Veterinary Epidemiology, Diagnostic Detection and Outreach Team Receives Vice Chancellor’s Award in Excellence

Established in 1980, the Vice Chancellor’s awards program recognizes the commitment and outstanding contributions of faculty and staff across Texas A&M AgriLife. The team received the award Jan. 9 at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service Centennial Conference in College Station.

Team members, all from College Station, are Heather Simmons, education and outreach theme leader, National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defense, Texas A&M AgriLife Research; Dr. Mike McWhorter, associate director for training programs, Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture, AgriLife Research; Amy Swinford, microbiology branch chief, Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory; Sandy Rodgers, assistant section head for serology, TVMDL; Tom Hairgrove, program coordinator for livestock and food animal systems, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service and TVMDL; and Floron Faries Jr., professor and Extension specialist, FAZD and AgriLife Extension.

“The Veterinary Epidemiology, Diagnostic Detection and Outreach Team is a great combination of innovative scientists, effective leaders and training managers, and influential educators and trainers,” wrote Dr. Tammy Beckham, director of the TVMDL and FAZD in her award nomination.

“The Borlaug Institute, in partnership with other Texas A&M entities, often receives awards to train international veterinary scientists in biotechnology, epidemiology and advanced disease diagnostics.”

Beckham noted that the lab is a primary partner in these efforts, offering applied training and experiences to international visitors in numerous disciplines, including molecular diagnostics, serology, bacteriology and virology. International collaborators include scientists from Kazakhstan, Egypt, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Ukraine, Turkmenistan, China, Indonesia and Bulgaria.

“Of the utmost importance to this team is that trainings are practical and relevant,” she stated. “At TVMDL, a training laboratory for international visiting scientists was established so that laboratory work is not simulated. International delegates have the opportunity to learn about diagnostic methods and equipment and then apply that knowledge in a series of exercises in the laboratory.”

To date, TVMDL has trained 17 international scientists from Bangladesh, Bulgaria, Egypt, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Turkmenistan. The team also has provided diagnostic capacity training for brucellosis testing methods at the Veterinary Reference Laboratories for Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. In addition, a two-day molecular methods workshop was conducted at the General Reference Laboratory in Kazakhstan.

A commendation letter supporting the team’s nomination, written by Dr. Gabriel Mkilema Shirima, principal veterinary research officer at the Tanzania Veterinary Laboratory Agency, noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Scientific Exchange Program conducted through the Borlaug Fellowship helped address different aspects of zoonotic disease management.

“The brucellosis program, for example, addressed several important issues such as diagnostics, surveillance and control strategies,” Shirima wrote. “Controlling brucellosis will directly improve and add value in livestock and livestock products, as well as stimulate trade of animals between countries.”

In another letter supporting the nomination, Dr. Evalyn Wanjiru Mwihia-Emali, Department of Veterinary Services, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries for Kenya and a 2013 Scientific Exchange fellow, complimented the team for its “enlightening training on brucellosis epidemiology and diagnosis, which was aimed at increasing our understanding of the disease and how to control it in our respective countries.”

In his commendation, Dr. Andy Schwartz, assistant director for epidemiology and laboratories with the Texas Animal Health Commission, stated, “As the project leader for these activities with the TAHC, I would like recommend Dr. Simmons and her team for their innovative approach to developing and delivering customized training programs that are broad-based and comprehensive, yet focused on the needs and interests of the international program participants.”

The award nomination also cited team members for their many publications, submitted and pending proposals, numerous international and U.S. training presentations and training activities, international research support and service as mentors for international trainees.

“Independently, the accomplishments of each team member are impressive,” Beckham stated. “Collectively, these individuals collaborate to create international training programs that are customized to suit the trainee, their home country and their region’s agricultural enterprises. Together, the Borlaug Institute, the FAZD Center, TVMDL and AgriLife Extension are making a difference in animal agriculture around the globe.”

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