A Cause for Celebration
Dear friends and colleagues,
This month, we ended the academic year on a high note with commencement ceremonies for our Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Master of Science, Master of Public Health, and Ph.D. programs. Our graduates in each of these programs have completed the rigorous requirements needed for success in their fields and prepared themselves for exciting careers related to animal and human health.
Our 105 newly minted Doctors of Veterinary Medicine will take the veterinary knowledge and skills they have learned over the past four years in many different directions. They will keep our family pets healthy through small animal practice, provide world-class healthcare to equine and agricultural communities through large animal practice, protect public health and the food supply through work in government and corporations, and further their training through internships and residencies leading to board certifications and specialty practices. Each of our graduates in the Class of 2015 are trained across all major domestic species and scientific disciplines and are competent in the professional, diagnostic, and clinical skills they need to succeed in their chosen area of practice.
Three students also completed requirements for their Master of Science degree, all of whom finished residencies at our Veterinary Teaching Hospital. Another 10 students graduated with their Ph.D. in the college’s Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences program. All of these students gained hands-on, minds-on experiences and fine-tuned their skills in clinical medicine and surgery, biomedical sciences, and research.
In addition, 23 students graduated from the college’s Master of Public Health program. The two-year professional program seeks to increase the number of public health professionals in Southwest Virginia, the Appalachian region, and elsewhere with concentrations in infectious diseases and public health education. Although the program has only been established since 2010, we have already graduated more than 100 students and are excited about the public health impact they are having in our region and beyond.
None of these programs exists in isolation — rather, all of our graduates benefit from the integrated, One Health approach that we champion at the college. Increasingly, we are finding ways to connect veterinary medicine, public health, and biomedical research, and to share faculty and resources to advance our education and outreach programs. These programs are also connected to the college’s core land-grant missions of education, service, and research.
Our graduates are now ambassadors of the college and alumni for life. We are as excited to see them graduate from our program as they are to enter their career field and advance animal and human health. I am confident that they will succeed in their efforts and look forward to learning more about the impact they have on the world.
Dr. Cyril Clarke, Dean
College graduates Class of 2015
Graduating students in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine celebrated the completion of their professional training at college and university commencement ceremonies on Friday, May 15.
Dr. Gregory Troy, the Dr. and Mrs. Dorsey Taylor Mahin Endowed Professor of Internal Medicine in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences, delivered the keynote address. He organized his speech around an approach used to document a patient’s health called SOAP (an acronym for subjective, objective, assessment, and plan).
“The fourth-year assessment is important,” he concluded after jokingly outlining the Class of 2015’s experiences in each of these categories as if it was a patient. “You do have the qualities to become a veterinarian, and that brings us to tonight. You are now doctors of veterinary medicine, and you have started to acquire the characteristics that will make you a true professional. The beginning is just starting tonight, and your hard work and dedication over the last year should make you feel confident, but you should also have some reservations. As all of you have a great deal of knowledge about medicine and surgery, the art of science will take you a lifetime to learn.”
Following the keynote speech and hooding ceremony, Dr. Terry Taylor, president of the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association administered the veterinarian’s oath and Dr. Justin Sobota, president of the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association, offered the welcome to the profession. Dr. Thomas Riegel, president of the Class of 2015, addressed the class and presented the class gift in honor of late classmate Drew Whittier.
Earlier in the day, Virginia Tech recognized the veterinary students at the university commencement ceremony in Lane Stadium. Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, a Blacksburg native, gave the keynote address. Then, the Graduate School awarded advanced degrees to the college’s 23 Master of Public Health, three Master of Science, and 10 Ph.D. students at a separate ceremony in Cassell Coliseum. Ansley Abraham, founding director of the Southern Regional Education Board’s State Doctoral Scholars Program, gave the Graduate School address.
View Facebook photo galleries of the Class of 2015 DVM reception and commencement ceremony and the MPH and Ph.D. commencement festivities.
Dr. Kelly Underwood named college valedictorian
As a child, Kelly Underwood, from Vienna, Virginia, thought she might want a career working with animals. By the time she began studies at the University of Virginia, however, her interests shifted to the humanities.
“I really liked English and history, so I pursued that at the beginning of my college career,” said Underwood, who wrote human interest stories and served as one of two life-section editors for her college newspaper, The Cavalier Daily. “But when I started looking at jobs in either journalism or publishing, I didn’t like it as much and began to reevaluate what I did enjoy. At the time, I was also volunteering at a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) facility and working at a wildlife center.”
After deciding to turn her love of animals into an academic pursuit, Underwood made a switch in the middle of her undergraduate career and began taking biology and life science classes. In 2010, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree and the rather unlikely dual major of English and biology.
Underwood was the Class of 2015 valedictorian at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. “Doing well in veterinary college isn’t about being super-smart,” said Underwood who, as valedictorian, received the college’s Richard B. Talbot Memorial Award. “For me personally, it’s about being willing to put in the time and effort to study and being organized.”
Dr. Thomas Riegel receives Outstanding Graduating Senior Award
Dr. Thomas Riegel of Glasgow, Virginia, received Virginia Tech’s 2015 Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine Outstanding Senior Award.
Sponsored by the Virginia Tech Alumni Association and the senior class, the Outstanding Senior Award recognizes exceptional academic achievement and leadership by a graduating senior from each of the university’s eight colleges. Recipients have a minimum grade point average of 3.75 on a 4.0 scale and are selected by faculty and students within the respective colleges.
In 2009, he earned his bachelor’s degree in biology with a Chinese language minor from Kalamazoo College in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree during the May 15 commencement ceremonies.
Riegel won the Robert C. Brown leadership award in 2013 and 2014. In 2015, he received the American College of Veterinary Surgeons Student Award, the Ethicon Excellence in Surgery Award, and The Cubby Deemer Memorial Scholarship. Next year, he has a rotating small animal medicine and surgery internship with Seattle Veterinary Specialists in Kirkland, Washington.
Public Health Program and New River Health District formalize relationship with new agreement
Virginia Tech and the Virginia Department of Health’s New River Health District have worked together on public health initiatives for years, but now they have a formal agreement that defines their partnership to enhance public health instruction, practice, and research, and to improve community health in the New River Valley.
Earlier this month, Virginia Tech President Timothy D. Sands and Virginia Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Marissa Levine signed a memorandum of agreement to establish the New River Academic Health Department. Both agencies will remain separate, but they will collaborate and share resources.
“This is a formalization of the relationship between Virginia Tech’s Public Health Program and the New River Health District to encourage interaction, collaboration, and coordination of projects,” said Dr. François Elvinger, head of the Department of Population Health Sciences, which administers the Public Health Program. “We have already taken the first step with our Master of Public Health students who have completed their practicum with the New River Health District and our faculty members who are working together on research and outreach projects, but now we will be taking another step to expand these efforts.”
Housed in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, the Public Health Program offers a two-year professional degree with concentrations in infectious disease and public health education. In 2013, the Council on Education for Public Health awarded the program full accreditation, making it the first accredited public health program at a veterinary college in the United States.
College parasitologist warns of tick-borne disease for Lyme Disease Awareness Month
May is National Lyme Disease Awareness Month, but Southwest Virginia residents should be concerned about the tick-borne disease year-round, according to Dr. Anne Zajac, associate professor of parasitology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology.
Last fall, Zajac co-authored a paper in Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases that revealed that as many as one-third of deer ticks collected from sites in nearby Giles and Pulaski counties carried the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease. Even though the American dog tick, which does not carry the disease, was previously thought to be the region’s predominant tick species, the deer tick population has expanded in recent years.
“Deer tick does well in cold weather, so even in the winter, people have to be vigilant,” Zajac said. “Pet owners also need to be concerned about ticks and seek tick protection for dogs and cats year-round.”
The Virginia Department of Health has reported high rates of confirmed Lyme disease cases among Southwest Virginia residents. Some people who are infected with the disease develop a bull’s eye mark around the bite mark before developing a fever and joint pain, but not all do. The University of Rhode Island’s TickEncounter Resource Center has more information and resources about tick identification and testing.
Fat cats no more: Veterinary students take on “Biggest Loser”-inspired weight loss challenge for their pets
Last fall, a group of students at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine embarked on an animal health challenge much closer to home than their usual classroom and clinical experiences: They put their overweight pets on a diet.
Recently, the nine cats and one dog participating in the Purina Overweight Management (OM) Challenge had their final weigh-in to find out which furry friend made the most progress over the past six months. The winner was Cricket, a feisty, black-and-white shorthaired cat owned by fourth-year veterinary student Liddy Hepner of Hydes, Maryland.
“Cricket lost about 2 kilograms or just over 4 pounds,” said challenge organizer Courtney Walski of Chesapeake, Virginia, a third-year veterinary student. “It was about 30 percent of his body weight.”
Walski had first-hand experience with dieting her pets before this year’s challenge, which is similar to the popular reality television show “The Biggest Loser.” “My cat and dog were both overweight, but I didn’t quite realize how much they were overweight until I started the challenge last year,” she said.
Her 16-year-old cat, Pumpkin, lost about 23 percent of his body weight last year and saw improved energy levels and mobility. Pumpkin ranked first-place among cats in last year’s challenge, while her dog, Lily, ranked second among dogs.
Purina provided pet food for all participants for the fourth consecutive year. Each animal was fed Purina ProPlan OM, a therapeutic diet specifically formulated for overweight dogs and cats. “We believe veterinary students learn nutrition best using a hands-on approach,” said Dr. Lauren Pagliughi, Purina college manager. “The Purina OM Challenge is a fantastic way to instill the importance of maintaining a healthy body condition in your own pets and in future patients.”
Dr. X.J. Meng explores “the fascinating world of viruses”
Dr. X.J. Meng’s career accomplishments make him one of the top scientists at Virginia Tech and one of the top global contributors in his field.
From the discovery of two new viruses to the invention of the first USDA-fully licensed vaccine against a deadly viral disease to his induction to the National Academy of Inventors, Meng is a leading expert on emerging and reemerging animal viruses. He found his calling in graduate school after discovering what he calls “the fascinating world of viruses.”
“I thought that the best way to utilize my training was to conduct biomedical research in the field of comparative medicine focusing on viral diseases,” said Meng, University Distinguished Professor of Molecular Virology at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. “In this way, I can contribute to both human and veterinary medicine in a meaningful way.”
Dr. Michael Erskine named director of Equine Medical Center
Veterinarian and equine specialist Dr. Michael D. Erskine of Mount Airy, Maryland, has been named director of Virginia Tech’s Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center after serving as the interim director since May 2013.
Located in Leesburg, Virginia, the center is a campus of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech. Erskine began his new position on April 25.
“Over the last 18 months, I have worked closely with Dr. Erskine and others from the college to conduct a comprehensive review and planning process with the goal of developing a more sustainable business model for the equine medical center,” noted Dr. Cyril Clarke, dean of the veterinary college. “He has been instrumental in moving forward several high-priority projects that already are making a positive impact on the center’s performance and financial standing. I consider him to be very well-qualified to serve the college in his new position.”
Dr. Jessica Landa (DVM ’10) brings hands-on horse healing to central Florida
Jessica Landa, DVM, ran her hands over a horse’s hip, trailing the anatomy carefully before inserting a thin needle. The horse didn’t flinch. She placed another. And another.
Acupuncture for horses.
“I’ve seen great results for pain,” said Landa, noting that barrel racers, ropers and jumpers can get “back sore.”
Sometimes the horse is in such pain, it fights the treatment at first.
“They get very resentful; they kick at you. But once (the needle) stimulates the point, they relax, they lick and chew, their head drops and they almost go to sleep,” she said.
Landa, who works for Ridge Large Animal Veterinary Services in Zolfo Springs, is the only veterinarian specializing in chiropractic and acupuncture in the area.
The 32-year-old is a graduate of the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine and has been practicing for five years. She received her chiropractic certification a year and a half ago in Wellsville, Kansas.
Around the College
Awards & Activities
Sandra Hancock named May Staff Member of the Month
Sandra Hancock, a laboratory specialist in Research and Graduate Studies, has been recognized for exceptional contributions to the Laboratory for Neurotoxicity Studies and the veterinary college’s research program. She was the college’s Staff Member of the Month for May 2015.
According to the nomination, Hancock offered her efforts and expertise in validating the college’s transmission electron microscope to qualify for work performed under federal Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) regulations. “The university purchased a transmission electron microscope in 2012, and one of its purposes is to support such research. To do that the microscope must be compliant with GLP standards and, because it is a computerized system, the microscope must be validated for its intended use,” her nominator wrote. “The validation, initiated earlier last year, has recently been completed due to a major effort by Sandra.”
Hancock, who has worked at the veterinary college for more than 25 years, put in long hours to complete this effort on top of her typical workload, coming in during the university’s winter break closure and logging 120 hours beyond her regular working hours in January. She authored three major reports during the validation process.
“Given the GLP compliance of the instrument, a number of commercial entities have within the last month begun to use our laboratory for ultrastructural evaluation of samples that will be part of studies submitted to the FDA,” her nominator added. “The technical expertise and quality of work Sandra brings to these projects has been a major factor in acquiring such research projects.”
Undergraduate student in Lijuan Yuan’s lab earns Goldwater Scholarship
Christine Tin of Dale City, Virginia, a junior majoring in biological sciences in the College of Science, has been awarded a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship for the upcoming academic year. Tin works under the mentorship of Lijuan Yuan, associate professor of virology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology.
Tin, a University Honors student, has performed a wealth of undergraduate research on rotavirus under Yuan. Specifically, Tin has investigated ways to increase the efficacy of rotavirus vaccines through probiotics. The data she helped collect was included in major research publications from Yuan’s lab. Tin presented her work at the 2014 National Conference on Undergraduate Research.
More Awards & Accolades
Irving Coy Allen, assistant professor of inflammatory disease in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, received a two-year, $161,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health on “Evaluating NLR Modulation of Canonical and Non-Canonical NF-kB Signaling in IBD.” Dr. Tom Cecere, assistant professor of anatomic pathology, is the co-investigator on the grant.
Irving Coy Allen also received a one-year, $60,000 Junior Faculty Collaborative grant from the Virginia Tech Institute of Critical Technologies and Applied Sciences with co-investigator Rick Davis in the Department of Chemical Engineering. Allen has also been promoted to section editor at PLoS One after serving as academic editor since 2013. He has also been selected to serve as an associate editor at the Journal of Immunology.
Dr. Brittany Carr (DVM ’12), a sports medicine and rehabilitation resident at the Veterinary Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Group in Annapolis Junction, Maryland, has been awarded a 2015 Mark S. Bloomberg Memorial Resident Research Award by the Veterinary Orthopedic Society. The Bloomberg Resident Research Award is a group of awards granted to residents in accredited programs across the country and internationally each year at the Veterinary Orthopedic Society Conference for their outstanding work in research. Carr presented two abstracts at the VOS Conference held in Sun Valley, Idaho in March, 2015 – “Canine Platelet Rich Plasma Systems: A Multicenter, Prospective Analysis” and “Quantitative Comparison of the Walk and Trot of Border Collies and Labrador Retrievers, Breeds with Different Performance Requirements.”
Dr. Doug Graham, referring practitioner relations coordinator, received the West Virginia Veterinary Medical Association’s 2015 Service Award for his dedication and support of the association and the veterinary profession. Dr. Shawn Sette, president of the WVVMA, presented the award at the association’s annual business luncheon and said, “He always says that he has the best job in the world … and it shows in everything that he does.” Graham received the Virginia Veterinary Medical Association’s Veterinary Service Award earlier this year.
Sarah McDonald, an assistant professor at both the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine and the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, received a two-year, $386,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health on “Allosteric Regulation of a Viral RNA-dependent RNA Polymerase.”
Michelle Prong, a 2015 Master of Public Health graduate and Virginia Tech softball outfielder, was one of six Virginia Tech student-athletes honored with an ACC Top Six for Service Award. The award recognizes student-athletes who are involved in service projects each year in recognition of the Virginia Tech motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).
Dr. Valerie Ragan, director of the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. Carling Sitterley, Armenia project assistant, traveled to Fort Collins, Colorado to provide training for two Armenian veterinarians who are being trained as part of the center’s USDA grant to become brucellosis subject matter experts for Armenia. Ragan and Sitterley accompanied them to meetings with USDA’s chief epidemiologist and the animal health director for the Colorado Department of Agriculture. The team also visited the Colorado regional animal health laboratory to observe and discuss brucellosis testing and visited a large dairy farm for the Armenians to learn about vaccination practices and procedures and herd management. Ragan also led the Armenian veterinarians through several brucellosis case studies.
Dr. Valerie Ragan traveled to Florence, Alabama as an invited speaker to the Tennessee Valley Veterinary Conference. She gave a presentation entitled “Beyond Private Practice – The Wide World of Veterinary Medicine.” She has also been invited by the National Academy of Sciences, National Research Council to serve on a committee for the upcoming study entitled “Revisiting Brucellosis in the Greater Yellowstone Area.” Ragan has also been appointed vice chair of the United States Health Association’s Diagnostic Laboratory and Veterinary Workforce Development Committee.
Dr. Annette M. Sysel, president and chief veterinary officer at the Bauer Research Foundation, was selected as one of five finalists for the 2015 American Humane Association Hero Veterinarian Awards. Sysel was the first large animal surgery resident at the college.
Dr. Nathaniel Tablante, associate director of the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine and Extension poultry veterinarian, gave a talk on “The Economic Importance of Biosecurity Programs” as an invited speaker at National Association of Poultry Science annual meeting on April 30 in Riviera Maya, Mexico.
- June 18, 2015 — VTH Staff Awards Ceremony
- Blacksburg, VA
- June 20–23, 2015 — MVMA Summer Conference
- Ocean City, MD
- July 10–14, 2015 — AVMA Annual Convention
- Boston, MA
- August 7–8, 2015 — Reunion for the Classes of 1985 & 1990
- Blacksburg, VA / Floyd, VA
For More Upcoming Events…
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: Alison Elward, Megan Quesenberry, Michael Sutphin, Christy Swift, Sherrie Whaley
- Photography/Videography: Alison Elward, Shelby Lum, Doug Margulies, Jennifer McQuiston, Megan Quesenberry, Michael Sutphin, Logan Wallace, Sherrie Whaley