Vital Signs: August 2017 Vol. 6, Issue 8

A message from Dean Cyril Clarke

Rural Health

Dear friends and colleagues,

As the college moves forward with the expansion of its public health programs in accordance with our commitment to One Health, the topic of rural health has emerged as a compelling research and educational opportunity. This interest focuses on the relationships between environmental pollution and population health in rural communities, and the related healthcare disparities affecting both humans and animals.

An interdisciplinary research team at Virginia Tech, with representation from biological systems engineering, civil and environmental engineering, Appalachian studies, geography, and our Department of Population Health Sciences, is exploring this topic further. College of Veterinary Medicine faculty leading this effort are Julia Gohlke, associate professor of environmental health, and Susan West Marmagas, associate professor of public health practice and director of our MPH program. After receiving seed funding from the Global Change Center at Virginia Tech and the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment in 2015, they were awarded $75,000 this June from the university’s Global Systems Science destination area to expand and continue their work.

Although this initiative will initially focus its education, research, and engagement activities on Central Appalachia, it will eventually expand to rural communities worldwide. In addition to answering questions about ecological health predictors of population health and the health implications of long-term exposure to environmental contaminants, the team will engage with local communities as they develop management strategies and policy initiatives.

This exciting area of interest not only offers new avenues of exploration for our population health sciences faculty, but also gives our college an opportunity to partner with others across campus to improve human, animal, and environmental health under the One Health banner.

Dr. Cyril Clarke, Dean


Featured Stories

DVM Class of 2021 white coat group photo
The college's week-long DVM program orientation was capped by a “white coat ceremony” at the Inn at Virginia Tech on Friday, Aug. 25, where 128 new veterinary students received their official white coats.

College welcomes new students in veterinary, graduate programs

The Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine welcomed new students in its Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM), Master of Public Health (MPH), and Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences (BMVS) M.S. and Ph.D. programs this month.

The 128 new students in the DVM Class of 2021 participated in a week-long orientation capped by a “white coat” ceremony” at the Inn at Virginia Tech on Friday, Aug. 25. The incoming class arrived in Blacksburg after making it through a highly competitive application period as the second cohort of students in the veterinary college’s new doctor of veterinary medicine curriculum.

Cyril Clarke, dean of the veterinary college, spoke directly to students during the ceremony about the white coat’s significance as a symbol of professionalism and the science-based nature of veterinary medicine. He also emphasized that the incoming students have been afforded a rare opportunity to become veterinarians.

Read more about the college’s welcome activities for veterinary and graduate students and view photos from the white coat ceremony.

graduate student Benjamin Okyere
Benjamin Okyere

Graduate student Benjamin Okyere studies how the brain repairs itself after a stroke

Research at the veterinary college may one day change the future for patients with traumatic brain injuries, thanks to a graduate student’s prestigious grant recognition.

Benjamin Okyere, a Ph.D. student in biomedical and veterinary sciences, is just the ninth student from Virginia Tech to earn the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). His research focuses on adaptive brain and behavior as it relates to people who experience strokes and ways to help increase life expectancy after such an event.

Okyere’s three-year, $116,000 National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke grant will advance research on stroke, which is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. He studies in the laboratory of Michelle Theus, assistant professor of molecular and cellular neurobiology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, and says the grant is the result of hard work and Theus’ mentorship.

The grant will help Okyere better understand how an ischemic stroke induces active outward growth and remodeling of “pre-existing” replacement or collateral vessels into functional conduits — a process known as arteriogenesis — for blood reperfusion and drug delivery. An ischemic stroke is the most common form of stroke and involves an obstruction within a vessel supplying blood to the brain.

Read more about Okyere’s research on the adaptive brain. The full story is also available in the latest issue of the college’s TRACKS magazine.

Lauren Dodd posing with a group of Mission Rabies volunteers
Participants in the VetTRAC Summer Program learn about injections on a canine model in the veterinary college’s clinical skills laboratory.

Underrepresented students experience veterinary student life through InclusiveVT program

Twenty-two undergraduate students from around the country now have a better understanding of what it takes to become a veterinarian after spending a week at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine.

The third annual VetTRAC Summer Program offered hands-on experiences, lectures, and tours for students interested in veterinary medicine. Drawing record attendance this year, the program is one of three initiatives developed by the veterinary college for InclusiveVT, Virginia Tech’s approach to diversity and inclusion.

VetTRAC Summer Program participant Audrey Billips, of Abingdon, Virginia, a rising junior majoring in animal and poultry sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Virginia Tech, decided to pursue a career in veterinary medicine after her first semester at the university.

“I have always grown up around animals and always loved animals, but after the first semester at Virginia Tech, I had to decide between medical school … and veterinary school,” Billips said. “After my first semester, I got a feel for what I wanted to do, especially here where there are so many resources, and we have a great veterinary college.”

Read more about the 2017 VetTRAC Summer Program.

student researchers in front of NIH building in Maryland
As a part of their 11-week program, the 2017 Summer Veterinary Student Research Program participants visited National Institutes of Health facilities in Bethesda, Maryland, for the 18th Annual National Veterinary Scholars Symposium.

Summer research opens doors for veterinary students

From investigating new cancer treatments, to gaining a better understanding of Zika virus, to learning about the roles that veterinarians play in government and industry, veterinary students have gained invaluable experiences at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine this summer.

Thirteen second- and third-year veterinary students recently completed the Summer Veterinary Student Research Program (SVSRP). Held over an 11-week period in May, June, and July, the program offers one week of research-driven short courses, funded travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with doctor of veterinary medicine and Ph.D. professionals working in government, and nine weeks of mentor-guided laboratory training in animal models of disease.

Plus, the 2017 participants attended weekly breakfast meetings featuring guest speakers with varied backgrounds in the biomedical research field.

“The summer research experience for DVM students not only provides an experiential opportunity to conduct research in the laboratories of strong mentors, but also connects them with DVM scientists in diverse workplaces such as government, academia, and industry,” said S. Ansar Ahmed, associate dean for research and graduate studies and SVSRP director.

Read more about the Summer Veterinary Student Research Program.

student researchers in front of NIH building in Maryland
The latest issue of TRACKS magazine is now available.

College releases latest issue of TRACKS magazine

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 graduate and professional students are expanding horizons through laboratory, field, and clinical research. 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.

VT Cancer researchers Samy Lamouille, Rob Gourdie, Harald Sontheimer, and Zhi Sheng
From left to right, Virginia Tech faculty members Samy Lamouille, Rob Gourdie, Harald Sontheimer, and Zhi Sheng are researching the type of cancer recently diagnosed in U.S. Sen. John McCain.

Research teams converge on strategies to defeat brain cancer

Research teams at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute from three colleges — Engineering, Science, and Veterinary Medicine — are developing new approaches to treat glioblastoma, the aggressive form of brain cancer recently diagnosed in U.S. Sen. John McCain.

About half of glioblastoma patients die within the first 12 to 18 months of diagnosis, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

“Overall, Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute is positioned to have important impact in developing innovative therapies for treating glioblastoma,” said Michael J. Friedlander, founding executive director of the research institute and vice president for health sciences and technology at Virginia Tech. “With complementary research approaches in several laboratories here, we are committed to bringing cutting-edge science to bear on this devastating disorder that has evaded substantial progress for too long.”

The researchers include Zhi Sheng, assistant professor of molecular and cell biology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, and John Rossmeisl, professor of neurology and neurosurgery in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences.

Read more about the brain cancer research.

Donors to the veterinary college contributed to an outstanding fundraising year at Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech has second year of record philanthropy

Tens of thousands of generous donors combined to make $162.28 million in new gifts and commitments to Virginia Tech this past fiscal year – a 62 percent surge in giving compared to the previous year and more than double what was raised just two years earlier.

“We are grateful to have the support of such a generous community,” said Tim Sands, the university president. “Philanthropy is supporting more than 100 new students who are receiving Beyond Boundaries Scholarships this fall, and building an Intelligent Infrastructure Complex where students and faculty will develop the smart, sustainable communities of the future. We asked our alumni and friends to help Virginia Tech have a bigger impact on the world. Their response makes it possible for us to grow as a global university, launch new programs, serve more students and communities, and create productive environments for learning and research.”

Fundraising is an increasingly critical aspect of higher-education financing nationwide. Raising the amount of private support received each year has been a priority for Sands since he arrived at Virginia Tech, where state funding accounts for 17 percent of the total budget.

Read more about the impressive fundraising totals at Virginia Tech.

Around the College

Mother Nature provides natural sunblock for outdoor orientation activities

New students in the college's Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program were treated to an especially memorable activity on their first day of orientation on Monday, August 21. The 128 bright new students in the Class of 2021 were able to observe the solar eclipse using eclipse safety glasses provided by the Office of Academic Affairs. Students, faculty, and staff were meeting in small groups for team-based orientation activities in the college's oak grove at the eclipse's peak and were joined by other college community members to witness the celestial phenomenon.

Orientation prepares DVM students for next four years

First-year DVM students completed orientation activities designed to produce well-rounded and professional veterinary students. In addition to lectures, tours, and presentations at the college, students visited the Alta Mons campground in Shawsville, Virginia, for a day of team-building exercises designed to boost their leadership, self-confidence, and communication skills. More photos of the Camp Alta Mons trip and white coat ceremony are available on Flickr.

College welcomes students and faculty with picnic, tubing

More than 250 faculty, staff, new and returning students, and guests participated in a picnic and tubing event along the New River on a beautiful and sunny day on Saturday, Aug. 26. Sponsored by the college's Office of Advancement and Alumni Society, the event celebrated the end of summer and the start of a new academic year. View a photo gallery on Flickr.

Orientation kicks off the year for new Master of Public Health students

The MPH program also began a new academic year with an orientation for incoming students on Friday, Aug. 25. Orientation activities included an opening reception, a welcome from Dean Cyril Clarke and MPH program leaders, and small group sessions for students to learn about the program curriculum, graduate student life, and resources available to them. Students have the option to pursue a concentration in infectious diseases or public health education. View a photo gallery on Flickr.

Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences program welcomes new graduate students

The college welcomed new master’s and Ph.D. students in the Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences graduate program this month. The Aug. 24 orientation program included information sessions, a hospital tour, and a luncheon with faculty, staff, and graduate students.

Small Animal Summer Conference for Veterinarians offers continuing education

The veterinary college’s Third Annual Small Animal Summer Conference for Veterinarians was held on Friday, Aug. 25. The continuing education conference reached 91 alumni and other veterinary practitioners in the region who came to the college’s Blacksburg campus and 11 others through remote viewing at the Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg, Virginia. Sponsored by Hill’s, the conference also provided a chance for small animal veterinarians to catch up with one another.

Public health faculty part of Virginia Tech team looking into Central Appalachian health

Central Appalachia might have lush green mountain ranges with diverse plant and animal species, but it is also home to some of the most dramatic health disparities in the nation. In a literature review published in the journal Reviews on Environmental Health, an interdisciplinary Virginia Tech research team argues that more research needs to be conducted to determine how the unique topography and industries of the region, including coal and natural gas, impact the health of people living in the region. Team members include Julia Gohlke (far right), associate professor of environmental health in the Department of Population Health Sciences, and Susan West Marmagas (second from left), associate professor of public health practice. Read more about the Appalachian health research.

Awards & Activities

Cassidy Rist
Cassidy Rist

Cassidy Rist recognized among Emory University’s 40 Under Forty

Cassidy Rist, assistant professor of practice in the Department of Population Health Sciences, has been named among the 40 Under Forty by the Emory Alumni Association. Rist, who earned her master of public health degree in global epidemiology from Emory University in Atlanta, supports programs and initiatives in the college’s Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine.

The inaugural 40 Under Forty Alumni Recognition Program spotlights selected alumni across a variety of vocations for having made a significant impact in business, research, leadership, public service, or philanthropic endeavors. Rist was selected among hundreds of nominees from the Emory alumni community.

A veterinary epidemiologist with a background in One Health, infectious diseases, and emergency preparedness, Rist joined the veterinary college faculty in 2016. She was previously a veterinary medical officer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Rist earned a doctor of veterinary medicine degree from the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida.

Read more about Rist and the other honorees in Emory Magazine. Also, learn about Rist’s work to establish a future college partnership in Tanzania in the latest issue of TRACKS magazine.

William Huckle
William Huckle

William Huckle joins Graduate School as new associate dean

William Huckle, associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences & Pathobiology in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, has been named associate dean and director of interdisciplinary graduate education in the Graduate School.

Huckle oversees the Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Programs (IGEP) and the Individual Interdisciplinary Doctoral program, known as the IPhD, for the Graduate School. In addition, he serves as an instructor for transformative graduate education courses, such as Citizen Scholar Engagement.

"We are delighted to have Dr. Huckle join the Graduate School as an associate dean," said Vice President and Dean for Graduate Education Karen DePauw.

 “I am truly pleased to become a part of Dean DePauw’s team at the Graduate School,” said Huckle. “I welcome this new opportunity to help advance Virginia Tech’s efforts in graduate education and to foster a wider appreciation of the quality and diversity of graduate-level scholarship here. The development of our interdisciplinary programs, where Virginia Tech has been in the vanguard among its institutional peers, has yielded a rich environment for students and has engaged faculty to channel their creative energies in novel and productive directions.”

Read more about Huckle’s appointment at the Graduate School.

Caley McCoy and Dean Cyril Clarke

Caley McCoy named August Staff Member of the Month

Caley McCoy, clinical laboratory scientist, has worked in the clinical pathology laboratory at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital for the past year and was named the August Staff Member of the Month.

“The lab has undergone an enormous amount of change, both with protocols, new instrumentation, and staffing. Caley has consistently embraced taking on new responsibilities and has been an integral team player with the staffing changes,” wrote her nominator. “She is always willing to participate, help out her coworkers when in a bind, and we have been able to lean on her support and backup.”

McCoy’s nominator added that she wanted to recognize “her efforts and dependability in a time when we really need it.”

Read more about the Staff Members of the Month.

More Awards & Activities

The Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences Graduate Program announced the successful defenses for Summer Session II. These students have achieved a combined total of 23 publications, 27 national or international presentations, and seven regional or local presentations. The following individual defended a Master of Science in Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences:

  • Katelynn A. Monti (Advisor: Anne M. Zajac), “Feline Parasitism: Parasite Prevalence and Evaluation of New Immunoassays for Giardia and Cryptosporidium. Funded by Techlab, Inc. and the Office of Research and Graduate Studies.

Likewise, the following individuals successfully defended a Doctor of Philosophy in Biomedical and Veterinary Sciences:

  • Angela M. Ives (Advisor: Andrea S. Bertke), “Stress hormones epinephrine and corticosterone modulate herpes simplex virus 1 and 2 productive infection and reactivation primarily in sympathetic, not sensory, neurons.” Funded by the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and the Office of Research and Graduate Studies.
  • Xiaofeng Liao (Advisor: Xin Luo), “Treatment of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus by Nutrition and Dendritic Cell Targeting.” Funded by Start Up Funds, Internal Research Competition (IRC) Grants, One Health Medicine Grants, and the Stamps Family Charitable Foundation, Inc.
  • Allison O. McKell (Advisor: Sarah McDonald), “Determinants of Rotavirus Polymerase Localization and Activity.” Funded by the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (R01-AI116815 and R21-AI119588), the Office of Research and Graduate Studies, and the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute Medical Scholars Fund.
  • Tracee Popielarczyk (Advisor: Jennifer G. Barrett), “Homing and Differentiation of Mesenchymal Stem Cells in 3D In Vitro Models.” Funding provided by theStamps Family Charitable Foundation, Inc. and the Office of Research and Graduate Studies.
  • Meriam N. Saleh (Advisor: Anne M. Zajac), “Detecting Giardia: Clinical and Molecular Identification.” Funding provided by TechLab, Inc. and the Office of Research and Graduate Studies.

The Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center in Leesburg was featured in the autumn 2017 issue of Horse Times. Written by the center’s own Sharon Peart, the article highlights the center’s strategic plans and progress over the past year and is available online (page 15).

B. Anderson, V. Corrigan, V. Buchner-Maxwell, A. Robino, J. Farley. “Evaluation of a university-based animal assisted intervention program: a preliminary study.” International Society for Anthrozoology Annual Meeting, University of California, Davis. June 22-25.

Michelle Danna (DVM ’97) of Baltimore, Maryland, a veterinarian at the Boston Street Animal Hospital, was named Best Veterinarian for Baltimore Magazine’s “Best of Baltimore” awards. Learn more on the Baltimore Magazine website.

Julie Green, special research assistant professor of veterinary medical informatics in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, and Jeff Wilcke, the Metcalf Professor of Veterinary Medical Informatics, have received a $270,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to support the information technology infrastructure of the National Animal Health Laboratory Network. This is the 12th consecutive year that USDA has funded this project.

Xin Luo, assistant professor of immunology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, has received a three-year, $450,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health on “Dissecting the Roles of Vitamin A in Autoimmunity.” Her co-investigators from the veterinary college are S. Ansar Ahmed, associate dean for research and graduate studies, and Tom Cecere, assistant professor of anatomic pathology.

Ann Lynch, a second-year veterinary student, was featured in an article in Veterinary Practice News about her work with the 2017 National Veterinary Scholars Symposium. Lynch participated in the 2017 Boehringer Ingelheim Veterinary Scholars Program in Europe. Three students from U.S. veterinary schools were selected to receive a stipend and travel to France for 10 to 12 weeks for their summer research project. She conducted her research at the VetAgro Sup veterinary school in Lyon, France, focused on detecting tick-borne pathogens in ticks, which were collected on horses in southern France, an area with a number of endemic equine fever syndromes.

Jacque Pelzer, director of admissions and student services, was featured in an article in the Veterinary Information Network about the amount of pre-veterinary experience needed for admission to veterinary school.

Evymarie Prado-Sanchez, a third-year veterinary student, was featured in an article in Veterinary Practice News about her work with the 2017 National Veterinary Scholars Symposium. She was one of approximately 680 veterinary students and researchers who gathered on Aug. 3-6 at National Institutes of Health for the 2017 National Veterinary Scholars Symposium.

Liu, Y, Xie, Y, Brossie, N, Roberto, K and Redican, K. “Alcohol Consumption and Health of Older Adults in Mainland China.” American Journal of Health Education. Accepted for publication.

Sparling, P. and Redican, K. iHealth. Third edition. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing Co., 2017.

Clark, J, Redican, K, Rogers, C., Lysoby, L. “Curricular Mapping with HESPA Competencies.” Presented at the 68th Annual Meeting of the Society of Public Health Education, March, 2017, Denver, Colorado.

Shabini, Z, Redican, K. “Antibiotic Resistance in Kosovo: Implications for Health Literacy.” Presented at the Institute for Healthcare Advancement’s 16th Annual Health Literacy Conference, May, 2017, Irvine, California.

Lysoby, L, Redican, K. Auld, E. “Verified Health Education/Promotion Workforce Competencies Related to Health Literacy.” Presented at the Institute for Healthcare Advancement’s 16th Health Literacy Conference, May, 2017, Irvine, California.

Cassidy Rist, assistant professor at the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine, co-authored an article for Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health publication, Global Health Now, on “Data-Driven Done Right.” Available online.

D. Phillip Sponenberg, professor of pathology and genetics in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, was inducted as an honorary member of the American College of Theriogenologists in August. The honor, which is uncommon in most veterinary specialty boards and colleges, recognizes Sponenberg’s lifetime of scholarly work in the field of genetics.

D. Phillip Sponenberg and Rebecca Bellone. Equine Color Genetics. Fourth edition. August 2017.

Michael Sutphin, public relations coordinator and managing editor of Vital Signs, has accepted a position as communications manager for Community Housing Partners, an affordable housing nonprofit with headquarters in Christiansburg, Virginia. He has been a member of the college’s Office of Public Relations and Communications for the past six years.

Nathaniel Tablante, professor and extension poultry veterinarian at the University of Maryland, College Park, was unanimously voted as president-elect of the American Association of Avian Pathologists (AAAP) during July’s annual meeting in Indianapolis and will officially become AAAP president at the AVMA annual meeting in Denver next year. AAAP is an international association whose mission is to promote scientific knowledge to enhance the health, well-being, and productivity of poultry to provide safe and abundant food for the world. Establish in 1957, it is open to anyone who is engaged in some phase of avian diseases. Each year, in conjunction with the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) annual meeting, AAAP conducts a scientific program and symposium where the latest findings and issues regarding diseases in poultry are shared and discussed. Tablante co-hosted this year’s symposium on “Poultry and Policy: A Melee of Science, Agriculture, and Politics” and spoke about his prior AVMA Congressional Fellowship Experience.

Lijuan Yuan, associate professor of virology and immunology in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, has received a $300,000 grant from Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biopharmaceutical in China to better understand an “Evaluation of multivalent human norovirus-like particle vaccine in gnotobiotic pig challenge model.”

Upcoming Events

September 15-16 – Reunions for Classes of ’87, ’92, ’97, ’02, ’07, and ’12
Blacksburg, VA
October 1 – Community Dog Wash
Blacksburg, VA
October 5-6 – Mentor Workshop
Blacksburg, VA
October 14Canine Breeder Excellence Seminar
VA-MD Vet Med, Blacksburg, VA
November 10-12Potomac Regional Veterinary Conference
Williamsburg, VA
November 18 – Pre-game tailgate for Virginia Tech vs. Pittsburg (registration forthcoming)
VA-MD Vet Med, 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
  • Contributors: Carrie Cousins, Alison Elward, Cathy Grimes, Lindsay Key, John Pastor, Michael Sutphin
  • Photography/Videography: Alison Elward, David Hungate, Lindsay Key, Ray Meese, Brooke Nelson, Megan Quesenberry, Kelly Shifflett, Michael Sutphin
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