Meet The Dean: College of Veterinary Medicine at Auburn University

Calvin M. Johnson, DVM, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVP, has been the dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Auburn University since 2013.

Dr. Calvin Johnson, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Auburn University

Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine

Calvin M. Johnson, DVM, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVP, was appointed dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Auburn University in 2013. Johnson says he was drawn to a career in academia where he could teach students, advance biomedical knowledge through research and practice that knowledge for the public’s well-being. Under Johnson’s leadership, the college educates 480 veterinary students and 71 graduate students in biomedical sciences, and supports the professional activities of 107 faculty members and 250 staff.

Q. Why did you enter veterinary medicine?

A.  As a student interested in animals and understanding the scientific basis of disease, I could not have selected a better career than being a veterinarian. The profession has provided tremendous opportunities for these pursuits, and also integrates opportunities for meaningful public service, impactful research that improves the health of animals and humans and the sheer personal challenge of bringing all of these elements under the umbrella of a single career. I have always admired the veterinary profession because it is relatively small, yet it carries a high degree of public trust and respect, which has been well earned by many highly accomplished veterinarians. I’ve always had a desire to strengthen and promote the veterinary profession. 

Q. What was your first veterinary job after graduation?

A. I practiced veterinary medicine in a mixed practice in central North Carolina for one year and then pursued an opportunity for residency training in anatomic pathology at North Carolina State University.

The Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Anatomy Laboratory underwent a $1 million renovation last summer, improving the HVAC system; installing a sophisticated downdraft table system with more than 40 specialty-designed and individually-ventilated dissection tables; and an updated digital audio visual system, including touch-screen monitors, wall-mounted computers and digital audio.

Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine

The Wilford and Kate Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine opened in February 2014. The $47 million facility is one of the largest (208,000 square feet) and most technologically advanced teaching and referral hospitals in the United States.

Q. How and why did you move into academia?

A. I grew up in an academic family—my father was a professor of agronomy at Auburn University. I spent my summers and after-school hours working in various research laboratories on projects ranging from botany to animal husbandry to clinical veterinary medicine.  As I began to consider career paths, I was introduced to a variety of faculty members who held a deep commitment to student success.  I could not have assembled a greater team of professional and personal mentors. Through their example, I was drawn to a career in academia where I could teach students, advance biomedical knowledge through research and practice that knowledge for the public’s well-being. 

Q. How do you keep up on the state of veterinary medicine?

A. I try to engage every possible stakeholder group in every aspect of the veterinary profession—at least as many as time and resources permit. I particularly enjoy meeting with veterinary groups: local veterinary medical associations, the Alabama Veterinary Medical Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association, Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges and my specialty association, the American College of Veterinary Pathologists.  

Q. What does your school look for in choosing students?

A. Auburn seeks students with a history of strong academic performance, ethical behavior, an excellent base of interpersonal skills, knowledge of the veterinary profession through personal experiences and a reflection of, and appreciation for, the diversity of our constituency.

 The J.T. Vaughan Large Animal Teaching Hospital, along with the Veterinary Education Center and the Wilford and Kate Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital, make up the educational core of the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine campus.

Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine

The J.T. Vaughan Large Animal Teaching Hospital, along with the Veterinary Education Center and the Wilford and Kate Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital, make up the educational core of the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine campus.

Q. Many veterinary students graduate today with about $160,000 in loan debt. Can anything be done to reduce that burden? Does your school offer any advice to students about loan debt?

A. Our college works diligently to establish a balance between the cost of veterinary education and the quality of the educational experience. As a result, we believe that Auburn University offers an exceptional value in veterinary education. We maintain a strong and responsive relationship with the Commonwealth of Kentucky to ensure an excellent veterinary education at a cost equivalent to in-state tuition. At every step in the educational process, including interviews, annually in the curriculum and during co-curricular activities, we build financial and business competencies. Professional financial counseling sessions at no cost to the student are sponsored by our state associations (Alabama Veterinary Medical Association and Kentucky Veterinary Medical Association). The college offers a variety of scholarships (merit- and need-based) to help offset the cost of education, and is focused on building its scholarship endowment through an intensive development campaign.

Q. Does your school encourage students to go into underserved areas, such as large-animal medicine?

A.  Auburn’s curriculum emphasizes the breadth of opportunities in veterinary medicine and maintains close ties with alumni and professional associations such as the American Association of Bovine Practitioners and American Association of Equine Practitioners to provide mentorship and co-curricular education for students interested in working in mixed or agricultural practice.  As a result, many students elect to practice in underserved areas where the veterinarian is an integral member of a rural community. 

Q. In recent years, has your veterinary school switched its focus or added new programs?

A. In 2012, the college opened the Veterinary Education Center (VEC), a state-of-the-art educational facility that incorporates innovative classroom design and instructional technology to facilitate and enhance learning in the classroom and beyond. This, coupled with a responsive curriculum and a highly committed faculty, creates a truly unique learning environment. In 2014, the VEC was connected to the Wilford and Kate Bailey Small Animal Teaching Hospital and the John Thomas Vaughan Large Animal Teaching Hospital. This modern, comprehensive, contiguous campus emphasizes the interconnected nature of basic sciences, clinical sciences and hospital practice in veterinary medicine.

The Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Anatomy Laboratory underwent a $1 million renovation last summer, improving the HVAC system; installing a sophisticated downdraft table system with more than 40 specialty-designed and individually-ventilated dissection tables; and an updated digital audio visual system, including touch-screen monitors, wall-mounted computers and digital audio.

Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine

The Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Anatomy Laboratory underwent a $1 million renovation last summer, improving the HVAC system; installing a sophisticated downdraft table system with more than 40 specialty-designed and individually-ventilated dissection tables; and an updated digital audio visual system, including touch-screen monitors, wall-mounted computers and digital audio.

Q. Discuss any patents, technologies or procedures your school has had a hand in recently.

A. In 2014, the college licensed its patented Vapor Wake technology. Vapor Wake is a unique scientific approach and training method to train dogs to detect explosives in public areas, such as airports and spectator events.  The licensing company, iK9, has subsequently created the world’s largest domestic canine training center in Anniston, Ala. This technology licensing agreement, the largest in Auburn University history, has begun to exert major economic impact on Alabama and has enhanced the nation’s security.

Q. What are you most proud of about your school?

A. Auburn is deeply committed to student success, the advancement of knowledge, and the practice of the highest standards of veterinary medicine. As the South’s longest established veterinary program at 123 years, Auburn graduates are recognized widely for their skillful practice, leadership, professionalism, entrepreneurship and commitment to public service—enduring qualities that have withstood, and will continue to withstand, the test of time.

Biography

Dr. Calvin M. Johnson is dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Auburn University, where he advances the college’s academic mission in teaching, research, clinical veterinary practice and public outreach. He is a graduate of Auburn University (BS in Animal and Dairy Science, 1983; DVM, 1986) and North Carolina State University (Ph.D. in veterinary pathology, 1992). He is a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Pathologists (ACVP) with a specialty in anatomic pathology. Johnson served on the faculty at the University of Florida for 11 years before joining Auburn as professor of pathology (2003) and head of the Department of Pathobiology (2005). Under Johnson’s leadership, the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine educates 480 veterinary students and 71 graduate students in biomedical sciences, and supports the professional activities of 107 faculty members and 250 staff. Extramural funding of research in the college totals $7.3 million and focuses on veterinary biomedical sciences, cancer biology, diabetes, metabolic diseases, vaccine development and infectious diseases.

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