Introduction by Keith Owens
Interview by Avery Thrasher
Dr. Ruby Perry, recently named the Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at Tuskegee University, one of the nation’s most prestigious institutions, originally had her sights set on becoming a mathematician. Judging by the breadth of her accomplishments over the years, it seems certain Dr. Perry would have excelled equally well in that endeavor had she wound up pursuing that path of study. But thanks to the mentorship – and intervention - of Dr. Roland Powell, a veterinarian whom she met and worked for as a student while attending Jackson State University, she changed her mind and pursued veterinary medicine instead.
No doubt there are thousands of happy dogs and cats from coast to coast who remain thankful for that twist of fate.
After serving as Tuskegee’s interim dean for the Tuskegee University College of Veterinary Medicine, Nursing and Allied Health since June of 2014, Dr. Perry, a graduate of the Tuskegee Class of 1977 from the School of Veterinary Medicine, is now distinguished as the first Tuskegee alumna to be named both interim dean and dean of a U.S. veterinary school. Prior to being named interim dean, Perry served as interim chief of staff, associate dean for academic affairs, assistant veterinary radiology professor, and acting chair of the Department of Small Animal Medicine, Surgery and Radiology.
Perry was a two-term president of the Tuskegee Veterinary Medical Alumni Association as well as program coordinator for the American College of Veterinary Radiology, and she remains actively engaged in community service focused on increasing awareness of the veterinary profession. She was the first African American female board-certified veterinary radiologist and is a member of the American College of Veterinary Radiology.
Dean Perry sat down recently with Unleash Magazine Publisher Avery Thrasher for an enlightening one-on-one conversation about her commitment to and history with the veterinary profession, encouraging more young people to consider veterinary science, and her perspectives on the unique relationship between pets and their ‘parents’.
1. When did you become interested in working with animals? Was there a specific person or event?
I became interested in animals when I worked for a veterinarian during my college years at Jackson State University. I worked for Dr. Roland Powell who also graduated from Tuskegee University and was the only African American veterinarian in Jackson, Mississippi. Dr. Powell became a mentor and I was introduced to the fascinating world of veterinary medicine. Although I had pets growing up, my desire was to become a mathematician. Finding a job with Dr. Powell to work my way through college was an eye-opening experience to follow a different passion and journey into the lives of animals as pets and their contributions to public health.
2. What brought you to Tuskegee University?
My journey to Tuskegee University began when I was an undergraduate student and I worked for a veterinarian, Dr. Roland Powell. Dr. Powell inspired me with his knowledge about animal welfare and his compassion for veterinary medicine. He was a graduate from Tuskegee University and encouraged me to attend his alma mater. He talked often about his memorable years in the veterinary school, his classmates, his instructors and the Tuskegee family. I wanted to be a part of such a rich history and started planning for a journey toward a fascinating career.
3. Why would an aspiring student be interested in attending the TU School of Veterinary Medicine?
Not only would the student be prepared as a career-ready veterinary medical graduate, but would also have an enriching experience as part of the Tuskegee family, its diversity and the historical legacy of Tuskegee University. Veterinary graduates from Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine (School) have a special bond with each other as alumni and share the Tuskegee experience through long-lasting friendships that evolved from small class-sizes that fostered cultural interactions. Being a part of small classes of diverse backgrounds contributed to the warm and loving environment of sharing various experiences in life and the development of life-long friendships that continue after graduation.
As educators, our responsibility is to educate students as competent veterinary medical graduates and as leaders to be actively engaged in advancing all aspects of the veterinary profession. As a student-centered administration, we also focus on a holistic approach/philosophy of providing the kind of support for wellness in mind, body and spirit to achieve a balance in the life of the student that enables them to thrive academically and personally throughout the veterinary medical program. In addition, the success stories among our alumni and the multidisciplinary faculty outcomes in translational research enable us to attract the best students to our professional program.
4. What is the ratio of students who graduate from the veterinary school?
Over the past five years, our graduation rate is 95%.
5. How has the vet school impacted the animal care industry in regards to advancement and diversity?
Animals and pets play a significant role in the holistic health and wellness of people. Human health (including mental health via the human-animal bond relationship), animal health, and environmental health are inextricably linked through the One Health concept. The One Health concept promotes, improves, and defends the health and well-being of all species through the collaboration among physicians, veterinarians, healthcare and environmental professionals, and biomedical/translational researchers.
Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine is proud of our graduates, who are engaged as leaders in various aspects of the veterinary profession, such as president and a vice-president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA); leadership roles in state veterinary medical associations; deans of veterinary schools; leadership roles in the government such as the United States Department of Agriculture (APHIS and FSIS), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), agencies that promote funding for health and biomedical research, other public health agencies, and the military services; key positions in organizations that promotes veterinary medical education, and experts in biomedical research and leaders in the pharmaceutical industry. Our veterinary medical graduates continue to make contributions to promoting animal welfare; advance the veterinary profession through education and research; and provide an avenue for the new veterinary professionals to continue the Tuskegee legacy.
Tuskegee University veterinary graduates are prepared to deliver veterinary services to populations in diverse communities and in various areas of the veterinary profession such as primary care veterinarians, specialty practice veterinarians, animal health, public health, food safety, education, research, pharmaceutical industry, military service, and public policy. Since the inception of the veterinary school in 1945, we have graduated 2,543 veterinarians and they have served or are currently serving in major aspects of the veterinary profession. They are positioned to make a significant impact on advancing the veterinary profession, but also uphold the legacy and the mission of the School.
We are proud to be the most diverse among the 30 veterinary schools in the United States. Although the Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine was actually commissioned with the first veterinary class in 1945 that contained students that were exclusively African Americans, we have made significant strides to become the most diverse and inclusive veterinary school. We are also the only veterinary school located at an HBCU (Historically Black College or University) that has educated about 70% of the Nation’s African American veterinarians, and about 10% of Hispanic veterinarians. Our focus is to be inclusive and play a significant role in educating underrepresented groups needed to address the growing veterinary needs in a diverse national and global population.
The Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine has a diverse student population of 275 in the veterinary professional program. As with the students, the faculty of educators and researchers are also diverse with national and international expertise. In the basic sciences component of the program, 75% of the faculty members hold both the DVM and PhD degrees and the clinical faculty include educators trained in various specialty disciplines and with board certifications.
6. What do you see in the future for the veterinary school at Tuskegee University?
The future of the Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine is bright and promising as an institution that continues to prepare a diverse group of veterinary medical graduates to be career-ready veterinarians and become leaders in the veterinary profession. Under the progressive leadership of our newly appointed President, Dr. Brian Johnson, the future of the University and the School of Veterinary Medicine are on an upward trajectory. We realize the challenges of a stagnant economy that impact the delivery of a quality education to our students and their financial indebtedness to achieve that education. Therefore, innovations involving collaborative partnerships are critical components of engagement in order to establish fiscal stability for the School. There are great expectations for the future of the School of Veterinary Medicine to meet the needs of our students with enhanced networking and technological advancements to deliver a quality education and address the trends impacting the veterinary profession.
The Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine will continue to remain vibrant and engaged as one of the 30 U.S. veterinary school in the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) that “provides leadership for and promotes excellence in academic veterinary medicine to meet society’s changing needs for veterinary expertise” and continue to carry the banner of the organization that represents our profession, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) to protect, promote, and advance a strong and unified veterinary profession that meets the needs of society; and advance the science and practice of veterinary medicine to improve animal and human health.”
7. What are your most proud moments at Tuskegee?
I have several proud moments; however, the day that I received my doctor of veterinary medicine degree (DVM) was one of my most joyful memories. Another proud moment is the reflection on how Tuskegee University prepared me for my post-graduate education in completing a veterinary radiology residency at Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine, and when I became the first African American female to receive board certification in Veterinary Radiology. I also have the proud and rewarding moments of returning to Tuskegee University as a diagnostic radiologist, as associate dean and now as the dean to continue the proud legacy of leadership for the School, and to teach and mentor students to pursue their career goal as veterinarians. I also have proud moments of serving as a past president of the Tuskegee Veterinary Medical Alumni Association (TVMAA) and being a part of an active alumni group that is supportive of the veterinary school and contribute financially and in service.