Leadership Changes in College of Agriculture & Applied Sciences, School of Veterinary Medicine

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Leading a successful two-year veterinary medicine program while also transitioning it to a new DVM-granting college with new faculty and facilities is a demanding task. So too is leading a large and diverse academic department. Doing both well and simultaneously is impractical if not impossible. To keep important work moving forward in Utah State University’s College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, Dean Ken White and USU Provost Frank Galey announced changes in administration that went into effect this month.

Professor Dirk Vanderwall, who served as head of the Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences (ADVS) for nearly nine years and also as associate dean of USU’s School of Veterinary Medicine, is now focused solely on his role as associate dean. Professor Abby Benninghoff, CAAS associate dean for research and graduate studies, now also serves as interim head of the ADVS Department. Both administrators, who also have active research programs, are looking ahead and anticipate demanding and exciting opportunities for faculty, staff and students.

White and Galey told faculty in a department meeting that they are confident in Benninghoff and Vanderwall’s abilities as scientists and as administrators, and look forward to supporting them in the work ahead. The dean and provost are familiar with the work since White is a former ADVS department head and Galey is a DVM/Ph.D., a board-certified veterinary toxicologist, and a former faculty member and administrator at the University of California-Davis and the University of Wyoming.

Vanderwall said, “I look forward to working with the faculty and staff of our current School of Veterinary Medicine as we embark upon transforming the school into a new, standalone,

four-year College of Veterinary Medicine. The 10 years of experience we have with our partner institutions in the Washington-Idaho-Montana-Utah Regional Program in Veterinary Medicine has placed us in a strong position to pursue this extremely exciting, yet daunting, undertaking.”

USU’s current School of Veterinary Medicine admits 30 students each fall semester who complete two years of study at USU and then move to complete two years of training at Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Work is underway to document new and existing roles for faculty and staff who will comprise the new college, and planning is underway for the curriculum and facilities that will be key to meeting AVMA COE’s stringent standards. Members of the steering committee are also learning from veterinary medicine programs that operate with the “distributed model” that USU will use. The instruction model means that the college will not have a veterinary hospital on campus.

Fourth-year students will learn a wide range of skills and gain career training from cooperating veterinary practices and hospitals around the state in addition to specialists among the college’s faculty. There will be a new facility built on campus, comprised of classrooms, faculty offices and research laboratories, study spaces, student clinical skill development and teaching laboratories, and administrative offices.

“Our initial work will be directed in two primary areas,” Vanderwall said. “Pursuing accreditation with the American Veterinary Medical Association Council on Education (AVMA COE), and designing and constructing a new state-of-the-art College of Veterinary Medicine education building on USU’s Logan campus. While this work goes on, we will continue to admit students to our two-year program and our faculty and staff remain committed to providing them with a great education, opportunities and learning experiences.”

Some faculty in the ADVS department have responsibilities in the School of Veterinary Medicine, but the department includes faculty who specialize in areas commonly thought of as traditional animal agriculture, such as dairy science, equine science, reproduction and development, and animal nutrition. There are also molecular geneticists focused on genetic engineering and scientists in USU’s Institute for Antiviral Research. The department’s faculty was awarded $12.3 million in research funding in the last fiscal year and is on track to reach that amount again this year. There are currently 460 undergraduate students in ADVS and 38 graduate students.

Benninghoff, who conducts and encourages multidisciplinary research, said sorting out the roles of individual faculty in the department and new college is an important undertaking that will require input from all of the faculty and staff. She knows the next few years will be challenging but believes there are new opportunities to shape the department and make it stronger.

“My first job is listening to faculty and staff to learn about their concerns, what excites them about their work, and what they want to accomplish,” she said. “The new college is an exciting addition, but ADVS is more than just a pre-vet program.”

Benninghoff described stepping into the role of interim department head at this time as something akin to piloting a raft on a river trip with periods of riding rapids that are challenging and exciting, times to appreciate smooth sections where the boat flows with the river, times to get out and see where rocks and currents require careful navigation, taking care of vulnerable people, and encouraging everyone to row and stay in the boat

“It will be hard work and changes will require patience,” she said. “Shared governance is a priority for me and it takes time, but I believe we will move ahead and come through the challenges with a new and robust College of Veterinary Medicine and a more robust department as well.”