Four alumni from the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) will receive 2021 awards during the Outstanding Alumni & Rising Star Awards virtual ceremony on April 16, 2021.
The 2021 Outstanding Alumni award recipients are Dr. Robert O. “Bob” Dittmar II ’79 (posthumous), Dr. Harold R. “Ray” Emerson ’65, and Dr. Karen Lass ’95. The Rising Star award recipient is Ms. Chelsea Knutson ’12.
Outstanding Alumni are selected each year to recognize those who have reached a level of success in their professional careers that brings credit to both the individual and the CVMBS . This award is the highest honor bestowed by the college and honorees may be graduates of the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) professional program, graduate academic programs (M.S., Ph.D.), or Biomedical Sciences (BIMS) undergraduate program.
Established in 2013, the Rising Star Award seeks to recognize graduates of the CVMBS who have completed their education within the last 10 years. These outstanding former students have made significant professional accomplishments early in their careers including public service and volunteer activities that serve to positively reflect upon the college and Texas A&M.
Dr. Robert O. “Bob” Dittmar II ’79 (posthumous)
Dr. Bob Dittmar’s love for Texas wildlife was eclipsed only by his passion for serving his friends, family, and community.
Dittmar graduated with a bachelor’s degree in veterinary science in 1978 and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1979 and began a career as a mixed animal veterinarian, going on to own the Kerrville Veterinary Clinic for nearly 10 years.
In 2014, however, he began a new career path as the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s first state wildlife veterinarian. In this role, Dittmar worked with landowners, hunters, and biologists to help preserve native wildlife and respond to animal health concerns.
“Dr. Dittmar was especially gifted as a veterinarian,” one nominator said. “His gift was not only in his vast knowledge but in his ability to convey that knowledge in a way that others could understand. Although Dr. Dittmar was responsible for the well-being of all wildlife in Texas, he was never too busy to answer questions or explain something to students, lay persons, and wildlife professionals.”
Outside of his work, Dittmar spent much of his time volunteering with wildlife management associations, the Zion Lutheran Church in Kerrville, the Hill Country District Junior Livestock Show Association, the Texas Farm Bureau, and more.
He was passionate about passing on his knowledge of wildlife and responsible hunting to younger generations, as well as contributing to Texas A&M veterinary students’ education on wildlife diseases.
“Maybe the most important service he provided was to the young people of Texas,” another nominator said. “He gave numerous talks to youth groups about animals and wildlife and spent many hours in the field away from his family teaching young people about protecting wildlife and their habitat. I don’t know of anyone whose life better defines the Aggie Spirit of selfless service than Dr. Dittmar.”
To the sadness of family, friends, and colleagues across the state, Dittmar passed away during a helicopter crash in August 2020 while conducting an aerial survey of desert bighorn sheep in West Texas.
“His time on this earth, while prematurely shortened, will continue to affect many for years to come,” another nominator said. “His love for the wildlife of Texas will never be forgotten. Bob had a distinguished life and career and is truly an outstanding alumnus of the CVMBS.”
He is survived by wife Bernadine; children Trey Dittmar and Whitney Hild; and four grandchildren.
Dr. Harold R. “Ray” Emerson ’65
For Dr. Ray Emerson, having a positive impact on others is a fundamental aspect of both his personal life and career.
After earning an associate’s degree from Tarleton State College, Emerson joined the Aggie family and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in 1962, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1965, and a master’s degree in 1968.
Soon after graduation, he established the Emerson Animal Hospital and Veterinary Services in Waco and spent 45 years there treating more than half a million large, small, and exotic animals.
“His career has spanned decades, but he still maintains the enthusiasm of young person just entering the profession,” one nominator said. “His wisdom and guidance have changed the lives of both the animals and people he has crossed paths with.”
Emerson was also one of the founders of the Waco Animal Emergency Clinic, an after-hours practice that serves pet owners in the McLennan County and surrounding region, extending as far north as the suburbs of Dallas/Fort Worth and as far south as Austin.
“He is a self-made businessman and provides leadership for Waco for community development and well-being, and he is a superb example of the American private enterprise system,” another nominator said.
Today, Emerson still practices at the same facility, now the Lake Air Animal Hospital, and primarily treats small animals and exotic pets.
Emerson has devoted many years to the advancement of the veterinary profession in Texas by serving on various Texas Veterinary Medical Association committees.
“He is a man of deep character, experience, and wisdom who has mentored scores of veterinarians to reach their potential across Texas,” another nominator said. “The true measure of Ray’s accomplishments is the high esteem with which his colleagues, staff, and clients hold for him, an esteem that is based on his commitment to excellence and the unselfish and unpretentious manner in which he works with people.”
Beyond his career, Emerson is highly active in his church and community. Over the decades, he has volunteered with a local health district, zoo, school board, Boy Scout troop, and Lions Club, in addition to serving on the Fellowship Bible Church’s greeting committee for more than 10 years.
“Dr. Emerson is a beacon for others to follow for years to come,” another nominator said. “He has touched thousands of people with his professional expertise, his courteous behavior, and his love for community.”
Emerson and his wife Theresa live in Waco; they have two children—Andrea and Erik, who followed in his father’s footsteps to attend Texas A&M.
Dr. Karen Lass ’95
Dr. Karen Lass has established herself as a leader in not only the national veterinary community but also as a cornerstone in her family, community, and the veterinary profession at large in Texas.
As a senior professional services veterinarian at Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health (BIAH), Lass visits hundreds of veterinary hospitals annually, sharing successful practice protocols with clinics and training the next generation of sales representatives to ensure clinics around the nation are providing the most up-to-date care for their animal patients.
“Dr. Karen Lass is a supporter, a giver, a convener, and a contributor. One of her most notable traits is her constant and contagious positive attitude that never ceases to improve the world around her,” one nominator said. “Dr. Lass epitomizes what a CVMBS Outstanding Alumna is supposed to be.”
A passionate lifelong learner, Lass attended the American Animal Hospital Association- Colorado State University Veterinary Management Institute in 2018 to receive proactive management training. For her leadership skills, she has received a Certificate in Woman’s Leadership from the American Management Association and a Green Belt in Project Management and Leadership from the BIAH SPARK program.
Lass holds leadership positions on the Collin County Veterinary Medical Association Board and serves on the Collin College Tech School Advisory Board. She volunteers on Texas Veterinary Medical Association committees and the Southwest Veterinary Symposium Board and also coordinates Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health support of the Texas Veterinary Medical Foundation and Texas A&M LEAP (Lending Economic Assistance for Pets) program.
More locally, Lass has had tremendous impact on the Texas A&M veterinary community. She petitioned BIAH to obtain funding for programs such as Aggies Invent: Veterinary Medicine and the Veterinary Innovation Summit. She also originated the idea of creating public-speaking training for house officers at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital (VMTH) and then sponsored and coordinated the event. In addition, she developed a leadership and wellness professional development program, BIAH LeadU, that included attendees from Texas A&M and other national veterinary schools.
During COVID-19, Lass has worked to support VMTH doctors, staff, and students through stress-relief initiatives.
Beyond her career, Lass is a staunch supporter of her family, the local equine community, and her church.
“Dr. Karen Lass is a great promoter of the veterinary profession and an even greater defender,” said another nominator. “She has a clear vision of the veterinary profession and the courage to enhance it and protect it.”
She and her husband, Steven ‘91 and ’95, met in Aggieland in 1989. Their daughter Faith is an Aggie biomedical sciences major and son Joshua is a junior at Lovejoy High School.
Ms. Chelsea Knutson ’12
2021 Rising Star Recipient
Since graduating from the Biomedical Sciences (BIMS) program and earning her nursing degree from Texas A&M, Chelsea Knutson has devoted her career to advocating for survivors of sexual assault and ensuring that the Texas healthcare system has the framework needed to support survivors of sexual assault trauma, violent crimes, child abuse, and neglect.
As the program manager for forensic outreach at the Center of Excellence in Forensic Nursing at Texas A&M Health, Knutson provides hands-on training and continuing education to nurses who want to become skilled and certified sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs).
Knutson also works with the Texas Remote Assistance Center (Tex-TRAC), which is funded through a grant from the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, and U.S. Department of Justice. This grant focuses on creating a SANE telehealth center at Texas A&M for rural and underserved areas of Texas.
Many rural healthcare facilities previously did not have the resources to support sexual assault survivors; however, through the Tex-TRAC team’s work, these patients are now able to receive the care they need through a specialized forensic nursing cart called the Tele-SANE cart that connects rural patients with a forensic nurse expert in real-time.
“When faced with situations of horrifying patient abuse and trauma, Chelsea understands that her patient’s needs come first and works long hours to ensure that her patients receive the best care possible,” one nominator said. “Even when her patient is done at the hospital, Chelsea’s work with them continues, as she can be called upon to provide mental health support for her patients or even testify in court for them as a medical expert.”
In addition to her work educating other nurses to become SANEs, Knutson works as a SANE for the Baylor Scott and White Hospital in the College Station region, and she volunteers with the Bryan/College Station Sexual Assault Resource Center (SARC) to provide trainings, speak as an expert panelist, and contribute to fundraising events.
“In the time that I have known Chelsea, I have seen her commitment to improving the lives of her patients, her students, and her co-workers,” the nominator said. “Chelsea is always the first to volunteer to help if she sees that someone is struggling with trauma in the exam room, to learn a new skill in the classroom, or to meet a deadline in the office.”
Knutson and husband Parker have two children—4-and-a-half-year-old Marshall and 10-month-old Genova.
Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of VMBS Communications, Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences; email@example.com; 979-862-4216