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Scientific Questioning Shines Light in the Darkness

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” –– Albert Einstein

We are privileged to work in an academic environment that promotes questioning of dogma and promotes scientific investigations to create new knowledge to benefit society. We also find ourselves in a time in our nation’s history in which the scientific method may be in disrepute by some of our political leaders. Ideology and “alternative facts” have captured headlines and represent a direct challenge to the role of science as a driver of policy making. As a scientific community, we must now more than ever, focus our attention on how we can contribute evidence-based facts to guide our nation’s direction if we are to contribute to solving the problems in our world. We must lead by example and create new knowledge to serve society and advance the health of animals, people, and the planet we all share.

A good example was the recent UC Davis conference to discuss how academic institutions can help African nations meet the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals of access to clean energy and water, sustainable food production, and healthy lives and well-being. The conference brought together speakers that included Madame Mathilde Mukantabana, ambassador of the Republic of Rwanda to the United States, and Ms. Genevieve Maricle, former senior policy advisor to the U.S. ambassador at the U.S. Mission to the U.N.  The conference featured our faculty throughout the day, including Dr. Woutrina Smith, who discussed “Linking Sustainable Development Goals Health Research and Livelihood Improvement: The HALI Project in Tanzania.”

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Entering a Brave New Phase

“We are made wise not by the recollection of our past, but by the responsibility for our future.” – George Bernard Shaw

A nearly completed student services and administration building

 As the year 2017 begins, our school is entering a brave new phase of development. Our vision to lead veterinary medicine and address societal needs requires us to never rest to seek novel ways to expand the horizons of our profession, seek expanded knowledge to understand life’s processes, and educate the next generation of veterinarians and scientists. This upcoming year will mark the opening of a student services and administration building, bringing together for the first time, teams that include information technology, student and academic programs, human and financial resources, development and alumni relations, and the dean’s office under one roof. The building will allow a more cohesive and integrated approach of these support teams to directly interact and serve the school. We are deeply grateful to our clients and campus leadership who provided the funding for the project. In addition, a new Scrubs Cafeteria will open in March, providing an expanded menu and enhanced services for the Health Sciences District. This next phase of development will provide a fresh gateway to our campus from the Arboretum, reminding us of our responsibilities to safe guard the health of our environment.  

Surgeons and staff prepare a horse for arthroscopic surgery on it’s hock.

This year, we will further advance our plans for a comprehensive Veterinary Medical Center, focused on the initial phases that include an equine performance center, livestock and medicine facility improvements, and an all-species imaging center. The Veterinary Medical Center will transform the experiences of our animal patients and their human companions through innovative building designs, coordinated patient care, and unique technical advances. We have already begun the initial renovation of existing facilities to expand exam room space and test prototype designs for the future small animal hospital phases. The 10-year plan must be carefully choreographed to ensure that patient care operates smoothly throughout the coordinated phasing of the overall project. We have raised over $90 million dollars from university sources, foundations, and private donors to allow the initial designs of the project to remain on track. Our challenge will be to continue to seek funds from multiple sources to meet our ambitious goal to define the future of veterinary clinical and translational medicine. 

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Do What is Necessary to Achieve the Impossible

Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Francis of Assisi

As a society, we face many challenges in our ever-changing world. The tumultuous events of this past year have changed many people’s perspective on the future. Our planet is threatened by climate change and human-made toxins that threaten us and the animals that share our environment. Closer to home, we are confronted with increasing pressures to provide high quality education for the next generation of scientists and veterinarians, while the state and federal resources for higher education are under siege. On a daily basis, our staff and faculty strive for excellence, but face challenges ranging from the intense competition for grant funding to crowded exam rooms. Our students struggle to find time for their own wellness, while under the stress of an intense curriculum and the cost of paying back their student loans. We all have our burdens to bear, which can seem impossible to overcome, especially during a holiday season that may inadvertently add the pressure to feel happy when we may not feel like rejoicing. 

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A Season of Gratitude

“Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse.” Henry Van Dyke

Students at the 2016 Evening of Gratitude to honor donors and recipients of our scholarship and fellowship awards. Photo by Don Preisler/UCDavis © 2016 UC Regents

Students at the 2016 Evening of Gratitude to honor donors and recipients of our scholarship and fellowship awards. Photo by Don Preisler/UCDavis
© 2016 UC Regents

I am very thankful in this season of gratitude for all the people who comprise our school and come to work each day bringing their talent and passion to advance the health of animals, people and our planet. Our students’ energy drives us to accomplish our educational mission, bringing light to our days as they inspire and challenge us. Our donors show their appreciation of our students through scholarships that help them reach their dreams of becoming veterinarians and scientists. I am proud of the many ways we have been able to increase financial aid and scholarship support, reducing our students’ financial burden. These efforts have allowed us to hold the line on tuition and fees since 2011, which have only increased slightly in the past six years to keep pace with inflation.

Hannah Laurence (on right) explains her research at the American Society of Clinical Investigators (ASCI) Joint Meeting in Chicago, Illinois. Photo credit: Randy Belice for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Hannah Laurence (on right) explains her research at the American Society of Clinical Investigators (ASCI) Joint Meeting in Chicago, Illinois.
Photo credit: Randy Belice for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute

This support for our students is rewarded back to us through their good deeds and accomplishments for our society. A recent example was Hannah Laurence, a third year veterinary student. Hannah was brave enough to take time out of her veterinary program to accept a prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute Fellowship to perform research at the University of Colorado. Her research data revealed a new mechanism of how Zika virus modifies cells to accomplish replication and was recently published in Science magazine. Her example reveals how rewarding it is for us to attract such talented students to our program and for the support they receive to advance their career opportunities.

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Looking Back to Focus on the Future

“We should not judge people by their peak of excellence, but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.” Henry Ward Beecher

30242014861_0c752e802d_kOur recent alumni weekend brought back images of our past and reminders of those that built the foundation of the school. Shaking hands and looking into the eyes of our alumni, I asked many of them the same question: “What were your fondest memories when you were in school?”

Many times this question brought a smile to their faces as they reflected on past glory or stories of tough times while facing the rigors of veterinary school. Memories of their classmates or a favorite teacher set off streams of consciousness and snapshots of their lives as students. The short but impactful time our students are with us creates a vibrant tapestry that links them to us as they build their careers as healers of animals and humanity.

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Global Learning Through Experience

“The world is the true classroom. The most rewarding and important type of learning is through experience, seeing something with our own eyes.” Jack Hanna

Students from Nanjing Agricultural University in China visit UC Davis.

Students from Nanjing Agricultural University in China visit UC Davis.

Our school has a global influence because we engage the world. We have become an institution with broad impact by promoting programs that reach out to address our societal needs across the globe. Our Office for Global Programs, led by Drs. Pat Conrad and Paulina Zielinska, was established to promote, facilitate and support global programs that align with our mission and enhance discovery, while educating future generations of global health leaders. Through our people and programs, ample evidence is accumulating that we are accomplishing these goals.

Just within the past year, joint conferences with our international partners have been supported that link our faculty, staff, and students to academic partners in multiple countries. A recent example included a workshop between the University of Sydney and UC Davis held September 17th to 19th at Lake Tahoe. Through faculty discussions and brainstorming, these types of conferences help align and stimulate ideas that go beyond a single institution and expand educational opportunities for our students.

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Investing in Future Science Stars

“Investing in science education and curiosity-driven research is investing in the future.” – Ahmed Zewail

Last week we held our 11th annual “Stars in Science Day,” highlighting students who have performed research over the past year.  The STAR (Students Training in Advanced Research) program is coordinated through our Office of Research and Graduate Studies. Picture2The program offers funding opportunities on a competitive basis to veterinary students to experience veterinary and biomedical research during the summer months. Research experiences are available at UC Davis and in San Diego through the UC Veterinary Medical Center partnership. For some of the students who attended the National Veterinary Scholars Symposium at The Ohio State University early in August and the California Veterinary Medical Association Pacific Veterinary Conference in June, this was the third time they presented projects. The objective of the STAR program is to identify, nurture, and support veterinary students to experience biomedical, basic, applied and translational research in all its many facets. With guidance from their faculty mentors, students gaining these experiences are becoming leaders that will advance both veterinary medicine and biomedical science to address fundamental issues facing our society.

Picture1Veterinarians trained in research are unique in their comparative understanding of animals and biology, and form a critical bridge between multiple disciplines through their One Health approach to scientific investigations. As the current Zika virus outbreak demonstrates, animal and human diseases do not respect boundaries and can move with vectors, animals, or people across the world in a matter of hours. A comprehensive approach to health must involve highly trained veterinarians who are comfortable interacting with physicians, public health officials, and the many other disciplines important to form an effective approach to prevent or control diseases.

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Welcome Class of 2020: Students Today, Colleagues Tomorrow

Ultimately, education in its real sense is the pursuit of truth. It is an endless journey through knowledge and enlightenment.” A. P. J. Abdul Kalam

29279341312_2e6f9f86ef_kAs we welcome a new class of veterinary students into our UC Davis family, I am struck by how fast summer progressed. Perhaps the fast and turbulent times we live in causes us to forget to pause and observe our place in time. The academic journey is one of constant renewal as each new class of students comes to us to learn the knowledge and skills that will launch them into the world. Our new class of veterinary students, like so many before them, comes to us with their own histories, talents, and dreams. Each of them has their own story to share with us. As we teach them, they will impact our lives, adding to our own tapestry of experiences.

29099653030_401abc3069_kIn the incoming class we have admitted an amazing group of students with a variety of life experiences. Some are experienced bikers, which will fit well with a community that houses the United States Bicycle Hall of Fame! One of the incoming students biked from Vancouver to San Diego. Many students have interest in wildlife. One student served in Ecuador in wildlife conservation; some have worked with non-human primates and bats. These students are drawn to us from our strong history in wildlife conservation, illustrated by the work done in the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center.

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Upholding Principles of Community

“We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” – Cesar Chavez

Christian Munevar, Class of 2019, at last year's welcoming ceremony.

Christian Munevar, Class of 2019, at last year’s welcoming ceremony.

While the summer is in full swing, we will soon be welcoming our new veterinary student class of 2020. Our Academic and Student Programs teams are busy developing the orientation of these new students as they prepare for the week-long introduction referred to as “Prologue.” From the very beginning, our new students will be welcomed into a diverse community of learners and will hear about our commitment to supporting an environment that supports diversity and inclusion. We strive from their first days with us to impress upon them our shared values and to set a tone for their education and their involvement in our UC Davis community.

Unfortunately, our community, like so many others across our nation, has been rocked by horrific acts of violence and social injustice. The actions of police shooting unarmed African American men and the resulting public outcry are painful reminders of how far our society still needs to go to fully realize social equality and mutual trust among our disenfranchised citizens and our law enforcement community. The hatred that resulted in the killing of police officers in Dallas and Louisiana illustrate again how fringe members of our society can be triggered into violence in the midst of social unrest. Worldwide terror events remind us how fragile life can be when hate, distrust and ignorance rule the actions of a few.

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One Health Approach Needed to Advance Society’s Health

“It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Researchers with the PREDICT program in Tanzania, testing bats for disease that could spread to humans.

Researchers with the PREDICT program in Tanzania, testing bats for disease that could spread to humans.

Almost daily, as a society, we experience the connection and consequences between the health of humans, animals and the environment. The Zika virus — carried by mosquitoes and spreading in many regions of the world — is suspected of causing thousands of human birth defects in Brazil and was declared a public health emergency by the World Health Organization. As much as 75 percent of new or re-emerging diseases affecting humans are of animal origin.

New infectious diseases, climate change, and a moving political landscape are some of the changes that veterinarians, physicians, scientists and other health and environmental professionals must adapt to in meeting these global challenges. That’s where we know the emerging approach known as “One Health” comes in, uniting these professionals in many parts of the world to address complex problems that recognize the vast interrelationships between human, animal and environmental health.

Dr. Brian Bird (Ph.D. '08, DVM '09) outside an Ebola Treatment Unit in Sierra Leone, with a group of kids who had recovered from the virus and were celebrating their discharge.

Dr. Brian Bird (Ph.D. ’08, DVM ’09) outside an Ebola Treatment Unit in Sierra Leone, with a group of kids who had recovered from the virus and were celebrating their discharge.

One Health harnesses the power of collaborative expertise to solve the pressing issues we face in our mobile society. For example, early detection and prevention of the Ebola virus outbreak in Africa in 2014 was aided by a team of UC Davis investigators, including veterinarians. This was not the case in a later African outbreak, where a less timely response allowed the virus to spread in other parts of the world. In the 1990s, the first cases of mad cow disease in cattle in the United Kingdom and West Nile virus in birds were first detected or confirmed by astute veterinary pathologists who understood the One Health approach.

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