccabe, Will Culver, Steffi Muller, Ashley Harrison-Jackson, and Megan Riveros.

College hosts Sixth Annual Equine and Food Animal Conference for Veterinarians

More than 80 veterinarians attended the Sixth Annual Equine and Food Animal Conference for Veterinarians on Friday, Jan. 6. The veterinary college hosted the no-cost conference, which was sponsored by Zoetis, 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 triage of the neonatal foal, pain management in horses, and anesthesia and analgesia of potbellied pigs. Participants also had an opportunity to tour the college’s new equine podiatry service treatment facility.

Students, faculty, and alumni participate in national pathology meeting

The veterinary college was well represented at the joint meeting of the American College of Veterinary Pathologists and the American Society for Veterinary Clinical Pathology held in December in New Orleans. Students, faculty, and alumni enjoyed the opportunity to network, collaborate, and share and discuss common scientific interests with colleagues.

Among the attendees at the college’s reception were (left to right) Sheryl Coutermarsh-Ott, Cory Hanks, Marigold Ernst, Michelle Jefferson, Megan Zalek, Kim Newkirk, Jeff Wolf, Katie Boes, Chris Gow, Linda Huang, Cat Cowan, Mitch Caudill, Miranda Vieson, Chris Eden, Erica Twitchell, Stephanie Shrader, Alice Roudabush, Caroline Moon, Tom Cecere, and Tanya LeRoith.

College raises more than $35,000 for Commonwealth of Virginia Campaign

The veterinary college exceeded its goal for the Commonwealth of Virginia Campaign (CVC), a workplace-giving program that allows state employees to designate a financial gift to more than 1,000 participating charities. Faculty and staff in the college raised almost $35,700 for the campaign — second only to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech. Within the college, the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences was the most philanthropic with more than $10,000 in gifts and the Veterinary Teaching Hospital had the highest participate rate with more than 43 percent of employees participating. In total, Virginia Tech employees raised more than $344,000 for more than 300 organizations last year. Pictured are organizers and winners of the college's annual Chili Cook-off fundraiser which was held in December and benefits the CVC, Samantha Suroski; Brian Huddleston and Matt Anderson of the winning Information Systems team; and Sharon Dunn.

Awards & Activities

Dean Cyril Clarke and Ruth Meade

Ruth Meade named January Staff Member of the Month

Since joining the veterinary college 18 years ago, Ruth Meade, administrative assistant in the Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, has demonstrated consistent excellence at the veterinary college. One nominator described how Meade “is always willing to come in at a minute’s notice to help with whatever problem or project we may have. She demonstrates the true meaning of the word team player.” Another nominator described how Meade also “goes above and beyond not only for her department but helping others.”

When the Department of Population Health Sciences hired several new staff members, Meade worked well beyond her normal hours and workload to assist with training and share her knowledge. A third nominator described how Meade “was extremely patient, always smiled, and was very effective in helping” the new hires. The nominator continued, “her help is appreciated by all of us in Population Health Sciences” and that she “exceeds all expectations.”

Read more about the Staff Members of the Month.

Nicole Kandzior and Dean Cyril Clarke

Nicole Kandzior named December Staff Member of the Month

Nicole Kandzior joined the veterinary college in 2014 from a veterinary clinic in Dublin, Virginia and has been an indispensable part of the veterinary teaching college ever since. Her nominator described how Kandzior, who is a small animal specialty medicine technician, deserves recognition for her hard work while on the neurology service recently when she seamlessly handled more responsibility than typically required.

“She has been working on procedures that are challenging and has successfully navigated through them,” explained her nominator. Despite the added responsibility, “she has still managed to find time to lend support to other services as well.” In addition, Kandzior always “has a smile on her face every morning.” Kandzior’s work ethic and supportive attitude has a positive effect on all she encounters at the veterinary teaching hospital.

Read more about the Staff Members of the Month.

More Awards & Activities

McDaniel, D., Jo, A., Ringel, V., Coutermarsh-Ott, S., Powell, M., Long, T., Oestreich, K., Davis, R., and Allen, I.C. (2017). PEO-PDLLA Core-Shell Nanoparticles have Similar Cellular Uptake Dynamics and Biodistribution in Th1 and Th2 Microenvironments. “Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology, and Medicine.” (In Press). IF: 5.671.

Clay Caswell, assistant professor of bacteriology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, was named a Virginia Tech Scholar of the Week by the Office of the Vice President for Research.

Valerie Ragan, director of the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine, traveled to various locations in Uruguay to work with veterinarians with a large multi-site dairy operation on the development of brucellosis control and elimination plans for the dairies.

Valerie Ragan also traveled to Yerevan, Armenia to conduct a kick-off workshop to initiate a “One Health Surveillance for Brucellosis in Armenia” project. Ragan partnered with an epidemiologist from a Swiss company in conducting the workshop. This new project is funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), part of the Department of Defense and is focused on strengthening coordination and communication between the human and animal sectors during epidemiological and outbreak investigations of brucellosis and to increase the understanding of the disease burden in Armenia. The workshop was attended by physicians from the Armenian Ministry of Health and veterinarians from the Armenian Ministry of Agriculture.

Nammalwar Sriranganathan, professor of veterinary microbiology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, was instrumental in organizing “Brucellosis 2016: International Research Conference” on Nov., 17-19, 2016, in New Delhi, India. The conference also served as the 69th Annual Brucellosis Research Meeting of the International Brucellosis Society. As chair of the society, Sriranganathan worked with Ramesh Vemulapalli, Texas A&M University; H. Rahman, deputy director general of Indian Council of Agricultural Research; and S. R. Rao and P. Singh from Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, in organizing this event. The three-day conference was attended by over 350 delegates representing 23 different countries. At the conference, in addition to keynote addresses and scientific presentations, a $30 million prize competition for developing the best next generation vaccine for sheep and goats against brucellosis was launched by an international consortium. The conference website has more details.

Lijuan Yuan, associate professor of virology and immunology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, received the Virginia Tech Graduate School’s Outstanding Mentor Award for the College of Veterinary Medicine. In December, she also received a one-year, $273,900 grant from Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biopharmaceutical (Zhifei), China, on “Evaluation of P-VP8* vaccine in gnotobiotic pig model of human rotavirus infection and diarrhea.”

Upcoming Events

February 7, 2017 —Alumni Reception, North American Veterinary Community Conference
Orlando, FL
February 7, 2017Continuing Education: “Routine and referral diagnostics and procedures in minipigs” by Sherrie Clark and “Evaluation and Management of Equine Liver Disease” by Harold McKenzie
Lynchburg, VA
February 7, 2017Continuing Education: “Canine Atopic Dermatitis: What We Know (And Don’t Know) So Far & Update on Treatment and Management” with Ben Tham
Roanoke, VA
February 16-18, 20172017 Virginia Veterinary Conference
Roanoke, VA
February 23, 2017Continuing Education: “Common Health Problems in Small Ruminants Pre and Post Weaning” by Hollie Schramm and “Evaluation and Management of Equine Liver Disease” by Harold McKenzie
Beckley, WV
March 2, 2017Continuing Education: “A Review of Seizures and Current Treatment Options For Cases” with Avril Arendse
Abingdon, VA
March 8-12, 2017 —2017 AAVMC Annual Conference & Iverson Bell Symposium
Washington, D.C.
March 25, 2017VA-MD Vet Med Annual Open House
Blacksburg, VA


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

  • Dean: Cyril R. Clarke
  • Assistant Dean for Advancement: Alison Wainwright Davitt
  • Managing Editor: Michael Sutphin
  • Web Editor: Alison Elward
  • Assistant Editor: Kelsey Foster
  • Contributors: Lynn Blevins, Alison Elward, Kelsey Foster, Lindsay Key, Michael Nappier, Amber Roudette, Michael Sutphin
  • Photography/Videography: Alison Elward, Bill Huckle, Michael Nappier, Megan Quesenberry, Amber Roudette, Michael Sutphin
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