Live from New York!
Posted August 14, 2018
Drs. Jon and Gwen Levine
Have you ever met a couple and you knew that being friends with
them would be the “coolest” thing? Well, then, meet the Drs.
Levine—Gwen and Jon. Oh, and let’s not forget their gregarious son,
George! Named after his grandfather and as spirited, smart,
and funny as his parents, George adds another dimension to their
lives. If you haven’t met them, you’re about to.
Although Dr. Gwendolyn Levine and Dr. Jonathan M. Levine first met
at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine
& Biomedical Sciences (CVM), the CVM is not the first school
they had in common.
The couple met at a party on the second night of Gwen’s
orientation as a new student in the DVM program in 2002. Jon, then
a new resident in neurology, had only been at the CVM for six
“My mentor told me to go because she could tell I was an introvert
and I needed to get out,” Gwen recalled. “I was standing in the
garage talking with some of my newfound friends. Jon had said that
he had completed veterinary school at Cornell, and one of my
friends said ‘Oh my gosh, this girl in our class went to Cornell;
you have to meet her.’ And the way they tell it, he shoved them out
of the way so he could come over and talk to me.”
Jon’s road to the CVM had begun years earlier in his home state of
New York as an undergrad at Cornell University. He began attending
medical school at State University of New York at Buffalo after
completing his bachelor’s degree in biology but decided after a
year that a career in human medicine was not what he actually
wanted, so he took a research job at Harvard.
There, he realized that veterinary medicine better aligned with
his interests in biomedical research. He returned to Cornell to
begin his veterinary education and earned his DVM degree in 2001.
Along the way, he discovered his passion for neurology, which took
him to Colorado State University for an internship in 2002 before
moving to College Station to begin his residency.
Gwen Levine with her horse, Live from New York
(Photo by Frankie Wylie)
Gwen’s professional path also began on the East Coast, but she had
entered Cornell already knowing she wanted to pursue a career in
veterinary medicine. She had shadowed and later worked at a
veterinary clinic in her hometown in Connecticut during her high
school years, and one of the clinic’s veterinarians suggested she
apply to Cornell for her undergraduate degree. After completing her
bachelor’s degree in biology in 2001, she applied to eight
veterinary schools and moved to College Station in the fall of 2002
to begin her DVM education.
The meeting at the party proved to be serendipitous.
Although Jon briefly left the CVM to finish his residency at the
University of Missouri, the couple married during Gwen’s third year
in the DVM program. Jon returned to the CVM to join the faculty in
2005, and Gwen earned her DVM in 2006 and went on to do her
internship and residency at the CVM.
Gwen now serves as chair of the selections committee and is a
clinical associate professor in the Department of Veterinary
Pathobiology (VTPB). Jon is the department head, a professor, and
the Helen McWhorter Chair in Small Animal Clinical Sciences
Balancing their roles as leaders in the CVM with raising their
5-year-old son, George, and having a healthy work-life balance is
no easy task for the Levines. Their partnership is unique, and the
partnerships they have established over the years both here and
around the world are, too.
Jon’s work on gliomas and Gwen’s work on intervertebral disk
herniation in Dachshunds and cerebrospinal fluid biomarkers have
led to them collaborate on multiple levels.
Currently, one of Jon’s major research collaborations is with Dr.
Amy Heimberger, a neurosurgeon at MD Anderson. Dr. Heimberger’s
research explores possible treatments based on directing a
patient’s immune system to attack gliomas (a glioma is a type of
tumor that occurs in the brain and spinal cord).
“We take her early stage therapies and trial them in dogs,” he
explained. “We have a new one that we’re about to get rolling on
that’s really exciting. And we’ve also worked with her to
characterize the genetics of these tumors, with the goal being not
to just describe that, but to actually understand what’s happening
biologically within the tumor, immunologically, so that we can
better target these cancers with therapies.”
Gwen’s research interests include the use of technology in
assessing gait through the application of force platforms and
motion-capture systems. This technology has been used to complete a
research project evaluating how Dachshunds recover their walking
ability after a spinal cord injury and to support research by
clinicians in orthopedics. She also is interested in biomarkers in
neurologic and orthopedic disease.
The Levines’ first project together was a paper for the Journal
for the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA); they also
worked together on a neurology teaching CD-ROM several years
“I did the programming for it, and he wrote up all the cases,”
Gwen said. “We’ve collaborated on grants. We both have an interest
in spinal cord injury; for example, I love dachshunds, so we’ve
done a lot of papers on that topic.”
Because of their shared interests, talks about work often carry
over after hours, especially as their professional responsibilities
and research projects diverge.
“We’ll kind of walk through our day a little bit and discuss what
we accomplished,” Gwen said of how she and Jon discuss their work
with each other. “Sometimes, because we have different perspectives
about our work, talking with Jon will help me get more perspective
on a situation. I think I can do that for him sometimes, too. We
bounce things off each other.”
Gwen Levine (left) works with technicians and a patient.
“For me, it helps to have a partner in my life,” Jon added. “She’s
an amazing partner in so many different respects, whether we’re
talking about someone to give you ideas, someone to empathize,
someone to listen. And she’s an incredible mom; she’s responsible
for so much of George’s success, I think—everything from discipline
to understanding how to help him be the best he can be.”
The Levines also have very different decision-making processes.
Gwen likes to make a decision, move forward, and not agonize over
it, whereas Jon likes to talk about his decision-making
“You should see us pick out furniture,” said Gwen. “A simple
dining table involves many days of deliberation and
“I’m an INFJ on Myers Briggs, and Jon is an ENTJ,” Gwen explained.
“I make quick decisions with my gut, and Jon gets numerous opinions
and contemplates the buy before he moves forward. It actually works
well for us.”
“I think we have the right things in common,” Jon added.
Seeking each other’s opinions and feedback is reflective of how
they approach leadership in their roles at the CVM.
“I like to present options to the selections committee because I
need and value their perspective,” said Gwen. “I’m just one person;
the reason we have a committee is to get all these people’s
critical input on what we’re considering and make sure that we make
the best decision.”
“The best thing about being a department head is helping people,”
said Jon. “The absolute best thing is seeing people be able to get
to their fullest potential. It’s just amazingly rewarding. You have
to be comfortable with yourself and who you are and what your
strengths are. You have to listen to people and hear what they
want. You have to know what the unit or the college needs, because
those things have to be in synergy. And then you just help folks
put it together.”
The family part of the Levines’ collaboration equation requires
synergy, as well. Perhaps the most significant task that Gwen and
Jon must collaborate on each and every day is raising their son,
“Parenting is a lot of work; I would say it’s just another layer
of responsibilities,” Gwen said. “But he’s so fun; it’s great. It’s
funny because when he was a baby, Jon would say, ‘Oh I can’t wait
till he can do this—I can’t wait until he can walk; I can’t wait
until he can talk.’ And now when the two of them are in the car
with me, I’m just like, ‘Really can one of you guys stop talking
now?’ They’re both extroverts, and sometimes I need a break because
it feels like Jon and George are trying to see who can say the most
George, who is 5 now, acts like a little lawyer—always negotiating
and trying to figure things out. He also loves Legos and
“We can usually entertain him by giving him math problems,” Gwen
The Levines wake up at 5:50 in the morning, get ready for work,
and wake George. Gwen or Jon make George breakfast and lunch. They
drop George off at his daycare before 7, because school doesn’t
open until 7:30, and they like to be at work early so they can get
their days started before everyone else arrives at work.
Their days also depend on if they’re working clinics or not, which
might change Gwen’s hours to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Jon’s hours
might be even longer.
“Clinical pathology clinics are fairly straightforward because I
sit behind a microscope and look at whatever samples come in,” Gwen
said. “I don’t have to interact with patients; I don’t have to do
surgeries on emergency cases. I get to train residents and talk to
clinicians about their samples, so I really enjoy it because it’s
not as stressful as the role I had as a clinician when I was an
Jon, now in an administrative role, doesn’t get to work clinics as
much as he used to, but he does still see patients, perform
operations, read reports, and consult with clients.
“You know, one of my philosophies is if you don’t do what your
team does or have a way to be boots-on-the-ground a little bit, it
becomes really hard to connect with them,” Jon said. “By being in
clinics, even only six weeks, I maintain that connection. It’s a
very hard thing to manage sometimes, with everything else that’s
going on, and, yet, I see it as being of high importance to me and
to my team.”
While the emergency aspect of clinics can create longer days for
Jon when combined with his administrative duties, the rest of the
year is a bit more regulated.
“But I travel a lot,” he said. “I have done 50 air flight legs
this year (2017).”
“Gwen is a rock star when it comes to taking care of George and
stepping up. When she travels, I take care of him and do the whole
morning routine, and the evening routine,” Jon said. “One day, when
Gwen was away and George and I were on the way to drop him off at
daycare, he looked at me and said, ‘You know, Daddy, when it’s just
Mommy, I get to have breakfast at the table; I don’t have to eat in
Outside of work and George, the Levines have individual hobbies;
they trade off days for Gwen to ride her horse, named Live From New
York, which she rides twice each week after work, and for Jon to
run one night each week.
Jon Levine with Dexter at the CVM’s Diagnostic Imaging &
Cancer Treatment Center
Some of their routine will change soon, as Gwen will be
preparing for a non-traditional residency in radiology that will
take four years. She plans to fit it in with all of her “other”
“I have always been interested in radiology,” she said. “I think
what I’m looking forward to is having more of a connection with the
clinicians and getting to see the front end of samples and
appreciate the ultrasounds—kind of bringing more of a pathology
perspective to my work.”
Fitting vacations into that packed agenda can be difficult, and a
“pure vacation” that isn’t tied to a conference or some other
work-related activity is a true challenge. But dreams do come true,
and, fittingly, did so a few years ago when the family took a trip
to Disneyland in California. For George, the dream just turned out
to be very specific.
“There’s this one ride, Goofy’s Sky School, that George was
finally tall enough to go on, but he had been talking about going
on all year,” Gwen recalled. “So we go on the ride and he says,
‘OK, we can leave now.’ That was the one thing we did, the first
thing, I made sure it was a priority, and he’s like, ‘Ok, we can
“I asked him, ‘Where do you wanna go?’” Jon added. “He said, ‘Back
to the hotel.’”
“He was a bit task-oriented,” Gwen explained with a laugh.
In 2014, the Levines (minus George) went on vacation to Moab,
Utah, for their 10-year anniversary. They also took a trip without
George to Germany, after they’d been invited to speak at the
University of Hanover. After much convincing on Gwen’s part, they
stayed two extra days enjoying Berlin.
“Gwen has to twist my arm to take a vacation, but I’m always
appreciative when I get there,” Jon said. “We enjoy hiking, being
outside on nature walks together, and our families.”
The Levines agree that there’s a balance when talking about work
at home; they don’t want work to take over their home life. So,
after George is sleeping, they allow 15 or 20 minutes to talk about
something that may have happened in the day and then they put away
their cellphones. They admit that is not easy, but they are finding
it beneficial to their life balance.
“One of our best vacations was where they didn’t have cellphone
service during the day,” Gwen said. “Jon missed his phone, at
first, but soon began to enjoy the time away from technology—for a
little while, anyway.”
The Levines are hoping to find time to take their next vacation
this spring. As usual, their planning process is a
“We’re gonna argue about it,” said Gwen. “And then we’ll talk
about it like 15 times.”
“But then—it’ll get decided and we’ll both be happy with it,” Jon
For more information about the Texas A&M College of
Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our
website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2018 edition of CVM Today magazine.
Contact Information: Megan Palsa, Executive
Director of Communications, Media & Public Relations, Texas
A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science; email@example.com;
979-862-4216; 979-421-3121 (cell)
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