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Friday, May 23, 2014

Dr. Julie Adamchick: The Making of a Production Animal Veterinarian

Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted May 23, 2014

Though she grew up on a 120-cow dairy,1 Julie Adamchick initially had no intention of becoming a dairy farmer or a veterinarian. When she entered college in 2005,2 her real interest was in international development and public health. Her aspirations evolved during her undergraduate years, however, and after receiving her DVM degree from Cornell this weekend, Dr. Adamchick will begin working as a production animal veterinarian on a dairy in Minnesota.

Dr. Julie Adamchick with her husband, Matthew, a mechanical engineer
Dr. Julie Adamchick with her husband, Matthew, a mechanical engineer
(Photo provided by Dr. Adamchick, 2014)

As an undergraduate, Julie decided to pursue veterinary medicine to gain a tangible skill set and knowledge base. Her aspirations were to learn about livestock health so she could apply it to small scale agriculture in less developed settings. “Veterinary medicine,” she rationalized, “would be my ticket to travel and to apply my resources and opportunities to improve the lives of people without access to those same opportunities.”3

With exposure to Cornell’s educational and infrastructure resources and extensive production animal health networks, Julie’s focus during veterinary college gravitated towards food production and consumption, and the systems and people involved in animal agriculture. Food safety piqued her interest during a first-year lecture by Dr. Martin Wiedmann,4 a veterinarian and food safety researcher in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, when he talked about the risks associated with consumption of raw milk and the need to communicate those risks to the public.

It hit close to home, as I am both the veterinarian advocating for pasteurization and safe practices, as well as the farm kid who grew up drinking milk directly from the bulk tank; and at the same time living in all-natural Ithaca with friends who literally buy raw milk at night from the so-called milk black market. In the US we have the luxury of making these choices, even when the decisions are poorly informed, but in many countries around the globe, such choices are not as convenient, nor even possible. Regardless whether wealthy or poor, food is the center of health or illness as well as culture, economics, and politics.

It is this universal, permeating relevance of food production, coupled with the intricate relationship that we have with the animals we both love and love to eat that keeps me fascinated with the fields of food animal medicine and food production.

Dr. Adamchick recognizes that, while it has become trendy, and even profitable, to talk ad nauseam of the challenges of feeding the world in 2050, it is true that the decades ahead of us will be unprecedented in how we will stretch our resources for that driving force of food. She acknowledges that food systems are not just a source of nutrition, but are intimately linked with issues of climate change, population growth, urbanization, globalization, civil wars, religion, biodiversity, as well as simply getting along with our neighbors.

As a veterinarian, I am trained to maintain and improve the health of the animals, the safety of the food, and the dynamics of the relationships between animals and people. As an epidemiologist (my future goal), I will be equipped to ask and to answer questions about how that food is produced, what impact it has on the people who produce and consume it, and to have some grasp of the costs and externalities involved. Regardless of the scale, that is exciting.

Adamchick’s evolution to this line of reasoning developed gradually. During the summer after her first year in veterinary college, she worked at a veterinary clinic in central New York that serviced dairy farms ranging from very small (15 cows) to very large (over 1,500). Though she learned a great deal about medicine and animal health, her personal epiphany was realizing how much she truly enjoyed working with dairy farmers.

Cows, yes. Business and management and herd health decisions, yes. But the singular sense of community with the dairymen (and women) built on respect for their work, their values, and the intricacies of the decisions they make daily.

Julie Adamchick, DVM, in Columbia following her second year of veterinary college
Julie Adamchick, DVM, in Columbia following her second year of veterinary college
(Photo provided by Dr. Adamchick, 2014)

The following summer, she received funding through a Cornell program called Expanding Horizons, and lived on several dairy farms in Colombia.5 She again realized how at home she was working within the dairy community regardless of the setting, and even when in another country, speaking another language. She was becoming aware that home to her was not a geographic location, but the dairy community itself, and that there were many opportunities to work within that framework without abandoning her initial goals or idealism.

In her third year of veterinary college, as her experiential and academic perspectives continued to evolve, Dr. Adamchick found herself becoming increasingly committed to preventative medicine and population-level analysis, what she considered staples of production animal medicine. While she certainly enjoyed relationships with individual clients and patients, her work was ultimately most satisfying when it involved uncovering and addressing the root of a problem.

Through exposure to applied research projects, Julie recognized the power of gathering information about a population to enable better decision-making that ultimately impacts the life of the individual. Through distribution (elective) classes and faculty mentoring, she perceived the potential usefulness of epidemiology and got a taste for the power of statistical analysis and study design when applied appropriately. These are skills that she became determined to learn and use in the future.

By the beginning of Julie’s fourth year, she realized that she wanted to work with livestock and the people who work with livestock, but that she did not want to be a dairy practitioner throughout her career. She aspired to begin as a food animal veterinarian, preferably dairy, then in a few years, seek advanced education in either a MPVM program (Master of Preventive Medicine), or a PhD. Ultimately, she thought she would be using her skills in an applied research setting such as a university, private practice, government, or an NGO context.

After looking at opportunities in several private practice jobs from the northeast to Texas, and even New Zealand, and also considering an academic internship, Dr. Adamchick accepted a job in late March as a farm veterinarian for a large dairy operation in Minnesota. Though it means missing out on the relationships and the road time of traditional ambulatory practice, an attractive aspect of working for a single dairy is that she is hired to be the farm’s expert on animal health, and that her suggestions will be taken as serious management recommendations. The focus is on preventative health management, rather than reacting to disease after it has occurred.

She will be working directly under the herd veterinarian and will primarily be responsible for herd checks, sick and fresh cow work, and training Spanish-speaking employees.

The owners are businessmen before dairymen, and this means that they rely on and trust their veterinarians to make the animal health decisions. I have no doubt that I will learn not only clinical skills and veterinary medicine under their head veterinarian, but also insight into the decision-making process that makes these dairies run.

Like all new graduates, Adamchick considers what constitutes the ideal new employee.

We are always told that attitude and work ethic trump entry level clinical skills. I think that a strong background in dairy (comfort around the facilities, the animals, and the people) and the ability to speak Spanish have been attributes in my favor more than my ability or lack thereof to diagnose early pregnancies or perform a caesarian operation right out of college.

There continues to be concern in many quarters about the future of the veterinary workforce in many areas, including the food animal sector. Even so, Dr. Adamchick remains optimistic about what the future holds.

I have no crystal ball and my excitement, frankly, stems from the fact that we don’t know what innovative systems of technology, infrastructure, and ways of thinking are going to be used in animal agriculture three decades from now. But consider that as recently as 30 years ago, hardly anyone owned a PC! Certainly it is possible that veterinary practice as we know it today may be scrambling for relevance if individuals or the industry as a whole does not adapt well. However the industry unfolds, I am confident that veterinarians will be involved somewhere along the way, keeping animals and people healthy. I want to be a part of that, and I think I will find a way to do so!

By Donald F. Smith, based upon written and verbal communication with Dr. Adamchick.
Dr. Smith invites comments at

1 Dr. Adamchick grew up in Montgomery County, New York, about 50 miles northwest of Albany.
2 Dr. Adamchick received her BS in 2009 from Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
3 Adamchick, Julie (DVM, Cornell University 2014), emails to Donald F. Smith (Cornell University), May 14, 2014. The numerous quotes and the story throughout are from this correspondence and subsequent meeting on May 21.
4 Weidmann, Martin, Dr Med Vet, PhD, Professor of Food Sciences, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University.
Expanding Horizons. provides veterinary students at Cornell opportunities to familiarize themselves with issues surrounding veterinary medicine in developing countries.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A Graduation Gift of a Book for your Favorite Veterinary Graduate

Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted May 14, 2014

If you have a family member or friend receiving their Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree this spring, why not include a great read among your considerations for a graduation gift? Here are three of my favorites, including one out-of-print gem.

First is from one of today’s hottest writers, Sheryl Sandberg. Need I say more? I just purchased her second book, shown in the picture below.1 Because of the overlap with her previous book, “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,”2 I’d recommend this later version. HINT: Don’t only get it for women graduates. Men need it just as much, perhaps more. Seriously!

Three Great Reads for Your New DVM Graduate
Three Great Reads for Your New DVM Graduate
(Photo by the Author, 2014)

My second suggestion was written by recently-deceased veterinarian, Dr. Jeanne N. Logue, called “The Wonder of it All.”3 Though it has been out of print for years, I recently purchased three copies on Amazon for gifts, and they are all in wonderful condition (and at a great price).

In preparation for my recent post on this site about Dr. Logue, I re-read her emotionally-charged and exquisitely-penned chronicle of the middle portion of her veterinary career. Once again, I fell in love with her story.4 A 1944 DVM graduate, she writes about what it was like being a veterinarian, mother, and wife in general practice during an era where you could go for months without having a family meal that wasn’t interrupted by a sick dog at your door, or a bovine emergency ten miles away. Admittedly, other veterinarians over the years have chronicled books of this sort and, apart from losing her wedding ring in the womb of a cow while trying to help deliver a calf, their stories are not all that dissimilar.

The Logue difference, however―and this is why I recommend her book to accompany “Lean In”—is that she talks with personal authenticity of the struggles of being a solo-practitioner woman with all the attendant pulls of a busy veterinary practice, while being a mother and wife of a mid-20th century professional man who seems unable to make the requisite accommodations to meet her halfway.

I knew both her and her husband during the twilight years of their lives, and in reading her stories describing her work 30 years earlier, it struck me again how devoted and loving she was to her husband and her children. Her reflection on the pre-dawn morning, while returning home from yet another emergency farm call, when she parked in a familiar field overlooking a lake, and quietly and emotionally made the decision to sell her practice is, by itself, worth the trouble of locating and buying the book.5

[At my special quiet spot overlooking the lake], Orion was reflected in the lake again, and there being something about this particular constellation from which I would gain strength and regain my equanimity, I studied his stars for a while in an effort to center down, query myself and perhaps organize my harassed emotions and troubled thoughts.

As she contemplated what to do as the collisions of her personal and professional lives grated across each other like a steel-bristled broom on concrete, the personal side took precedence.

I turned my mind to the present. I reevaluated all of the complaints Joe had hurled at me at bedtime [the evening before] and I tried very hard, with both love and understanding, to see his point of view. …for the first time in my life, I began to feel a bit uncertain about myself.

Of one thing, however, I was still certain. One thing was firm, it was absolute and it was enduring. It was also very simple: I loved the man with all my being.

“A Way of Life”6 is my third recommendation. It is about William Osler (1849-1919), the best-known and highly-regarded MD of the time, the man who is often considered the father of modern clinical medicine. Osler had a close connection to veterinary medicine. He was even a member of the Faculty of Comparative Medicine at McGill University’s veterinary college (a subject written about previously on this site).7

As a spokesperson for the medical profession, Osler’s words are as fresh today as when he addressed students at Yale in 1913, advising them to stay focused on the present day, and not be overwhelmed by the successes or failures of yesterday, nor the looming concerns of tomorrow.8

In his address to the graduating students at the University of Pennsylvania in 1889, Osler talked about the need for imperturbability and equanimity in all their actions. Imperturbability, referring to physical self-control, is necessary to ensure clear judgment, he argued, emphasizing that it must be based on a wide knowledge of disease and of what needs to be done. Equanimity, he explained, is necessary for physicians to maintain presence of mind by being patient and persistent in working with patients.9

In my teaching on veterinary history, whether to veterinary students or to national audiences, I always pay tribute to Osler. His legacy in animal medicine and his enduring commitment to One Health are as relevant in the present as they were a century ago.

Whether contemporary or legendary, consider a book as a gift. Perhaps purchase two, and treat yourself to a good read.

Dr. Smith invites comments at

1 Sandberg, Sheyl, Lean In for Graduates. (New York. Alfred A. Knopf, 2014)
2 Sandberg, Sheryl, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. (New York. Alfred A. Knopf, 2013)
3 Logue, Jeanne. The Wonder of It All.. (New York, Hagerstown, San Francisco, London, Sydney: Harper & Row, 1979).
4 Smith, Donald F. Jeanne Neubecker Logue: The Veterinarian who Understood the Wonder of it All. Perspectives in Veterinary Medicine. May 13, 2014.
5 Logue, Jeanne. The Wonder of It All. 166
6 Osler, Sir William. A Way of Life and other Addresses, with Commentary and Annotations (Durham and London, Duke University Press 2001)
7 Smith, Donald F. A Dual DVM/PhD Program is Established in Montreal, Canada. Perspectives in Veterinary Medicine. April 4, 2014
8 Osler, Sir William. A Way of Life and other Addresses, with Commentary and Annotations, 3-7.
9 Ibid. 21-29

Jeanne Neubecker Logue, DVM: A Veterinarian Who Understood the Wonder of it All

Donald F. Smith, DVM, Cornell University
May 14, 2014

Dr. Jeanne Neubecker Logue began her veterinary studies during WWII in an accelerated program developed so that the students could complete their studies and contribute to the war effort as soon as possible. The students attended classes continuously without a summer break, completing the equivalent of four years in fewer than three.

Dr. Jeanne Neubecker Logue, 1944, Graduation Photo
Dr. Jeanne Neubecker Logue, 1944, Graduation Photo
(© New York State Veterinary College, Cornell University)

Dr. Logue was one of only three women in the class. “Perhaps they [had more than one of us because they] thought the girls needed moral support,” she said in an interview during her 60th class reunion.2
In retrospect, it was quite amazing that she was accepted in the early 1940s. Not only had she grown up in New York City―there was a strong bias against city applicants at the time―but she had little experience with large animals.3

Most of the faculty tolerated a couple of women in the class, but some were staunchly opposed.

Dr. Fincher, our Ambulatory teacher, was hard-nosed and did not want women to go on farm calls during our fourth year. He claimed that it was hard enough to get the farmers to agree to have students go out anyway, and they didn’t want a bunch of women around.

But when Dr. Logue got out into practice herself, she concluded that, “The lesion was in the professor’s mind more than the farmer’s. If you have a bunch of fellows there and one girl among them, what difference is that going to make? Nothing!” Nor did a gender problem follow her into practice where she did a great deal of large animal work for several years. She had no problem with large animal clients as long as she was able to “cure the cow and deliver the calf.”

Dr. Logue had been determined from a young age to be a veterinarian,

Since I was four-years-old, I had wanted to be an animal doctor (that was the word I used at that state in my life). I’ve never really wavered from that goal. I would even save my allowances—I would get a nickel, or a dime a week. Five cents was given to Sunday school, and the other nickel, I could do with what I wished. I put a little away, but I always wanted to save some of it because I knew even at an early age that going to school was expensive.

Emerging from college and married to Joseph Logue, an engineering graduate from Cornell, she worked at the ASPCA in New York City to accommodate her husband’s work location. A few years later, he took a job about 80 miles north of New York City in the town of Poughkeepsie and that is where she started her own practice.

With no money to build a hospital, she operated a small clinic and referred cases that needed to be hospitalized to other local veterinarians. But as her clientele grew, she was able to take over a mixed animal practice in the nearby town of Kingston when the veterinarian there was called into the service.

So began the most enjoyable veterinary years of Dr. Logue’s life as chronicled elegantly in her book, “The Wonder of It All.”4 She enjoyed the variety of doing both large and small animal work. According to some sages, she was the first woman to practice on large animals, but she never acknowledged that distinction, always citing one or two others whom she felt preceded her.

She was extremely busy during this period of her life as she balanced caring for farm patients in the country, dogs and cats in clinic, along with raising children and being a wife to a busy engineer who expected her to be wife, homemaker and executive’s spouse. The challenges of “doing it all,” were passionately described in her memoirs and are familiar to many women veterinarians today. She maintained this lifestyle for several years, working long and challenging hours, that were so disquieted with incessant emergencies that “it seemed like we had only two or three uninterrupted meals in an equal amount of time.”

One of her most memorable stories working with cattle was losing her wedding ring. She answered an obstetrical call and traveled to the farm only to discover that the high school fellow who had prepared her medical pack had neglected to include the examination sleeve and glove that are the normal requisite to the full-armed vaginal and uterine examination.

So there she was, delivering the calf with no protection on her hands and arms for the ultra-slippery fetal fluids. Everything seemed to go fine at the farm, until she got back to a waiting room full of people and she discovered that her wedding ring was missing from her finger. When her client noticed what was wrong, he announced to all those preparing for their turn in the burgeoning waiting room that, “Doc has lost her wedding ring” and soon they were all looking for it.

Meanwhile, Dr. Logue snuck into the surgery in the back where no one would hear her, and phoned the farmer, asking him to separate that cow from the others and to keep her tethered until the placenta had been completely expelled.5 “Then search through the afterbirth, and I think you’ll find a wedding ring,” she told him. She did retrieve her ring a few days later, but not before her husband and his work colleagues had embarrassingly noticed its absence during a dinner party at their home.

As the practice got so busy that it was disrupting her family life more than she felt tolerable, Dr. Logue decided to make some adjustments in her professional life. Feeling that “maybe I was being too selfish,” she sold the practice and the family moved to Poughkeepsie closer to where her husband worked. She was hired by a small animal practitioner who was also experiencing the challenge of balancing personal and professional life. They each benefited from the partnership though she missed the large animal work very much.

Dr. Logue and her husband raised three children. In addition to the book describing her life as a veterinarian, she also authored a captivating biography of one of the principals who discovered the role of the tick as the intermediary host in the pathogenesis of Texas Fever in cattle (Beyond the Germ Theory: The Story of Dr. Cooper Curtis)6. That book, also beautifully-written, is one of the most carefully-researched of the many books written on this seminal subject in the history of veterinary medicine.

Dr. Logue and her husband maintained close personal friendships with her classmates, meeting for dinner parties or other social events. She had an elegance and grace about her, a truly beautiful person. During my lectures on veterinary history, I always give a tribute to her as one of the special people of the profession.

Until she passed last year, I would often invite students to call or visit her to hear first-hand what it was like being a women veterinarian during a challenging period in our profession’s history. I shall always remember the excitement on one student’s face after her visit, as she told me how grateful she was there had been women blazing the trail for her and her classmates almost 70 years earlier.

Dr. Smith welcomes comments at
This story can also be accessed at Perspectives in Veterinary Medicine.

1 Logue, Jeanne. The Wonder of It All. (New York, Hagerstown, San Francisco, London, Sydney: Harper & Row, 1979).
2 Neubecker Logue, Jeanne (retired veterinarian, Cornell DVM, 1944), interview with Laura Finkel (archivist, Cornell University, Flower-Sprecher Veterinary Library), June 11, 2004, Cornell University. This quotation and all others in the story are from this interview.
3 Smith, Donald F. 150th Anniversary of Veterinary Education and the Veterinary Profession in North American. J Vet Med Educ 37(4), 2010. 320-322
4 Logue, Jeanne. The Wonder of It All.
5 In cattle, this is not immediate like most other species, often taking several hours or even a couple of days. It was important to keep her tethered during this period because cows are notorious for consuming their placentas.
6 Logue, Jeanne N. Beyond the Germ Theory: The Story of Cooper Curtis. (Texas A&M University Press, 1995).

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Critical Role of Mentors for Veterinary Students

Donald F. Smith (Cornell University)
and Julie Kumble (Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts)
May 9, 2014

Mentoring is widely considered to be an essential ingredient in the success and future leadership of students. Nearly all of the women deans of veterinary colleges with whom we’ve spoken point to the absolute influence that mentors had on their trajectories.1 The belief, confidence and support of their mentors fostered for these women a sense of belief and confidence in them.

We took their lessons to heart and asked each of the 35 students in our course, “Women’s Leadership in Veterinary Medicine,”2 to identify a potential mentor and to interview her (or him) as a means to establish a first-time connection, or to further cultivate an already existing relationship.

Nurturing is a close cousin of mentoring, and some of us are fortunate enough to find people in our academic years who offer a good dose of each. New York Times Op Ed columnist, Charles Blow, defines the concept of nurturing as it relates to his professors and how pivotal they were in his college years.3 He also cites a new study that points to the fact that students report feeling like they’ve had mentoring or nurturing far too infrequently.4

While we believe that mentors within veterinary college are important to career development, we also stressed to our students the critical importance of reaching beyond the academy. However, there was a time in veterinary educational circles that mentoring was considered the exclusive provenance of veterinary college faculty. In the early days of the profession, one prominent academic, Dean Leonard Pearson5 who chaired the AVMA’s Committee on Intelligence and Education, insisted that just as “water runs downstream from its source … No profession can rise higher than the schools in which its members are trained, as these are the sources of the special knowledge…” Reporting on behalf of his committee in 1907, Pearson inferred that knowledge emanates from the veterinary colleges and that practitioners in the field would always be less informed than their teachers and only by having well-educated faculty could veterinarians ever be expected to be able to practice effectively.6

By the 1930s (if not before), that concept had been turned on its head and veterinarians outside of the universities were developing some of the major advances in clinical medicine and feeding them back into the universities.7 More recently, and especially since the development of the clinical specialty boards in the last half century, some of the most progressive practitioners and scholars can be found in private practice, research institutes, governmental agencies and nonprofits, as well as in academia.

We instructed the students in our course to reach outside the university to find potential mentors for their class assignment―because they have regular access to faculty here at Cornell, we insisted that they broaden their network. Some took a comfortable, but still valuable, route of interviewing veterinarians who had been instrumental earlier in their career, as they developed their credentials for applying to college. Others were venturesome, contacting people whom they had only heard about, or whom they identified through the AVMA member data base (a marvelous resource, by the way).

Aziza Glass, who is interested in a career in biomedical science, tracked down and interviewed four-time space traveler, Dr. Richard Linnehan, who told her that veterinary schools need to find ways to move beyond their classical mindset to include One Health as a crucial part of veterinary theory, education and practice sets.8

Because of her interview with Dr. Karen Bradley, founder of Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative, Jordan Daniels was energized at the increasingly active role that dynamic and courageous practitioners can play in transforming organized veterinary medicine and making it more responsive in the 21st century. She took that verve and, together with several other students in the course, launched the first student chapter of the Women’s Veterinary Leadership Development Initiative.

Yet another student interviewed Dr. Valerie Ragan, director of the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine. Another interviewed a women who is one of the most creative and skilled deans in the country.

These are not just insightful and helpful interviews, but they represent introductions to some of the truly great leaders of our time with the potential for these people (both women and men) to affect the careers of students in a meaningful and sustaining manner.

We agree with Mr. Blow that mentors are important and they are often available in the students’ college environment. But as educators of future professionals we must insist that more of our educational offerings tie directly to experts and leaders outside the academy. To be competitive in today’s veterinary environment, our students should develop strategic networks and mentoring relationships that include the breadth of the profession.

1 Smith, Donald F and Julie Kumble. Mentoring as a Career Factor: Six US Women Deans Reflect. Perspectives in Veterinary Medicine.Sept 12, 2013.
2 Smith, Donald F and Julie Kumble. Women’s Leadership in Veterinary Medicine: A Course for Veterinary Students. Perspectives in Veterinary Medicine. April 2, 2014.
3 Blow, Charles M. In College, Nurturing Matters. New York Times, May 7, 2014.
4 Ray, Julie and Stephanie Kafka. Life in College Matters for Life After College. Gallup Economy, May 6, 2014.
5 Leonard Pearson VMD was the third dean of veterinary medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (1897-1909).
6 Pearson, Leonard, Report of the Committee on Intelligence and Education. Proceedings of the American Veterinary Medical Association 1907. (Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott Company), 1908.101-102.
7 Smith, Donald F. 150th Anniversary of Veterinary Education and the Veterinary Profession in the United States. J Vet Med Educ 37(4) 2010, 322-323.
8 Glass, Aziza. A Student Interviews a Veterinary Astronaut. Perspectives in Veterinary Medicine. April 28, 2014.

Dr. Smith invites comments at

Without the Ithaca Library, Would there have been a Cornell University?

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
May 9, 2014

As Cornell University prepares to celebrate the sesquicentennial of its founding in 1865, there is a seldom-told story about the inauguration of Ithaca’s public library one year earlier and how that event was integral in bringing together the two principals who founded the university.

Andrew Dickson White, a somewhat arrogant, Yale-educated elitist, took his seat as the youngest New York State senator on January 1, 1864. Fresh from a professorship at the University of Michigan, White had little in common with the tall, spare, reserved and austere farmer named Ezra Cornell, whose chair was nearby.1 As the committees were formally announced―White would be named chairman of the Committee on Education, and Cornell of the Committee on Agriculture―White mused in his autobiography that “our paths seemed separated entirely”.2

Cornell was an older man, having spent a major portion of his lifetime in the arduous work of developing and constructing telegraph poles throughout broad sections of the northeast in an effort to fulfill Samuel Morse’s dream of modern communication. When he retired to farm at his home in Ithaca, New York, his greatest passion became to find ways to use his wealth to bring education to the farming community surrounding him.

Ezra Cornell
Ezra Cornell
(©Cornell University, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library)

His wealth, Mr. Cornell reasoned, had come not simply from hard and incessant work (and a willingness to be separated from his family for vast stretches of time), but also through a fortuitous set of circumstances beyond his control. Biographer Philip Dorn said that Cornell “was beginning to see himself as a trustee for that part of his fortune which he did not need for his own wants,”3 and which he did not feel he should bestow in excess upon his children.

So Ezra Cornell decided to build a library, a public library, in Ithaca.4

The bill to incorporate the library would become the provenance of the Committee on Education and when it arrived on White’s desk in Albany, something stood out. It was not so much the generous offer of $100,000 as it was the organizational strategy that Cornell had developed to manage the library.

To prevent the library from being controlled by people with narrow interests,5

[Cornell] had named the best men of his town―his political opponents as well as his friends; and had added to them the pastors of all the principal churches, Catholic and Protestant. This breadth of mind, even more than his munificence, drew me to him. We met several times, discussed his bill, and finally I reported substantially as introduced, and supported it until it became a law.

Cornell Public Library
Cornell Public Library
(Photo provided by Tompkins County Public Library)

When the New York State Legislature recognized the Cornell Public Library Association in April 1864, it was only the sixth public library chartered in the state, and the first in a village. At its opening, Cornell donated 3,000 volumes himself and pledged an additional 1,000 per year for the next 12 years.

On other matters, there had been little to hold White and Cornell together, and some of their meetings were not very pleasant. In the Senate they squabbled over the designation of the land grant―the Morrill Land Grant Act had been passed in 1862 and Cornell was a trustee of a nearby state agricultural college. After interminable delays, many perpetuated by White’s resistance to splitting the land grant between Mr. Cornell’s preferred college in Schuyler County and another already-established institution, the two men finally settled on an agreement to keep the grant whole. That opened the door to the final agreement between them to establish a new university in Ithaca.

The designation of the land grant to the nascent university to which Ezra Cornell would designate the major portion of his money served as the catalyst for the chartering of the eponymous institution in April 1865. Adhering to the same inclusiveness as the Ithaca library―the model actually dates back to Union College’s charter of 1795―the “Board of Trustees was to be constituted so that at no time shall a majority thereof be of any one religious sect, or of no religious sect.”6

Was the goodwill engendered by their first successful collaboration over the chartering of a public library what kept these two men coming back to each other, so that their eventual founding of Cornell University would be possible?

Perhaps that is too esoteric a question to ever answer definitively, but I suspect it was at the least a major contributing factor. The lesson of this story, as we see over and over again in history, is that decisions have consequences, and sometimes those consequences have a significant impact that could never have been anticipated.

1 White, Andrew Dickson. Autobiography of Andrew D. White. Volume 1. (New York: The Century Co., 1905), 294.
2 Ibid.
3 Dorf, Philip. The Builder. A Biographer of Ezra Cornell. (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1952), 255.
4 The library is now called the Tompkins County Public Library.
5 White, Autobiography of Andrew D. White. Volume 1, 294-295.
6 Bishop, Morris. A History of Cornell. (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1962), 65.

Dr. Smith invites comments at
An updated version of this story can be found at Perspectives in Veterinary Medicine.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Preparing a Letter of Reference

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University
Posted May 5, 2014.

This blog addresses specific issues pertaining to recommendation letters for students preparing their applications for veterinary college, and for current veterinary students applying for jobs and internships.

Selecting the right people to write your reference letters is the most important decision. The people you ask to write letters should:
  • Know you and your work. Avoid having a well-known person (eg. legislator, dean) write your letter unless they know you and your accomplishments well.
  • Be well-known in the professional community. A good rule of thumb is to ask the most prominent and respected people who also know you well.
  • Not be too familiar personally. You should usually avoid letters from family members, neighbors and clergy unless specifically requested.
  • Be responsive, reliable, and prompt in writing the reference letter.
  • Provide an articulate and concisely-written reference, avoiding hyperbole or exaggeration.
  • Make your letter unique to you, your circumstances, and the college or position for which you are applying. I acknowledge that the electronic veterinary college application service (VMCAS) makes it difficult to specify individual colleges.

The reference letter should contain at least five parts, usually in the following order:
  1. Description of how long the reviewer has known you, and under what circumstances.
  2. If a working situation, the letter should describe your employment responsibilities, and how the work has progressed as you have gained experience and competence.
  3. Description of your attributes, including both technical and personal qualities in specific terms to your situation. Letters with platitudes and non-specific descriptions are unhelpful in distinguishing you from other candidates.
  4. Narrative of your technical competence, personal and professional qualities, creativity, intellectual stimulation, and progress in your work or studies.
  5. Comparison of your suitability for the position with other candidates previously evaluated.

You should determine ahead of time if your evaluator has concerns about recommending you. At an early stage in the process, meet with your prospective evaluator, describing the reason you are requesting a reference, and asking them if they feel comfortable providing a highly supportive letter. Because some reviewers may have a hard time acknowledging their concerns to you directly, you should frame your question in a manner that allows them to express lack of enthusiasm or other possible clues to their lack of full support.

After you decide to request a letter, provide him/her with your resume and a series of bullet points outlining those experiences and attributes that you feel might be helpful for your application. Remember that most reviewers will be writing letters for several applicants and any help you provide will likely be appreciated.

Except in the most unusual circumstances, waive your right to see the letter. Failure to waive your right of confidentiality may mean that the letter will not be taken seriously. It may not even be read!

Consider it your responsibility to ensure that the letter is actually written and gets to the evaluator on schedule.

If you are disappointed that you do not get the position you seek, feel free to follow up with both your evaluator and the institution/employer. To inquire specifically about the contents of a letter is unprofessional and may even imply a breach of ethical judgment. You can, however, ask both parties if there is anything you could do regarding your evaluations to improve your chances in a subsequent year.

Dr. Smith invites comments at