Vital Signs: March 2017 Vol. 6, Issue 3

A message from Dean Cyril Clarke

Scholarships and educational debt

Dear friends and colleagues,

In late March, our students organized a week-long series of events to address the challenge of educational debt.  Sponsored by our college’s chapter of the Student American Veterinary Medical Association, this Fix the Debt: Part II program followed a national summit on the topic held at Michigan State University last year. For the first four days of the student-organized program, guest speakers presented seminars that were live-streamed to other veterinary colleges. Dr. Jim Weisman, director of student services at Purdue University, opened the week with a presentation titled “What is Fix the Debt and the Importance of Financial Literacy?”  This was followed by Gina Luke, assistant director of government relations for AVMA, and Kevin Cain, director of government relations for AAVMC, who talked about “Loan Repayment and Government Advocacy.” Our own Dr. Valerie Ragan, director of the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine, then spoke about “Career Awareness, Professional Competencies, and the Veterinary Entrepreneur.”  The last seminar by Dr. Andrew Maccabe, chief executive officer of the AAVMC, addressed the “Outcomes from the Summit and What the Future Holds.”  The week was capped by roundtable discussions involving students, faculty members and alumni, resulting in the identification of a number of proposed strategies that will serve as the basis for an ongoing initiative involving appointment of a task force charged to develop an action plan for the college.  I commend our students for bringing this issue to the forefront, educating their peers and empowering the veterinary profession toward financial sustainability.

One of the most impactful ways to relieve the educational debt burden borne by our students is to provide scholarships.  At our recent Spring Awards Ceremony, DVM student accomplishments were highlighted and formally recognized by awarding more than 300 scholarships.  In the next few years, our goal is to at least double the amount of support available for student scholarships.  This is a lofty goal — but one that I believe we can meet through a collaborative effort with support from our faculty and staff, students, alumni, donors, representatives from industry, and friends of the college.

Dr. Cyril Clarke, Dean


Featured Stories

Left to right: Kathy Apffel of Pinehurst, North Carolina, meets with veterinary technician Stefanie Olsen, oncology resident Eric Ragan, and Nick Dervisis, an assistant professor of oncology who is examining Seth, Apffel’s German shorthaired pointer.

Partners in healing: Donors at all levels support the veterinary college

For almost 30 years, the experienced faculty, staff, and dedicated students at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine have been saving lives by providing the highest standard of veterinary care to animal patients at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

But they haven’t been doing it alone. The generosity of the hospital’s grateful clients has provided critical support to fund facility improvements, groundbreaking clinical research, and state-of-the-art equipment, allowing the college to expand knowledge and deliver innovative treatments that improve animal lives.

“Every client and animal patient that walks through the hospital doors benefits from the philanthropy of former and current clients and their shared passion for the hospital’s work,” said Terry Swecker, hospital director. “As an alum of the first graduating class at the college and a faculty member since 1990, I have seen first-hand the transformative impact that gifts from clients and friends have had on our ability to treat the most challenging cases and apply knowledge from research to develop new therapies and treatments that help us save more lives and advance veterinary education.”

Read more about how donors are “partners in healing” at the veterinary college. The full story is also available in the latest issue of the college’s TRACKS magazine.

Fourth-year veterinary student Mary Weatherman is pursuing the veterinary college's food animal track.

Mary Weatherman named Class of 2017 valedictorian

Not many can say that they followed a childhood dream to fruition, but Mary Elizabeth Grace Weatherman of Roanoke, Virginia, who will earn her doctor of veterinary medicine degree from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine in May, will do just that.

Weatherman, who will also graduate as the 2017 Richard B. Talbot Memorial Award recipient and college valedictorian, described being a veterinarian as “pretty much the only job I wanted to have.”

Weatherman completed a bachelor’s degree in animal and poultry sciences from Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in May 2013. In August 2013, she started at the veterinary college, where she pursed the college’s food animal track, one of five options in the tracking curriculum. “I like working with the producers. I like being able to troubleshoot problems for them,” explained Weatherman, who plans to continue her work with food animals after graduation.

Read more about Weatherman’s academic accomplishments, extracurricular service, and plans for the future.

Keynote speaker Andrew Pelling and graduate students gathered for a group photo after the morning poster session.

Graduate students showcase their work at 2017 Research Symposium

Graduate students and residents at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine presented their research findings at the 28th Annual Research Symposium on Thursday, March 16. The event showcased graduate student contributions to the college's robust research program, which focuses on One Health to address both animal and human health, with signature programs in the areas of infectious diseases, immune and inflammatory responses, brain cancer, and regenerative medicine.

Master’s and Ph.D. students in the college’s Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences program provided oral and poster presentations. Graduate students from the University of Maryland’s Department of Veterinary Sciences also participated in the symposium.

A panel of faculty judges selected the top oral presentations and posters in both masters and Ph.D. student categories, and winners received prizes at an evening awards banquet held at the Inn at Virginia Tech. A faculty member and staff member were also recognized at the banquet with the Zoetis Award for Veterinary Research Excellence and the Outstanding Co-Worker Recognition Award.

Read more about the 2017 Research Symposium and Awards Ceremony and view a Facebook photo gallery of the symposium.

The winter 2017 issue of TRACKS magazine is now available.

Latest issue of TRACKS magazine now available

The latest issue of TRACKS magazine, the veterinary college’s signature publication that highlights recent events and significant stories around the college, is now available in print and online.

The latest issue focuses on how the college is building its core missions of teaching, research, and service with support from alumni, donors, and friends. Featured stories cover a range of topics:

Hard copies of TRACKS magazine can be found at the college or can be requested by emailing Megan Quesenberry, graphic designer, at An online version can be found on the college’s website.

Community members can have their dog washed for $10 and their dog's nails trimmed and ears cleaned for an extra $5.

Veterinary students to offer Community Dog Wash on April 23

Students at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech will hold their biannual Community Dog Wash on Sunday, April 23, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg.

The dog wash will be held at the rear of the veterinary college complex on 245 Duck Pond Drive, on the side closest to Southgate Drive. Signs on Southgate Drive and Duck Pond Drive will guide participants to the event, and ample parking will be provided behind the building.

Presented by Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) students enrolled in the college, the dog wash is always a popular community event. The cost of the dog wash is $10, and for an additional $5, customers can have their dogs’ nails trimmed and ears cleaned.

Animals will be washed on a first-come, first-served basis, and no appointments are necessary. Dogs will be washed while owners wait. Dogs must be on a leash and be at least 5 months old with current vaccinations. Please provide proof of rabies vaccination upon arrival at the dog wash.

Proceeds from the event will go to its sponsors: the college’s chapter of the Student American Veterinary Medical Association, a professional organization for DVM students, and the DVM Class of 2020.

Welcome to the College

Jennifer Davis

Jennifer Davis joins college as associate professor of clinical pharmacology

Jennifer Davis of Raleigh, North Carolina, has joined the veterinary college as associate professor of clinical pharmacology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology. Davis, an alumna from the Class of 1998, returns to the college from North Carolina State University, where she most recently served as an associate professor of equine medicine.

She has previously served as a consulting veterinarian, clinical pharmacology resident, equine internal medicine resident, and equine medicine and surgery intern at North Carolina State University. Davis, who has board certifications from both the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and the American College of Veterinary Clinical Pharmacology, completed both a Ph.D. in comparative biomedical sciences (pharmacology) and a master’s degree from North Carolina State University. She completed a doctor of veterinary medicine degree from the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine and a bachelor’s degree in animal science from Virginia Tech.

Hehuang "David" Xie

Hehuang “David” Xie joins college as associate professor of epigenomics and computational biology

Hehuang “David” Xie of Blacksburg, Virginia, has joined the veterinary college as associate professor of epigenomics and computational biology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology. He is also an associate professor at the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech, where he has worked since 2012.

Xie previously worked as a research assistant professor in the Cancer Biology and Epigenomics Programs at Northwestern University’s Children’s Memorial Research Center. He also worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Minnesota and the University of Iowa. Xie has a Ph.D. in genetics and a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Iowa. He also completed a master’s degree at the Shanghai Institute of Cell Biology at the Chinese Academy of Science and a bachelor’s degree in genetics from Sichuan University in China.

Andrew Allison

Andrew Allison joins college as assistant professor of molecular virology

Andrew Allison of Ithaca, New York, has joined the veterinary college as assistant professor of molecular virology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology. Allison comes to the college from Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, where he was a postdoctoral associate and fellow in the Baker Institute for Animal Health.

After completing a bachelor’s degree in wildlife science from Virginia Tech, Allison earned a master’s degree in medical microbiology and a Ph.D. in infectious diseases (virology) from the University of Georgia. His research interests include mechanisms of virus evolution and emergence, host range and cross-species transmission of viruses, and wildlife virology and emerging zoonotic viral diseases.

Student Spotlight

While in Tanzania, Sherry learned that only around half of the country's population has access to an improved water source.

Julia Sherry: Creating sustainable public health solutions in Tanzania

Julia Sherry, a second-year student in the Master of Public Health (MPH) program, spent her summer in Tanzania working with Water Mission, a nonprofit Christian engineering organization dedicated to creating sustainable water solutions in developing countries. While in Tanzania, Sherry applied skills learned during the MPH program to real work crisis scenarios and, in turn, expanded her understanding of concepts explained in the classroom. Sherry, who is also pursuing a master’s degree in geography at Virginia Tech, received funding from the Sidman P. Poole Scholarship and a World Bank grant.

In an introductory level class on natural resources my freshman year of college, I heard a lecture on the global water crisis and learned that almost a billion people lack access to safe drinking water. I couldn’t sleep that night, imagining how hard a life without safe water would be, and lay awake in my bed considering both the nightmare of people sick and dying due to preventable waterborne diseases and the dream of this problem being solved.

Five years later, I found myself in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, working as a research assistant on a project designed to provide sustainable water services to people in Tanzania. The project was funded by the World Bank and carried out by the Government of Tanzania and Water Mission, a nonprofit humanitarian organization.

Only around half of Tanzania’s population has access to an improved water source, and many people have to travel long distances, wait in long lines, or drink poor quality water on a daily basis. Even in the big city of Dar es Salaam, very few people in the communities where we worked had water piped into their home, and most had to walk to a kiosk somewhere around them to buy and carry buckets of water to their house to drink, and to use for cooking, cleaning, and bathing.

This article originally appeared in the winter 2017 issue of TRACKS magazine. Read the full story on the Master of Public Health Program website.

From left to right: Megan Riveros, VOICE president; Harvey Crumm from Zoetis; Carling Sitterley, assistant director of admissions and student services and past president of VOICE; Dean Cyril Clarke; Mark Freeman, assistant professor of community practice; and Amber Roudette, past president of VOICE.

Megan Riveros reflects on 2017 Iverson Bell Symposium

Megan Riveros of Sterling, Virginia, is a third-year student at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. She is the president of Veterinary Students as One in Culture and Ethnicity (VOICE), PMM chair for the Food Animal Practitioners Club, and fundraising chair for Omega Tau Sigma.

As the current president of our student chapter of VOICE, I had the privilege to attend the Iverson Bell Symposium hosted by the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges in Washington D.C. I was very grateful to have attended with the support of our college’s administration.

Every two years, the AAVMC hosts the Iverson Bell Symposium in honor of the late Dr. Iverson Bell, the first African American veterinarian to hold the position of vice president in the American Veterinary Medical Association. Bell left an outstanding legacy of leadership and contributions in promoting diversity in veterinary medicine.

I attended many different presentations about a variety of topics but enjoyed the ability to select specific programs to attend throughout the weekend that work towards creating a more diverse and inclusive environment in the veterinary profession. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the award recipients and hearing powerful testimonials about their influential experiences and achievements that have brought them to their current role in our profession.

Read the full first-person account of the 2017 Iverson Bell Symposium.

Grant Waldrop’s trip to the Brucellosis 2016 conference in New Delhi, India, sparked an interest in international travel. While in India, Waldrop also visited the Taj Mahal.

Grant Waldrop travels to India for international brucellosis conference

When Grant Waldrop of Greenville, South Carolina, had a chance to present a poster at the Brucellosis 2016 International Research Conference, a three-day conference in New Delhi, India attended by over 350 delegates representing 23 different countries, he jumped at the chance.

“International conferences offer an array of great experiences not only within your field of research but also in exploring cultures that are unfamiliar to you,” explained Waldrop, who is a dual degree DVM/Ph.D. student at the veterinary college.

Waldrop’s advisor, Nammalwar “Nathan” Sriranganathan, professor of veterinary microbiology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, was instrumental in organizing the conference, which also served as the 69th Annual Brucellosis Research Meeting of the International Brucellosis Society.

Read more about Waldrop’s participation in the Brucellosis 2016 International Research Conference.

Alumni Corner

Call for submissions from college alumni and friends

Alumni and friends,

We want to hear from you! We are now accepting submissions for a new feature section of our news magazine, TRACKS, in an effort to connect you with other alumni and friends of the college and highlight your accomplishments.

Please submit your name, class year, and any recent accomplishments or successes you would like to share, such as awards, honors, leadership roles in professional organizations, establishment of a new practice, etc. to our ticketing system at

Thank you for your dedication and continual support of the veterinary college — we look forward to hearing from you!

Best regards,
Lynn Blevins, Director of Alumni Relations

Around the College

Annual Open House offers activities for all ages

The weather was beautiful and sunny, and the crowd turned out for the college’s annual Open House on Saturday, March 25. This year’s event again featured local food trucks in addition to tours, demonstrations, and lectures. Family-friendly activities included a Teddy Bear Surgery Clinic, an anatomy lesson with a live painted horse, a miniature horse petting area, horseshoe and face painting, and more. The college hosted the Open House with support from the college's chapter of the Student American Veterinary Medical Association, along with the majority of the college’s student organizations.

View a Facebook photo gallery of the 2017 Open House.

Fix the Debt: Part II tackles educational debt for veterinary students

A week-long series of events organized by veterinary students to address the debt-to-income ratio and empower the veterinary profession towards financial sustainability took place at the veterinary college on March 27-31. Each day during lunch, a speaker addressed a different topic related to financial sustainability and independence. The events, which were sponsored by the college’s chapter of the Student American Veterinary Medical Association (SAVMA), were also livestreamed for veterinary students at other institutions around the country. Pictured left to right: Jacque Pelzer, director of admissions and student services; Jennifer Hodgson, associate dean for professional programs; Kevin Cain, Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges' Director of Governmental Affairs; Gina Luke, assistant director of the American Veterinary Medical Association Governmental Relations Division; Vincent Tavella, senior chair of SAVMA's Educational Debt Committee; and Cyril Clarke, dean of the college.

Learn more about the Fix the Debt: Part II Summit.

College welcomes latest Puppy University arrivals

The veterinary college ended last year with a graduation ceremony for the first cohort of puppies preparing for service dog training, but that was not the end of Puppy University. The college has been welcoming puppies into the program for shorter stays through a continued partnership with Saint Francis Service Dogs. Although the puppies will only be with the college for about six weeks at a time, their presence is welcome all the same. Left to right: Chelsea Pollak, a first-year veterinary student with Ben, and Samantha Buteux, a second-year veterinary student with Barnes. The two black Labrador retrievers are also joined by Marshall (not pictured), a golden retriever who is being raised by veterinary technician Flori Sforza.

Follow the puppies' activities on the new @vtpuppyuniversity Instagram account.

College holds reception at Society of Toxicology meeting in Baltimore

The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine hosted a reception during the Society of Toxicology annual meeting in Baltimore on March 12-16. Attendees included former Ph.D. and postdoctoral fellows, DVM graduates of the college, sponsors of current research projects, and current faculty. Front row, left to right: Celia Dodd, Melinda Pomeroy-Black, Sandy McCain, Marion Ehrich, Anita El-Fawal, Kathleen Funk, Kristina Howard. Back row, left to right: David Barber, Willie McCain, Kent Carlson, Bernie Jortner, Hassan El-Fawal, Chris Thompson. Not pictured: Marquea King.

Coy Allen pairs with artist to make science more accessible

Local artist Joe Kelley found his next big challenge inside a laboratory at Virginia Tech. Kelley, who works in painting and sculpture, is now finding a way to do an abstract work not of a bucolic outdoor setting, but of gastrointestinal health. Kelley is using images and research done in the lab of Coy Allen, who studies inflammatory disease and host-microbe interactions at the veterinary college. Kelley’s art isn’t necessarily coming from a love of intestines. Instead, the project is part of a Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine spring 2017 art show “Research in Abstract,” which will be on display at the school’s Roanoke location from April 10 through July 31. Read more about how Allen has teamed up with a local artist in the Roanoke Times.

Travis Burns visits London for Worshipful Company of Farriers ceremony

Travis Burns, assistant professor of practice and chief of farrier services, traveled to London to receive recognition for becoming a Fellow of the Worshipful Company of Farriers. He is one of six Americans to ever achieve this honor, which is the highest possible. Established in the 14th century, the Worshipful Company of Farriers has only ever had 202 farriers achieve the distinction of Fellow—and only 37 of them are still alive. Read more about the process of becoming a Fellow in the Worshipful Company of Farriers.

Graduate student Anne Nichols rocks science communication competition

Ph.D. student Anne Nichols from Abingdon, Virginia, participated in the first annual Nutshell Games hosted by Virginia Tech’s new Center for Communicating Science on March 2. Graduate students from across the university gave 90-second research talks to practice the art of bringing science to life for general audiences, and Nichols’ talk focused on her regenerative medicine research on ACL injury repair. The games were followed by a launch celebration for this exciting new center. Read more about the new center and the Nutshell Games.

Awards & Activities

Dean Cyril Clarke, Lynett Cruise, and April Hylton

Lynett Cruise named March Staff Member of the Month

Lynett Cruise, director of human resources, is an exemplary leader of the human resources team. Cruise, who has been with the veterinary college for nearly sixteen years, is always extremely helpful and friendly, and willing to assist others when they are in need. In addition, her nominator described how Cruise is “very educated in her field and always knows the right thing to say.”

Last fall, Cruise also earned an Ally certificate through the University Organizational and Professional Development’s Diversity Development Institute, demonstrating her commitment to diversity and inclusion practices at the veterinary college. Overall, Cruise is an “asset to the team here at the vet school,” her nominator explained.

Read more about the Staff Members of the Month.

More Awards & Activities

Kaja Abbas, assistant professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences, and Gloria Kang, a Ph.D. student in the Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences graduate program, have co-authored a paper on “Facilitators and Barriers of Parental Attitudes and Beliefs toward School-Located Influenza Vaccination in the United States: Systematic Review” in the journal Vaccine. The paper is available online.

Norris Adams, clinical assistant professor in equine lameness and surgery at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, Virginia, has achieved Diplomate status through the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation (equine). He previously achieved board certification through the American College of Veterinary Surgeons.

Laura Eckstrand, a third-year veterinary student, received a $5,000 scholarship through the Merck Animal Health Veterinary Student Scholarship Program, a partnership between Merck Animal Health and the American Veterinary Medical Foundation.

Taylor Engle, a third-year veterinary student, tied for second place at the American Association of Swine Veterinarians Poster Competition at the association’s 48th Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado.

Grant D.C. (2017). “Calcium Oxalate Urolithiasis in Dogs.” In Lane IF and Stokes J, eds. Veterinary Medicine. New York: Decision Support in Medicine, LLC.

Grant D.C. (2017). “Calcium Oxalate Urolithiasis in Cats.” In Lane IF and Stokes J, eds. Veterinary Medicine. New York: Decision Support in Medicine, LLC.

Sandy Hancock, senior laboratory specialist in the Laboratory for Neurotoxicity Studies, organized a panel session at the 33rd Society of Quality Assurance (SQA) Annual Meeting and Quality College held in National Harbor, Maryland. The session, titled “The University Report Card: An Expert Panel of Regulatory and Quality Assurance Professionals Discuss Compliance in Regulated Research at Academic Institutions,” focused on the university challenges and strategies related to conducting research in compliance with the Good Laboratory Practice regulations. The panel included representatives from the FDA and EPA, as well as quality assurance professionals who work with academic institutions. Hancock is active in the University Specialty Section (USS) of SQA and was honored to be the recipient of the 2017 USS Scholarship Award, which paid for her meeting registration.

Leib MS, Grant D.C. “Comparison of maropitant to metoclopramide prior to orogastric administration of polyethylene glycol solution to dogs.” Comparative Gastroenterology Society GutSea, Kauai, Hawaii in February 2017.  

X.J. Meng, University Distinguished Professor of Molecular Virology, is chair of the organizing committee for the 2017 Summit of the Virginia Academy of Sciences, Medicine, and Engineering, which will take place on Oct. 29-30. Meng is working with U.S. Senator Mark Warner, who is serving as the summit host, on the event. 

Stewart Morgan, Susan Willis, and Megan Shepherd. “Survey of owner motivations and veterinary input of owners feeding diets containing raw animal products.” PeerJ. March 2, 2017. Available online.

Daniel Nelson, associate professor in the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Maryland, College Park, is the recipient of the 50th Annual AGNR Alumni Award for Excellence in Research. Since coming to the University of Maryland System in 2007, Nelson has exceled in all aspects of his appointment, including research scholarship, innovation, teaching, and mentorship. He is integral to his home department, his second affiliation at the Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research, and the University of Maryland community.

Jen Rudd, quality control manager at Virginia Tech Animal Laboratory Services, and Kevin Lahmers, clinical associate professor of anatomic pathology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, traveled to Las Vegas to attend the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians (AAVLD) auditor training on Feb. 9 to become members of the accreditation auditing pool that evaluates diagnostic laboratories throughout the United States.

Williams, A. J., Soares, J. H. N., Pavlisko, N. D., M, Council-Troche, R. M., Henao-Guerrero, N. “Isoflurane MAC-Sparing Effects of Fentanyl in the Dog.” Veterinary Anaesthesia and Analgesia. 2017. 10.1016/j.vaa.2017.02.002

Michael Sutphin, public relations coordinator, spoke on a panel about “Giving Back to the Community” at the 2017 eXperience Young Professionals Summit in Roanoke on March 10.

Upcoming Events


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 Editors: Alison Elward, Tiffany Tran
  • Assistant Editor: Kelsey Foster
  • Contributors: Lynn Blevins, Alison Elward, Kelsey Foster, Robby Korth (Roanoke Times), Megan Riveros, Courtney Sibiga, Julia Sherry, Michael Sutphin
  • Photography/Videography: Zeke Barlow, Virginia Keifer Corrigan, Alison Elward, Matt Gentry (Roanoke Times), Megan Quesenberry, Julia Sherry, Jim Stroup, Michael Sutphin, Tiffany Tran, Grant Waldrop
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