Virginia Tech’s newly formed School of Animal Sciences is one of the largest of its kind east of the Mississippi River and ranks fourth nationally in the number of research grants.
For more than 125 years, the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has been home to leading researchers studying everything from animal nutrition to translational animal sciences.
As of Friday, July 1, the departments of Dairy Science and Animal and Poultry Sciences were combined into a new School of Animal Sciences.
With the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia’s approval – effective July 1 – the school becomes one of the largest animal science programs east of the Mississippi. It is well-positioned to build on its outstanding legacy and move even higher in the rankings with modern facilities, cutting-edge researchers, and a curriculum that prepares students for a wide array of jobs, not only in traditional agriculture and allied industries, but also in areas of medicine, veterinary sciences, biotechnology, and many other highly rewarding professions.
“The synergies created when combining these two extremely talented groups into one academic unit is going to allow us to harness our strengths and create a formidable force in the animal sciences discipline across the globe,” said David Gerrard, director of the school, which is housed in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
With nearly 700 students and over 40 faculty members, the new school is currently ranked fourth and sixth nationally in the number of grants and total grant dollars, respectively, secured for such programming.
Formation of the school also allows the college to boast one of the largest dairy-centric faculties assembled in the U.S. Programs in dairy sciences include but are not limited to production efficiency, reproductive performance, One Health, and climate change. The benefit of such programming breadth better prepares students for careers in dairy science and those industries tasked with supporting the sector.
“The scope and vastness of the research programming in this new academic unit will have wide-ranging impacts, and we are excited to see how it continues to grow,” said Alan Grant, dean of the college.
With an annual economic impact of $70 billion annually, agriculture is by far the largest private industry in Virginia, and products from the animal industry represent five of the top commodities produced. Faculty in this new school will help the animal industry in Virginia thrive and grow by creating a pipeline for new talent to lead these efforts.
Students enrolled in this school and those from across campus will have access to a larger array of classes and hands-on learning experiences with animals that were more difficult to maintain through smaller departmental structures.
Many of the scientists studying animal productivity also use animals to model and study those factors that impact the human condition. From this vantage point alone, studying animal sciences is a popular choice for many high school students because graduates can go directly into the animal industry or veterinary medicine without eliminating the option of becoming a doctor, pharmacist, or biomedical researcher. Areas of discovery with this type of duality in purpose include anorexia nervosa, infertility, infant nutrition, learning, fitness, obesity, and more.
As the School of Animal Sciences, the unit is expanding its scope to include companion animal research and outreach programming that started in the last few years. As part of this programming effort, researchers are studying the behavior of dogs in animal shelters and the procedures necessary to adopt these individuals throughout the community.
All of these changes are coinciding with the creation of some of the most modern and up-to-date-facilities of any animal science program in the U.S.
On Plantation Road, a new equine facility is being built to support a highly visible equestrian program. A few miles down the road at Kentland Farm, a state-of-the-art cattle-feeding facility is equipped with the latest electronic feed monitoring system and a 60-sow farrow-to-finishing facility that provides pigs for several highly productive biomedical researchers.
Moreover, two new, technology-driven buildings are nearing completion on Glade Road to support the poultry industry and the annual $1 billion in gate receipts. Additional support structures also are being built that are part of a Phase I livestock building initiative supported by Virginia through Agency 229.
“The new school builds on a strong history of excellence across both departments and creates a massive tailwind that allows us to be leaders in animal sciences for years to come,” Gerrard said.