Story by Aubrey Bloom
CANYON, Oct. 5, 2020 — The Veterinary Education, Research, & Outreach (VERO) program, a partnership between the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVMBS) and West Texas A&M University (WT), has hired two new faculty to bring their extensive experience in the field and in the classroom to the students, veterinarians, livestock producers, and citizens of the Texas Panhandle.
Dr. Benjamin Newcomer, a dairy cattle expert, and Dr. Jenna Funk, an expert in beef cattle production, will support the fourth-year veterinary students who choose to participate in clinical rotations in Canyon and the surrounding areas.
“The Texas A&M University System has put its full backing behind the VERO program and these top-notch hires are evidence that we are serious about its success,” said John Sharp, chancellor of The Texas A&M University System.
“Dr. Newcomer and Dr. Funk bring a wealth of experience, knowledge, and research expertise to the VERO team, and the work they will do through teaching and research will have a tremendous impact on Texas A&M students and, as importantly, the citizens of the Texas Panhandle and High Plains region,” said Dr. John August, CVMBS dean. “Understanding the impact of management decisions on animal health, as well as on human health and the global environment, requires a ‘One Health’ approach to livestock stewardship, and these two new professors will play a key role in ensuring the next generation of veterinarians understand this as well.”
“We are delighted to welcome Drs. Newcomer and Funk to the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and VERO faculty. They bring to our program an exciting combination of dairy and feedlot practice experience and teaching skills,” said Dr. Susan Eades, head of the CVMBS’ Large Animal Clinical Sciences Department. “These faculty are extremely dedicated to the sustainability of livestock industries and to the education of the next generation of veterinarians. They will teach rotations to fourth-year students in rural, dairy, feedlot, and cow-calf practices, preparing students for food animal and rural careers that will benefit these important practice areas.”
Increasing VERO’s Dairy Medicine Capabilities
Newcomer will join the VERO team in November from Auburn University, where he completed a residency in internal medicine and a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences and, since 2013, has been a faculty member.
Board certified by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine, and the American Board of Toxicology, Newcomer also has six years of experience in private dairy practice.
The 2002 University of Florida graduate brings strengths in herd health medicine, infectious disease control, veterinary clinical instruction, and health care worker training.
Newcomer said that Texas A&M’s tradition speaks for itself and made the position one that he was immediately interested in.
“There are a lot of things that attracted me to this position,” Newcomer said. “Certainly, the history and tradition of Texas A&M is unrivaled and well known. They’re known for producing quality veterinary graduates and the VERO program is geographically situated in a growing area where there are lots of cattle where students can get hands-on experience.”
VERO Director Dr. Dee Griffin said Newcomer’s expertise in dairy veterinary management will have a tremendous impact on the CVMBS’ efforts in the region. He also pointed out that while many know of Texas’ contribution to the beef industry, Texas is also the fifth largest dairy producing state, and 80% of all dairy produced in Texas is produced in the panhandle and the high plains.
“Dr. Newcomer is perhaps the most academically prepared clinical dairy management professor in the United States,” he said. “The extremely large dairies such as we have in this region are extremely sophisticated. Dr. Newcomer also is one of the few in the United States that the college could have recruited who are capable of navigating the level of expertise required to work with dairies of this magnitude and be able to develop a dairy clinical veterinary and management program for our CVMBS students.”
Providing Unique Livestock Management Opportunities
Griffin witnessed Funk’s work ethic first hand when Funk was a student enrolled in a feeder cattle veterinary clinical skills and management summer education program, at which Funk spent 60-80 hours a week learning tasks ranging from ultrasound pregnancy exams to cleaning the water tanks.
“Dr. Funk is not only an extremely talented beef veterinarian, but she also has a love for students,” he said. “The opportunities for her here are tremendous. Over 25% of all of the beef eaten in the United States comes from within a two-hour drive of our VERO facility, combining that opportunity with Dr. Funk’s expertise will provide unique clinical and livestock management opportunities for our veterinary students.”
An Iowa State University graduate, Funk received extensive training in beef cattle medicine at the Clay Center and as a feedlot intern, both in Nebraska. She also taught veterinary students on clinical rotations as a post-doctoral student at Iowa State.
She is currently an ambulatory animal health veterinary practitioner and production animal consultant for Metzger Veterinary Services in Linwood, Ontario.
For Funk, the attraction came in the opportunity to help the students find the same passion that she did when she was exposed to real-world experiences as a student.
“What really appealed to me was their drive to put students on the farms and in real-life situations,” she said. “The cooperation they have with mixed animal practices down there and the relationships they’re building with the big commercial feedlots and the big commercial dairies, they’re really trying to give the students a very much real-world experience of what they’re going to run into when they get out into practice.
“A lot of times at universities, we live inside this ‘university bubble,’ filled with advanced research and advanced technology and being on the cutting edge of everything. And then you get out into the real world and you realize that not every practice has digital x-ray and not every practice has an MRI. So, you’ve got to figure out what you’re going to do when you don’t have those technologies around.”
Newcomer and Funk are among the 12-13 new hires the CVMBS plans to make in support of the fourth-year clinical rotations and the new 2+2 Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) program and are part of a $5 million commitment to support hiring by the Texas A&M University System.
“We know the success of any academic program is built on the foundation of excellent faculty,” said Dr. Walter Wendler, WT president. “We are pleased with the partnership of Texas A&M University and West Texas A&M University, supported by Chancellor John Sharp and The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents. Our teamwork is attractive to high-caliber people. These programs will serve the Texas Panhandle with distinction because of the faculty.”
Fourth-year clinical rotations in the Texas Panhandle coordinated at the VERO facility include feedlots, dairies, and rural veterinary practices, through which students can get hands-on experience working in areas in which there is a critical need for veterinarians. Announced in September 2019, the 2+2 DVM program will allow veterinary students to complete their first and second years at the VERO facility, before completing the third and part of their fourth years at the CVMBS in College Station; the first cohort of up to 18 students participating in the 2+2 program will begin classes at VERO in the fall of 2021.
Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Director of CVMBS Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, email@example.com, 979-862-4216; Chip Chandler, senior communications specialist, WT, firstname.lastname@example.org, 806-651-2124