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Dr. Herbert Whiteley Returns to Illinois as College Dean

After a national search, Dr. Herbert Whiteley was selected in April to lead the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine.
[Dr. Herbert Whiteley]
Dr. Herbert Whiteley

When Dr. Whiteley takes the reins in August, becoming the sixth dean in the College's 53-year history, he'll find many familiar faces. In 1984, after finishing his PhD, he came to the College as an assistant professor in the Department of Veterinary Pathobiology and stayed for over a decade. In 1990 he was promoted to associate professor and became an affiliate member of a neurosciences research group based in the Beckman Institute.

Dr. Whiteley leaves not one but three jobs at the University of Connecticut: head of the Department of Pathobiology and Veterinary Science, director of the Connecticut Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (both positions he filled when he joined UConn in 1995), and interim director of the Office of Animal Research Services, a role he took on in 2000.

Dr. Whiteley is excited about his return to the College, and notes, "I want to thank Ted Valli for the fine work he's done as dean over the past 11 years."

On a recent visit to Urbana, he spoke about his background, his views on veterinary education, and his goals for the College.

I consider veterinary professional education the broadest and best in biomedical science. It covers the gamut of living organisms, from bacteria to toxins to animal species, and encompasses sciences ranging from complex molecular biology to epidemiology to applied medicine to public health and economics.

My own interest in living things probably developed when I was a child. I grew up in suburban Connecticut, but in the summers worked on a cousin's dairy farm in Pennsylvania.

Then, as an undergraduate studying animal and veterinary science at the University of Maine, I spent three summers working at a biomedical research laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. My first exposure to pathology was when I worked in the necropsy lab while I was earning my veterinary degree at Purdue. I had a very good experience there.

After graduation in 1977 I spent 3 years in Massachusetts doing James Herriot-type work. I saw small animal and dairy patients and did race track work on the side. From there I went to Colorado State University to complete a PhD in pathology, specializing in ocular development, and a morphologic pathology residency.

Broaden Students' Perspectives
As dean I hope to encourage veterinary students to broaden their perspective of the world around them. The four-year DVM program is a time for students to explore opportunities and for their faculty and mentors to instill interests.

The educational process continues as new graduates work their first jobs under the guidance of seasoned practitioners, whose role as educators is invaluable.

Being in practice is a great experience because it teaches you about responsibility to patients and clients and it builds communication and people skills. But veterinarians have a world of opportunities in addition to practice. They contribute to all facets of society through work in government, industry, the legal profession, and so on.

I'd like to see students keep an open mind about their careers. You never know where you'll end up! I have friends who started in food animal practice and are now molecular biologists.

In addition, I hope to spark students' enthusiasm for being part of society outside of work, to serve their communities on school boards and so forth.

Curriculum evaluation and review are already in progress at the College. As a faculty we will shape the curriculum to provide students with the basis to grow as practitioners, as biomedical and comparative medical scientists, and as individuals. If we provide them the ability to learn and reason, they'll continue to advance the profession.

The Future of the College
I'm excited to come back to Illinois because of the University's reputation as one of the nation's top public institutions. This campus has so much going on in the biological sciences, in engineering, and in technology, as well as strong ties with industry. I want to promote collaborations, both within the College and across the campus.

In the first year my job as dean is to listen and to help faculty and staff get where they want to go. I've already started visiting units, and I want to hear from everybody.

I'm very interested in strategic planning. We need to evaluate where we are now and project the future of the profession 10 to 15 years from now. How we can be a leader?

An important first step is to identify, within departments and as a faculty, areas of programmatic focus. With many faculty positions currently open, we have the opportunity to change direction. We can build nationally recognized collaborative research and educational teams.

I'd like to raise public awareness of our College's activities and to develop a mix of funding sources from federal agencies, industry, foundations, and private donors. Having programmatic areas of expertise that are well known will make it easier to recruit professional and graduate students. Stable funding sources, too, are key to encouraging post-DVM studies.

Here are some of the goals that top my agenda:
* Increase diversity in the profession. One way to start is to develop recruitment methods that target new audiences at the high school and pre-high school levels.

* Promote scholarship in all areas—research, teaching, and public service. Scholarly activities include documenting, evaluating, and communicating our work and staying at the cutting edge.

* Encourage veterinarians to enter research and academics. We can promote that by creating a stimulating environment within the College.

Another objective I have is to build a sense of community within the College and create a work environment that's exciting. This goes for the professional students, faculty, and staff: people should want to be here, and they should be having fun.

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