Professor Dirk Vanderwall, interim dean of Utah State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, is the Utah Veterinary Medical Association’s 2023 Veterinarian of the Year. Vanderwall was a vocal advocate for establishing the state’s only independent four-year veterinary medical program at USU.
The award ceremony was part of the Mountainlands Utah Veterinary Summit and was a surprise to Vanderwall, who attributed the achievement to the help and encouragement he received in his career.
“When I received this recognition, I was truly honored and humbled,” Vanderwall said. “And while this is an individual reward award, it reflects the extensive support I've had from faculty, staff, students and other administrators during my time at Utah State University.”
Collaboration has long been a hallmark of Vanderwall’s career. In 2003, while working at the University of Idaho, Vanderwall teamed up with veterinary scientist Gordon Woods and Professor Ken White — now the dean of USU’s College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences — to create the world’s first equine clone, a mule named Idaho Gem. Sibling clones Utah Pioneer and Idaho Star soon followed, and in 2006, two of the mules went on to race and became the first cloned animals to compete athletically.
“That was a high point of my career, both professionally and personally,” Vanderwall said. “None of us could have done it individually, but bringing our strengths together gave us the critical mass of expertise to be successful. Between the friendships we developed and the scientific success of producing the world’s first equine clone, it was a tremendous experience. And while we were the team leaders, we also had a large group of veterinary, graduate and undergraduate students involved in the ongoing work of that project.”
After leaving Idaho for the University of Pennsylvania in 2009, Vanderwall was recruited to Utah State in 2012 with the start of the Washington-Idaho-Montana-Utah (WIMU) Regional Program in Veterinary Medicine, a collaboration with Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. He initially taught equine reproduction in USU’s Department of Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences and what was then USU’s School of Veterinary Medicine.
Now that Vanderwall is interim dean, he has relinquished his teaching role to focus on establishing Utah State’s four-year program.
“I’ve enjoyed a broad mix of teaching, research and administrative responsibilities along with clinical work with the horses at the Sam Skaggs Family Equine Education Center,” Vanderwall said. “But now I need to step away from some of those activities. I taught equine theriogenology for the last time this past spring, and now I’m passing that on for my colleagues to teach in the future. There's a piece of me that I'm giving up by doing that, but it's in the best interest of the program and the students for me to focus on establishing the College of Veterinary Medicine.”
Vanderwall is excited for the day when the four-year college becomes a reality.
“I'm sure we’ll all breathe a sigh of relief once our new building is constructed, we've achieved accreditation, and the first class that will earn their doctor of veterinary medicine degrees at USU is admitted,” Vanderwall said. “And it will be so rewarding to then be able to reflect on the 11 years of the School of Veterinary Medicine and all the time and effort from the many people that went into making the four-year college possible.”
Vanderwall is especially grateful for his wife, fellow College of Veterinary Medicine adjunct faculty member Allison Willoughby.
“We’re a two-veterinarian family,” Vanderwall said. “Allison's always supported me throughout my career. Even as she’s maintained her own career as a veterinarian, she’s homeschooled our daughters, Madison and Morgan, and just been the rock of our family. I wouldn't have had the same success in my career without the support of all three of them.”
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