An Oral History of Utah State University’s School of Veterinary Medicine: Unabridged

In 2012, a decade before Utah State University announced it would create its own four-year veterinary medicine college, the School of Veterinary Medicine opened its doors to students as part of the WIMU Regional Program. While the program has since been a success, it wasn’t always certain that veterinary medicine would come to USU — and it took no small effort to make it happen.

This is the story of how the School of Veterinary Medicine was created, told in the words of some of the many talented people who made it happen. Among their number are Noelle Cockett, president of Utah State; Kenneth White, dean of the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences; Bryan Slinker, retired dean of Washington State’s College of Veterinary Medicine; and Tom Baldwin and Kerry Rood, professors in the current College of Veterinary Medicine.

This manuscript has been edited for clarity. An abridged version can be found at the CVM website.

Part I: Tom Baldwin and Kerry Rood

Kerry Rood: In late 2007, Mark Healy passed away. He was the head of the Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Medicine Department at the time. So Tom Bunch became our interim department head. And during the search process, Tom reached out to a veterinarian at Oklahoma State that had previously been at Utah State.

Tom Baldwin: Actually, he reached out to me. Somehow, the advertisement had gotten to them. His name was Gilbert Reed Holyoke, and he was a classmate of mine and also a good friend. We lived in relatively close proximity one to another while we were in veterinary school.

Kerry Rood: So during your correspondence, Reed indicated he wasn't necessarily interested in the department head position, but that the department should consider a two plus two relationship. And at the time, Oklahoma State was talking with Arizona, if I remember correctly. To work out their own two plus two. So this was sometime in spring 2008.

Tom Baldwin
Tom Baldwin, professor and director of the Utah Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.

Tom Baldwin: I think it was fall. Because remember, when we went there, it was just before Thanksgiving. But anyway, when I got the email from Reed, I had a number of thoughts in very rapid succession. The most immediate was that a two-plus-two program could be how we could bring veterinary medicine into Utah State University. The second one which followed up almost immediately was that it'll never happen with Oklahoma, for a number of reasons. The third one was that if it isn't going to happen with Oklahoma, it's my responsibility to make this happen. This was a pivotal moment, and while my guess is that veterinary medicine would have come to Utah State in other ways if we hadn’t acted then, it was still my responsibility to make sure the idea didn’t just wither and disappear.

And then my fourth idea was that I'm going to need help to make this happen. I needed someone committed who’s an excellent communicator, who’s familiar with legislative processes, that has a good reputation with our state's veterinarians. So I picked up a phone, called Rood and said, “Hey, you want to start a vet school?” He said sure. Then we went ahead and scheduled a meeting with Tom Bunch and the campus veterinarians.

Kerry Rood: From there, we knew there were things that needed to happen subsequent to us even pitching this idea. So Tom and I, with the blessing of Dr. Bunch, decided to start pecking away at some of them. We needed to know if we had veterinary support, if the Utah Veterinary Medical Association would support us, if we could find a legislative sponsor, and even if we could find a partner to work with Utah State.

And it was clear to me and I think you, Tom, as well, that we had to do some groundwork. Sort of, not covertly, since we had the blessing of the department head, but so that an administrator didn't have to take political heat for it. We had to lay some ducks in a row. A pattern I've seen over and over again at universities is that great ideas come up through the chain and people start working on them, but public and high-level administrative support doesn't come until the skids are kind of greased, right?

Tom Baldwin: I think upper administration likes to support programs they see have traction at the base. They’re not hesitant to get behind programs that have a ground roots origin, but if that's lacking, then they look seriously at them. And they probably should.

So we made a decision. I'm not sure if it was at that meeting with Dr. Bunch or just on our own.

Kerry Rood: It was premeditated. Through a phone call, or maybe even in person, we made a list of what we had to do, and we got to work. We’d call each other and share what we’d done, and it was only a matter of a few days before we were looking for a partner.

We knew it wasn't going to be Oklahoma State, so I reached out to my alma mater, Kansas State, and talked to the associate dean, Ronnie Elmore. And when I asked if they’d partner with us, he told me, “Gee, we're going through a divorce.” They’d had an agreement with Nebraska to educate Nebraska students in Manhattan, Kansas and then have the students go back. However, Nebraska then worked a deal with Iowa State for a two-plus-two partnership, which is still going on.

Tom Baldwin: That’s correct. In fact, Dr. Carmen Lau is a graduate.

Kerry Rood: So then I called up Mike Lorenz, the dean at Oklahoma State, just to pitch the idea and get some feedback. And he said, “That’s a great idea. In fact, we're trying to work a deal with the state of Arizona.” And of course, he and Reed had been talking, so it was all really transparent. But he gave me some pointers.

And I reached out to Colorado State. They did not return my phone call.

Tom Baldwin: I reached out to Dean Lance Perriman at Colorado State as well. Yeah, he never returned either an email or a phone call. So we couldn't get any ground with CSU.

Kerry Rood: So regionally, we were left with a new startup at Western down in Pomona, UC Davis, Oregon State, or Washington State.

Tom Baldwin: So I had spent 10 years at Washington State before coming here, and I knew everybody. I also knew that Washington State had partnered in the past with Oregon, so a partnership would not be viewed as something unusual, but rather something that had existed for decades and worked well. So I picked up the phone in the fall and called their current dean, Warwick Bayly, whose nickname was Waz. And so I said, “Waz, can we come up and have a conversation?” He said sure and asked who should be in the room, so we named some individuals, including the laboratory director there, who was my former boss, and also the director of admissions, Dr. Tricia Talcott, who was a classmate of mine and had an office next to mine for 10 years.

Kerry Rood: But when we showed up to the meeting, Warwick was gone. He’d just accepted a provost position. And so I believe Brian Slinker was the interim dean.

Tom Baldwin: So Kerry and I caught a flight up to Spokane and then drove down to Pullman —

Kerry Rood: It was approved travel through Tom Bunch.

Tom Baldwin: — and we met with the leadership of the College of Veterinary Medicine in Washington State.

Kerry Rood: We do know the time of the year on this because Tom had a dear family friend that fed us Thanksgiving dinner, so it was a week or two before Thanksgiving. I do remember that.

Tom Baldwin: Yeah. So we went and sat down with the leadership at Washington State and told them we were hoping to partner with him on a two plus two program and asked if they had an interest.

Kerry Rood: It was a very successful conversation. I distinctly remember Trish Talcott verifying that she loved Utah students. And the current president of Utah State, Noelle Cockett, then the dean of the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences (CAAS), still says often that one of the reasons WSU wanted to partner with us was because of the quality of Utah students. And that is true.

Tom Baldwin: In fact, I believe she mentioned that the leadership at the time of all four veterinary medicine classes was Utah kids.

Kerry Rood: The reputation was that generally, if there was a report from the community of students getting out of hand, it would not be students that came from Utah.

Tom Baldwin: Right, they were seen as dedicated, good students. Washington State wanted to get more kids from Utah in their program, and I'm sure we could include the surrounding intermountain area in that as well. So the decision coming out of that meeting was for their dean to poll their faculty as to interest in partnering with us, and we promised that we would do the same.

Kerry Rood: So let's keep this in perspective here. It’s just Tom and me, and I’d been here a year and three months. We're not senior faculty, right? We're not leadership. And we're up there having a meeting. And I just remember asking myself why we were up there. Right? But again, you need to have a level of traction.

Tom Baldwin: And so we came back here. We were relatively quiet until we heard back from Washington State. But when the response came back, the overwhelming majority of faculty in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State were in favor of partnering.

Kerry Rood with student providing care to an animal
Kerry Rood (right), professor and associate dean for clinical programs.

Kerry Rood: Parallel to this, we also needed to know what our veterinarians in Utah thought of the idea. And so I created a survey in 2008. That went out to all of the veterinarians, and I asked them if they would consider a two plus two program. Would you support it? We didn’t have a partner yet, nor legislative support, nor direction from the administration. It was a survey of faith, if you will, but an overwhelming majority of respondents supported the idea. They recognized that the population growth from in the future would be tremendous.

There wasn’t a big shortage of veterinarians in 2008, but boy, there sure is now. And we're proud that we're meeting some of that.

So now what we needed was a legislator to help. It was in that break between Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2008, and we had heard affirmation from WSU that their faculty were supportive. I made a phone call to John Mathis, who was a representative at the time in the Utah legislature. Right. So sometime in early ’09, Tom and I took a trip to see John Mathis. This may have been a little bit more covert. I may have used my extension general fund money on this one. I don't think we even asked, to be honest with you. I think we just went. And we met with Representative Mathis in his office, and he was very favorable.

Kerry Rood: Parallel to this, we also needed to know what our veterinarians in Utah thought of the idea. And so I created a survey in 2008. That went out to all of the veterinarians, and I asked them if they would consider a two plus two program. Would you support it? We didn’t have a partner yet, nor legislative support, nor direction from the administration. It was a survey of faith, if you will, but an overwhelming majority of respondents supported the idea. They recognized that the population growth from in the future would be tremendous.

There wasn’t a big shortage of veterinarians in 2008, but boy, there sure is now. And we're proud that we're meeting some of that.

So now what we needed was a legislator to help. It was in that break between Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2008, and we had heard affirmation from WSU that their faculty were supportive. I made a phone call to John Mathis, who was a representative at the time in the Utah legislature. Right. So sometime in early ’09, Tom and I took a trip to see John Mathis. This may have been a little bit more covert. I may have used my extension general fund money on this one. I don't think we even asked, to be honest with you. I think we just went. And we met with Representative Mathis in his office, and he was very favorable.

Sometime right around there, Kenneth White, now the dean of CAAS, was appointed department head. Now this is where things get fuzzy. I think what happened was Tom Bunch sent us to Noelle Cockett rather than Ken White because during the interview process for department head, candidates were told about the idea of the two-by-two program, and that wouldn’t have happened without Noelle’s blessing.

Tom Baldwin: Right. So you, me, and then-Dean Cockett were there with Paul Rasmussen, the director of the Agricultural Experiment Station.

Kerry Rood: And I think Noelle immediately recognized that the idea would bring in additional researchers.

Tom Baldwin: And we outlined for them what we'd proposed. And again, they were on board and thought this would be a real boon to the department as well as the college. And so we left that meeting with the dean’s stamp of approval. And I think that is when Representative Mathis started to draft the bill for the legislature because it had to be in December before the legislative session started.

Kerry Rood: No, we missed the 2009.

Tom Baldwin: So it came up in ‘10.

Kerry Rood: We were a little bit behind the eight ball. I know Representative Mathis said, “You know, I don't think I can get a funding bill this year.” And so that was intentional. There was a lot of political groundwork that had to happen, and the row was a little tougher to hoe because the housing market crashed and there was a recession. And so I remember going with Ken White and Noelle to Natural Resources Committee summer meetings. We actually went to the legislature in 2009, Tom, if you remember, for some Utah Veterinary Diagnostic Lab funding, and we talked in the hall to a few legislators.

Tom Baldwin: And then we brought our department head at the time, Ken White, to Pullman, Washington and introduced him to the players up there so that they could start a dialogue. There were several trips to iron out the details and talk about accreditation.

Kerry Rood: During August 2009, Tom Bunch and I went to COLE (Cougar Orientation Leadership Experience) to try to get a handle on how WSU introduces its students to its program and how we would handle that on our end. So there were a number of activities that took place in 2009 to grease the skids for 2010.

Tom Baldwin: And eventually, of course, the legislature came on board and funded the School of Veterinary Medicine. And so we had to decide things like where are we going to teach? We also had a period of faculty recruitment. In fact, that's when our current interim dean, Dirk Vanderwall joined us.

Kerry Rood: And it was around that time that you and I no longer took a lead role in the two-plus-two. I think there was concern about my faculty trajectory in terms of productivity in other areas, so it's probably good that it happened. And Tom, I think you put in your packet to go up for full professor, and what, you got promoted to full professor in maybe ‘11 or ‘12?

Tom Baldwin: It was also that the ideas were all maturing. It was time for our deans to lead the talks between WSU and Utah State and work out the details. It was a natural process. Neither Kerry nor I felt excluded.

Kerry Rood: No, we were always included. And leadership-wise, it made sense for people like Chris Davies to take over at that time. We were a big team, and we had to advance the football down the field, provide some diversions and use a few trick plays, and then get the ball to a certain place. We had a legislature that got that thing over the goal line, and then somebody else took it from there.

Tom Baldwin: There's no doubt it was a collaborative effort. And I think it's been a huge success for Utah State. I know it's impacted a lot of lives. I get submissions now at the Utah Veterinary Diagnostic Lab from our graduates. I just got one from Jake Miller in Montpelier. It's just been our privilege to be part of the beginning of all of this.

Kerry Rood: And that's our story. We're sticking to it.

It's been very professionally rewarding for me. Not many veterinarians can say they were involved in the creation of a two-plus-two program and then a four-year program. Yet there's a whole group of veterinarians here at USU that can make that claim. I don't know if we always had approval for everything we did.

Tom Baldwin: But we knew what had to be done. We got it done.

Kerry Rood: We got it done. Right. We probably fumbled a few times, and I'm sure we made a few faux pas.

Tom Baldwin: But at the same time, we weren't calling up legislators now. If somebody phoned me, we talked.

Kerry Rood: Well, and there were relationships. I did call John Mathis, but it was based on a relationship where John and I knew each other. We were fellow veterinarians. And so that was a really comfortable relationship.

Tom Baldwin: He said, “I think there's one other aspect we ought to add to this. And that is that throughout everything, our commissioners of agriculture in our state, our veterinarians at the Department of Agriculture and Food, have always been strong supporters of the school.

Kerry Rood: Bringing in Leonard Blackham was a brilliant idea.

Tom Baldwin: Right. He was a former legislator and the Commissioner of Agriculture for Utah, and he was solidly behind us, as was Cary Peterson, his predecessor, and so on.

Kerry Rood: The political side of agriculture, those who lobby and legislate as well as the leadership of commodity groups, is actually a fairly small number of people. And so we already had relationships with many of them, and we quickly formed relationships with others. Our cattlemen’s group were strong supporters —

Tom Baldwin: — our poultry people, our wool grower’s association —

Kerry Rood: — our fur breeders, and dairy were strongly behind the program. So while these entities don’t regulate veterinary medicine per se, they certainly played a role in that support. And you had groups like the Farm Bureau and others as well. And I’m still involved with a lot of them, and many of that same core group went on to support the four-year program.

Tom Baldwin: I thought we would probably have a two-plus-two veterinary program for 10 to 15 years before the population in Utah would be large enough or the supply and demand issues would make sense for a four-year program. So we're a bit up at the front side of that, but not by much.

Kerry Rood: Tom and I were involved in setting up the four-year program on a more peripheral basis. That was under the permission of Ken White and led by Ralph Meyer, Michael Bishop, and Sue McCormack. Heloisa Rutigliano was involved as well. There were several presentations, and they put together a feasibility study. And I know Chris Davies, myself, and Dean White attended those and gave feedback. So when it comes to the four-year, neither I nor Tom can take too much credit.

Tom Baldwin: Right, nowhere near what Ralph Meyer, Michael Bishop, and all of them did. They’ve done terrific work.

Kerry Rood: You know, there's another individual that we haven’t mentioned: Ruby Ward. And we should, because she was extremely helpful. She was from our Ag Econ group in the College of Agriculture, and she helped us mock up some budgets. Noelle Cockett told us to start showing her some numbers, and either Tom Bunch or Ken White suggested that Ruby Ward might be able to help us out. And she developed the first round of budgets for what a two-plus-two program could look like based on tuition. And based on numbers, and she created fields and an Excel spreadsheet that we could modify. They were really good tables.

Tom Baldwin: They were very robust models, were very accurate.

Kerry Rood: And I don't think she gets near the credit she should.

Tom Baldwin: Ken White also played a critical role. And as our department head in ADVS, he reached out to reached out to our colleagues at Washington, particularly when it came to dollars and cents.

Kerry Rood: And he was a huge recruiter of faculty. Especially during that two-year period from 2010 to 2012. There was Dirk Vanderwall, Ralph Meyer, Mirella Meyer-Ficca, Heloisa Rutigliano, Holly Clement, Jeff Mason.

Tom Baldwin: All of all of these people have jobs because of that.

Kerry Rood: He had the wherewithal to take Heloisa from a postdoc with Chris Davies to faculty

Tom Baldwin: Not just faculty, but faculty that's been awarded the Eldon J. Gardner Teacher of the Year Award.

Kerry Rood: Yeah, one of his biggest coups was to get Heloisa a faculty position. And Irina Polejaeva, although she hasn’t been directly involved in the vet school per se. But Irina certainly has been instrumental in bringing in funding and that sort of thing.

Part II: Bryan Slinker

Bryan Slinker
Bryan Slinker, former dean of Washington State University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

Bryan Slinker: It was a transition time for Washington State University’s vet school. We’d just had a provost leave after a short stint, and Warwick Bayly, who was the dean of the vet school at the time, was asked to be interim provost. I stepped in to help, so we were sort of co-deans until we concluded with the president that he needed to be interim provost and I needed to be interim dean. That would have been about the fall of 2008, I think.

Kerry and Tom were already set to come up, so I joined the meeting. That was the first time I’d met Kerry, but I’d known Tom because he’d been on our faculty at WSU. And they’d approached us in part because we already knew how to do this. We had a long-standing program that began with Idaho in the mid-1970s, and then a couple of years later, we added Oregon, so we had the WOI program (pronounced like “Roy”), Washington, Oregon, Idaho. And Tom was familiar with that from his time on our faculty, and all of WSU had of course grown up in that system. And the Idaho program operated a little differently from Oregon because of history and proximity, so we were used to multiple approaches to doing such programs.

Around when the initial conversations happened, Ken was the department chair of ADVS, and Noelle Cockett was still the dean at that time. And we started talking about general principles and goals for the program. They began to outline how they thought they could garner support from within the university and the state, and it was clear that there was support all the way up to the president at Utah State, Stan Albrecht. And they were they were quite confident that university support would translate to legislative support. They also had the support of the state veterinarian, the Utah Veterinary Medical Association, and the ag industries in the state, so it's clear they had their du

Philosophically, we're committed to these kinds of regional programs. They started for good reasons back in the 70s. And 25 years later, Oregon State did what Utah State's doing now, which is garnering the support for an independent four-year school. And so we'd been through that transition just a few years before Tom and Kerry approached us, which made it a good time for us to think about reinstituting a larger regional program. And it just went from there. I have lots and lots of fond memories of going to the legislature in Utah with Ken and testifying before committees and then putting on a combined show of how we could easily work together to do this project.

I wasn’t unfamiliar with the legislative process what with having been a department chair and then a new dean at WSU. And Ken was very comfortable with it, and we were comfortable with each other. I obviously had no connections, but we decided, I think correctly, that Ken and I would make a better case showing that we really could work together. There were meetings with key committees and chairpeople in their offices, and I think twice, maybe three times, Ken and I jointly testified before different committees that had a hand in education or budget in the state of Utah. We would just sit together, and we each had our own part to play. And then we would answer questions. I’d answer when I had the obvious answer from the Washington State perspective, and Ken and I would riff off each other. It was the usual process, just me tagging along with Ken or occasionally Noelle, as they did the things you would do to lobby for state support for such a program.

I don't know that we would have known to approach Utah on our own. Montana was more obvious from our perspective in terms of proximity. But as soon as Utah approached us, we ran with it. And then as we got to thinking about how Utah was playing out, we thought it might still make sense to include Montana in the mix. And so we approached them and talked to Utah about it too, because it created a larger program, and everybody had to succeed in it. Utah didn't have a lot of direct involvement, but they still had a stake in it. We had to have a good plan for Montana that didn't conflict with being able to support the partnership with Utah as well. And it all worked out.

The hardest part was coming up with the order of the state names to make a clever acronym. We ended up putting Utah at the end so we could get the vowels in the right place and came up with WIMU, pronounced “We-Moo.” Somebody pointed out it should be "Why-Moo” because it’s Idaho, not Edaho. But we still call it “We-Moo.”

Anyway, that made WSU's task a little harder from an accreditation standpoint because now there were four states cooperating on one accreditation. And that was a logistical issue for everyone since we all had a part to play, but especially for WSU since this was all developed under our accreditation. And you know, Montana was a different sort of program. It was smaller than USU, one year plus three rather than two plus two, so very different structures, but all melded together under one accreditation. Yet in the end, it worked.

I think there were multiple reasons for that, including the good effort from all of our universities and the support they were able to garner from the states. But it also helped that we had experienced doing this. I was actually a student from Idaho who went to Washington State University's vet school in the original version of what became the WOI program. We have a long history of working well in in these kinds of partnerships and managing curriculum so that everything fits together.

But the other thing that had happened in the years before Tom and Kerry approached us was that I’d been involved in WWAMI, known as “Wammie.” That's Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho, and it’s a multi-state medical education program at the University of Washington that also includes Washington State University. I was involved partly because of interest, as my early career was in a medical school, and partly as a result of coming up through administration. And as a result, I knew how WWAMI worked. They had a long, long history predating even any of our veterinary programs, and they knew how to make a distributed program succeed. So we learned a lot about how they did examinations, how they handled faculty development, and how they hired, and that gave us a wealth of knowledge. We were able to combine that with our own history of doing that kind of education in veterinary medicine and meld those experiences with the goals of Utah and ultimately Montana in how we structured our programming.

The two-plus-two program really helped us make the distributed program work in terms of space. University of Idaho students already spent all four years at Washington State University since they're only six miles away, and we had increased our class size when Oregon State broke away in the early 2000s. We had some capacity, but there was more in later years in terms of physical space, which is why the one plus three for Montana and two plus two for Utah meshed pretty well.

We did have some logistical challenges in the third year. For surgery classes, for example, we had to expand up faculty and staff to find ways to do surgery. When it came to the clinical caseloads and placements for students in fourth year rotations, we expanded a few of those, but mostly, we had enough spots in our system of month-long preceptorships in private practices to handle it. We did add preceptorships in Utah and Montana, and Kerry in particular in his extension role lined up practices to support not just Utah students who wanted to return to their state for experience, but all the students in our program.

One of the advantages of having this program with multiple faculties at different locations was that we could shift resources around. If one school lost a critical faculty member, someone else could cover for them. And of course, to make both programs efficient, we had to do distance education. There were glitches sometimes, of course, but it also meant that while WSU faculty taught to Utah and Montana routinely, faculty in those states could also teach back elsewhere depending on where the need was. And there was a lot of sharing of teaching information, notes, and slides to help our instructors from a faculty development standpoint and also to keep consistency across the curriculum.

And everybody participated as needed. The faculty really stepped up even when it was hard on them, and even when it took a lot of getting used to teaching remotely. You had to remember that there were 30 kids in Utah on screen in front of you if you were lecturing at Pullman and not forget to include them. And I know there were frustrations on part of the students. That's inevitable, I think. But it worked pretty well. And because of that technology investment, when COVID came along, we were better able to handle it since we invested in the technology and had

dedicated facilities that didn’t need to be shared with other programs. On top of that, Utah State University independently of any of this had invested heavily in distance education, so there was a great local resource at Utah State to help manage this complicated system well.

I always enjoyed going down to Logan and hanging out with the gang down there. One of the things we committed to early was that we would pay attention to the students, so somebody from WSU, usually me and other associate deans, would go down two or three times a year to check in with the students and respond to concerns and things like that. Those were good times. I retired a couple years ago, so I haven’t engaged in that lately, but I have fond memories. There were a lot of good people to work with, and it’s always better and more rewarding when you have good colleagues. And we did.

Part II: Ken White

Ken White
Ken White, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences and former Animal, Dairy, and Veterinary Science department head.

Ken White: I first heard about the idea of the vet school when I was interviewing with the former dean for the position of department head for Animal, Dairy, and Veterinary Science. And she explained that some of the veterinarians in the department were talking about creating a school of veterinary medicine here and asked if I could assess whether that was really feasible or not. The overall tenor of the conversation was that it seemed a little unnecessary at the time.

I agreed to look into it and started asking questions. And it had already evolved into creating a partnership with an existing veterinary school, and that wasn't anything new. That’s how Oregon State started out. And they were thinking about this enormous budget to do this, like $10 or $11 million, and that also seemed a bit unnecessary.

We had a meeting to get input on what everyone was thinking, and it was decided that Kerry and Tom would approach Colorado State or Washington State, and I think there was also a 30-second thought about Kansas State. And the question for us was where are our students going now? How many of them go to Colorado State versus Kansas State versus Washington? And the answer to that question was probably about half to Washington State and half to Colorado State

So I sent Kerry and Tom up because of Tom's connections with the faculty. I don’t know if they were up there for more than two or three days, and they had a conversation to see if they were interested. The dean at WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine then was Bryan Slinker, and he was really keen on the idea. I then reached out to him and assembled several committees to look at feasibility and how we would put this together, and I got a lot of help from Bryan Slinker.

I think the guys were thinking of hiring a bunch of new faculty. And as I looked at the proposal, I realized that was unnecessary because we already had physiologists here that were teaching physiology and anatomy and cell biologists with their own expertise. We already had a lot of the existing faculty, so I developed a plan with Chris Davies, who's still on faculty here, and we decided it made a lot more sense to make the vet program integral to our ADVS curriculum by using existing faculty for the most part. This meant mostly changing teaching assignments and managing teaching roles in the ADVS Department. But for some things, like anatomy and some pathology, we had to hire brand new. But we also had Tom Baldwin, who was a pathologist here and didn't have a teaching assignment. So we just amended his assignment to teach general pathology.

So we went through all this and had committees look at what the curriculum would be, and it was in partnership with WSU because it had to mesh with their program. I got some estimates for how we could remodel existing classroom laboratories to do an anatomy lab and so on, and after all that, we were able to put together a budget that was a little bit more realistic: about $3.4 million, of which about half went toward Washington State for taking the 20 Utah resident students and letting them pay resident tuition during their last two years in Pullman. The other half was paying for the new faculty, operating budgets for the classes, and buying out time from existing faculty so they could participate in the curriculum of the School of Veterinary Medicine.

And actually, there were two phases: first was about a $1.5 million appropriation, and then two years later, we came back and they gave us the additional $1.7 million. We may have started out at 3.2, and then over time through salary increases and everything, it grew to 3.4 million. In order to make the funding work out, we established a model where we got 100% of the tuition from the 20 Utah resident students and 10 out-of-state students. That was why we were able to do the school for just $3.4 million: all of the tuition dollars were used to fund the program.

Once we had all that, we vetted it with some state legislators. At the time, there was one in the House of Representatives whose name was John Mathis. He was a veterinarian from Vernal. And I think Kerry also helped because he was the Utah State Extension veterinarian, so we relied on him to work with the Utah Veterinary Medical Association to get support for this.

The first presentation we gave to legislators was in May prior to the legislative cycle in either 2010 or 2011. Bryan Slinker and I gave the presentation to the interim Natural Resources and Ag Committee about setting up the school, and then I spent the rest of the summer and fall with our government liaison at that time, Michael Kennedy, visiting 40 or 50 legislators across the state to explain the idea. We’d answer their questions, and if we didn’t have the answers, we’d get the data.

Many of the legislators were surprised and thought we already had a veterinary school. Part of what I did was explaining that no, what we had was WICHE, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, which would fund three Utah residents to let them pay resident tuition at a participating vet school for four years.

When the legislative cycle began in January, Michael Kennedy took a job back in Washington, D.C., and that's when Neil Abercrombie came on. And he and I then worked the legislature through the session. Sometimes I was by myself with Representative Mathis helping me, and other times, Dr. Slinker came down and helped. But basically, we gave the presentations again to the Natural Resources and Ag Subcommittee as well as to the Rural Caucus and the Higher Ed Committee, all of which went super well.

Keep in mind that we were pitching this in 2010. We had a huge fiscal downturn from '08 through essentially '11, and we got this thing approved and funded when they were cutting budgets. I think we did a good job highlighting to them why it was so important. We had huge demand for veterinarians in the state of Utah, and we weren't able to fill job openings, yet every student other than the three in the WICHE program had to pay non-resident tuition. Paying $60,000 to 80,000 a year in tuition can really limit how fast you can recover the money you paid for education.

What’s interesting is that a lot of that money for that first appropriation came from what the state was paying for the WICHE program, which may not make sense since it funded just three new students each year. But since they were making that commitment to each student for four years, that ended up being about twelve students, or around $700,000 or $800,000. So from a fiscal standpoint, it certainly worked out well for the state and the students.

As for my motivation, there were probably two main reasons. One was that I’d been a faculty member both at the ADVS Department here and at the animal science department at Louisiana State University before I came to USU, and I’d taught animal reproduction to a lot of students. And there were so many highly qualified students that wanted to go to veterinary school but were not able to access it just because there were only three slots available. They had the passion, but when you start looking at a $60,000 a year tuition, it's pretty hard to make the math work out. I wanted to create more opportunities for those kids to access that profession.

The second reason is just because it was the right thing to do. It was something we could do really well. We had some excellent faculty in the department, and we wouldn't have done it if it wasn't going to be top notch. And I think that's been proven true. Our students have done exceptionally well, even compared to the students at Pullman coming from other locations, and I think that's a reason why we’re transitioning to a four-year vet college.

One of the things we committed to was training more food animal veterinarians. We wanted to keep more veterinarians in Utah and get more of them to the rural parts of the state. And over the last several months, we collected data and found that we have graduates from our veterinary school in or near 24 out of Utah’s 29 counties. And with 28 land grant universities across the country that have veterinary schools, we’ll be the 29th. All of that confirms this was a worthwhile endeavor.

Part IV: Noelle Cockett

Noelle Cockett
Utah State University President Noelle Cockett, formerly the dean of the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences

Noelle Cockett: The first time I heard about the two plus two was when I was the dean at the College of Agriculture. I was also a vice president for Extension at that time, which is why I remember being in the Extension Office, which was much bigger and nicer. And I had Paul Rasmussen, Tom Baldwin, and Kerry there as well as someone else, maybe Dave Wilson. They had a double-sided one pager about the program, and I was intrigued by it.

I remember the number one question I had was why would Washington State want to partner with us instead of just having students from the first year to the fourth? And the reason they gave me was that we had capacity here at USU in terms of classrooms and animals and faculty and WSU did not. But if they were to increase their program by the number we were proposing, they’d be able to make it work.

It turned out that several of our people were actually graduates from there, including Tom Baldwin, and he’d already talked to Bryan Slinker at WSU, who was very interested in Utah State. So then my question was why Utah State? And it was because we already had a strong relationship with them. We were actually taking some of their graduates on as residents at the Utah Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, and then there was the quality of our own students. WSU had commented that whenever they recruited a student from Utah State into their four-year program, they were always one of their very best students. They were industrious and studious, and this would let WSU expand the number of USU students that would graduate from their program.

The next question was how much was this going to cost. So they threw out some value, and it was many millions. And I thought, my gosh, where are we going to get that money? And they said that the legislature would fund it. Now by that time, I’d had some dealings with the legislature, so I said, “Man, this is a big price sticker. Let me talk to you guys about how this works. First, we need a strong advocate.”

At that time, Senator Lyle Hillyard was co-chair of the Executive Appropriations Committee for the Utah legislature. He was around his 30th year in the legislature, and he was from Cache Valley and had always supported Utah State. I don't remember who actually talked to him, but it was quickly relayed that he did want to do this. In fact, he questioned why we hadn’t done it before. In everybody's mind, it made sense for Utah State University to be doing it since we’re a land grant university, we've got the College of Agriculture, and we've got the animals.

At that point, Ken White started getting very engaged. He was the ADVS department head, and he may have been the one that talked to Senator Hillyard. Then there was also John Mathis, who was from Vernal and a veterinarian himself. And of course, he believed there needed to be more veterinarians. Anyway, we just started getting more and more rural legislators that knew their regions were struggling for large animal veterinarians. So as long as we kept emphasizing that we wanted to focus on people who want to work with large animals, the rural legislators were very supportive of it.

Then the faculty had Ruby Ward, who’s a professor in applied economics, do a model with tuition and the number of students and faculty, and she and Kerry Rood came in and showed me their spreadsheet. We had to tweak the numbers, and there were some people grumbling, saying the program wouldn’t be as good with less money. But I said, “We want to get it done, don't we? So sharpen your pencil.” I think at the beginning, they wanted a new building, et cetera, et cetera. So that had to come off.

Then I do remember that it went up a year earlier than we had originally planned. Whatever year that was, the economy was starting to recover, and the state had strong tax revenues. That's what determines whether or not the legislature is going to fund you: how strong the economy is.

By this time, Stan Albrecht, the president at the time, was supportive of the program. Neil Abercrombie had also just started as the Vice President for Government Relations, and he was more tuned into the state government, whereas prior to that, it was Michael Kennedy, who was more tuned into the federal. And Neil said we should try that year because if we did, then the legislators could get used to the amount we were asking for even if they didn’t fund it then.

But then it just it started rolling, and legislators like Senator Hillyard, John Mathis, and another whose name I can’t remember started convincing the others. The members of the rural caucus were all supportive, and soon more than half of the legislators were saying this was a great idea.

The other thing that helped us was that no other institution wanted to do it. The University of Utah wasn’t going to, and none of the other institutions were large enough to counter and ask why Utah State should get that money.

Then it looked like we were going to get the money that year, and I pulled Ken White to the side and asked him we were going to be ready. And he said, “Well, I think so!” And it did come.

Incidentally, Neil Abercombie was also our vice president until this last year. And he said he felt like his career had been bookended with the vet program. On the front end was the two plus two, and on the back was the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Anyway, I remember once we got the funding that there were legislators who asked why we didn’t just do all four years at Logan. And I told them that it was just so much money, and nope, we're going to be good partners to Washington State. We love this two-plus-two program. After about probably three or four years, it did get noisier and noisier with people asking why we weren’t standing alone. But Ken and I had a strong relationship with Bryan Slinker, and we just felt like he had gone on the line to make this happen, so it would have been a poke in the eye to go off on our own then. After 10 years into it, though, we realized that our faculty were very, very strong, our animal facilities worked great, and the state had more demand than what we could meet through the Washington State program.

Demand exceeding capacity was one of the complications back when we were starting the two-plus-two program as well. We had to talk the legislature into giving the money they using for the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) to our program instead, and WICHE was very unhappy with us. They actually started calling people to convince them not to do it. But in our mind, WICHE was supporting maybe three, four students from Utah, and the two-plus-two program got us 20 from Utah plus 10 more from elsewhere.

Then I remember either Brigham Young University or Utah Valley University complaining about WICHE funding being taken away because they feared their graduates wouldn’t be able to attend our program. Or maybe it was both together, and they went into one of the hearings and spoke against us getting the program. It was pretty unusual at the time for a university to criticize another one like that.

We had to really stress that this was open to all Utah students and that we would make sure we had good representation from all of the colleges and universities here in Utah, not just USU. But we've actually had more students from each of the universities come through the two-plus-two program than ever went through WICHE. And WICHE did ultimately lose that money.

So then we got everything together by the next year, and that’s when the first class entered the program. One of the students, his spouse, actually, was a tutor for my kids. And when he got accepted into the program, it was just like a dream for them. He’s still a veterinarian, and I think they have five kids now. I actually saw him at one of our meetings about the transition to a four-year college, and he was totally supportive of it.

That class as a whole was so excited. We had a reception for them at the president’s because this was a big deal, and we were taking photos or whatever when there was a huge downpour, and we all had to run under the eaves. It ended there because we had too many people for it to continue indoors, but the excitement of the students was palpable. It was inspiring to hear their stories, how long they’d wanted be veterinarians, what their backgrounds were. And now you had 30 people that were going to be able to pursue that.

We had John Mathis come at one point to speak to the students, and his talk was an eye opener. He said, “You folks have to realize you're more than a veterinarian when graduate. You become a community leader, somebody they’ll listen to, and you need to give back to that community. You need to get involved in politics, you need to get involved in your church, you just need to get involved, whether it's with youth groups or whatever. You have more to give than just being a veterinarian, and you have to realize the stature of what you're bringing to your community.” And I thought that was a great message for these young people to hear.

Another story I remember involved the sheep out at South Farm. My technician came back one time actually rolling her eyes because of how some of the new veterinary students were acting out there. I thought veterinary students grew up with animals, right? From the time they were infants, they rode horses, rustled cattle, and all the rest of it. But she reported there were a couple of veterinarian students out there who clearly weren't used to cattle. They were calling, “Come here, come here, come here,” like they were dogs. And we chuckled about that.

I remember another time involving collecting blood for the DNA work we do. We learned that if we offered to let the students collect blood from our flock, they’d be like, “I'll do it, I'll do it,” because it gave them a chance to have some hands-on experience. So again, I thought that from the day they walked in there, the students already had a lot of animal experience and would immediately start doing surgeries or whatever. But actually, during the first couple of years, it's really more just being around animals and a slow intro to veterinary work, like learning how to bleed, suture, castrate, things like that. And that people in the program come from all walks of life, not necessarily from a ranch background. It was an eye opener.

Overall, I have no regrets. I think having the two-plus-two program brought an incredible richness to Utah State, to the College of Agriculture, and to ADVS, my former department. And I saw that richness not just through the students, but also through the staff, like Mike Bishop and many of the other people we were able to hire, including faculty.

I actually wanted to be a veterinarian from third grade on. I went to Montana State, and we were in that situation with WICHE where there were 30 students in the pre-vet program but only two or three of us were ever going to get into school. And I didn't realize that at the time. I think that's where I got a little off. I thought, well, good heavens, I grew up around farm animals all my life. Surely that would be worth a couple of extra points in the selection? But at that point, it was so competitive, and it was absolutely about grades, and you needed to shadow a veterinarian.

I had this one friend who had a 4.0 in high school and in college, and she’d been shadowing veterinarians since she was maybe a freshman in high school. And she still went back home so she could continue shadowing. And I was like, well, I work on a ranch. Shouldn’t that be enough? And so I think opening the door to more people having veterinary medicine as a career is really incredible.

I guess there is one regret. We were told when we negotiated the two-by-two program that WSU would put out a dual degree that shows on the diploma both Utah State and Washington State. But when it came to the numbers of graduates, they all got counted over in Washington State. I was in the provost office in maybe 2013, and I was looking at the number of professional doctorates and thought there should be at least 30 because of the students in the vet program, right? And I'm looking at the number of professional doctorates, and it was like five. So we started investigating, and it turns out the graduates go to Washington State.

I think I probably didn't ask the right questions. We asked what was going to be on the diploma, and both places are for sure there. But what I should have asked was who gets credit for the graduates, and that’s Washington State. So even though we've had 11 years of 30 students each, it doesn't show up on any records as USU graduating them. That's a regret — we felt like we should have at least got half credit or something. Then for a brief period of time, we thought about giving a master's, but that seemed kind of beside the point when we wanted the doctorate. So yeah, that was definitely disappointing.

There was one other thing, which I wasn’t involved with, where we didn’t include an escalation clause on what the state provides USU for paying the difference between in- and out-of-state tuition for our students when they go up to Washington State. Out-of-state tuition up there has increased around 15 or 20% in the last 10 years, so we’ve had to start cutting back some of the things we were doing to hold students harmless for the tuition increases, if that makes sense. We just didn’t realize at the beginning what the rate of tuition increases for our students would be, and we didn’t ask those questions. I’m not sure they knew, either.

In any case, we couldn't have done it without them. Washington State was the perfect partner for us because of their proximity. Maybe Colorado State would have worked, but they never offered.

On a different note, has anyone mentioned the trailers USU students would rent while at WSU? They’d live in these trailers, and then as they moved out, a new student and their family would move in. I think I asked someone at Washington State once if the USU students were like a true cohort, and they said absolutely. They have those first two years together, they move up as a group, and a lot of them have young families that live in those trailers, so they continue to be a community within a community at WSU.

The other thing about our group is the gender ratio. I've seen veterinary schools where 100% of the students are female. It seems to be a career that works well for women since they can step out and have families and then go back or work part time, et cetera. However, we tend to have comparatively more male students, even if they’re usually still a minority, and our students are often married and starting families. The Washington State faculty actually pointed out that our students are more likely to finish on time. They’re studying and determined not to drag it out. We’re very proud of that