Archived News

From the Ranch to Homeland Security

February 22, 2016

Dr. Roxann Brooks Motroni couldn’t have imagined that her childhood dream of becoming a veterinarian would lead her to a fellowship within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. But thinking outside-the-box about her career choices and pursuing research opportunities led Motroni to the Veterinary Scientist Training Program at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine where she completed a Ph.D. in Comparative Pathology (2012) and a DVM (2013).

The Veterinary Scientist Training Program (VSTP) offers dual DVM-Ph.D. degrees to the next generation of veterinary scientists as they pursue careers in academic veterinary medicine, biomedical research and government service. UC Davis combines a rich pre-clinical and clinical training with a strong commitment to basic and translational research.

With a passion for both wildlife and infectious disease studies, Motroni joined Dr. Jeff Stott’s lab. Stott had been working for decades on developing a vaccine to prevent foothill abortion (FA) in cattle. He told Motroni, “This is your Ph.D. – you have free rein to try what you think will work.”

Motroni took that advice and helped find genes for a recombinant vaccine and developed a mouse model so they could screen vaccine candidates faster. She also helped design and participate in the first live cow field studies that proved the efficacy of the vaccine before the USDA field trials were initiated.

Motroni now serves as AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Agriculture Defense Branch. They fund research and development of vaccines, diagnostics and other countermeasures to help protect from high-consequence animal diseases that are foreign to the U.S. and could cause economic devastation.  Currently, her main project is working on an international field trial to test a novel foot-and-mouth disease vaccine. 

“My boots-on-the-ground experience in developing vaccines, diagnostics and field trials through the school, and my industry knowledge gained through working on the FA vaccine and my clinical experience working with producers made me an attractive candidate,” Motroni said.

Since 1999, 24 graduates have completed the VSTP and gone on to leadership careers in academia, government, and industry. The training opportunities at UC Davis offer an unprecedented environment of a major research university with tremendous resources that include transdisciplinary programs in biomedical, engineering, agricultural and environmental sciences. The program hosts a number of student-centered activities jointly with the UC Davis medical school’s Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) to create a unique learning experience in comparative medicine and one health. 

“Our goal is to provide these high-achieving students with the financial support to pursue this level of advanced training to become compassionate and exceptionally trained veterinarian-investigators engaged in basic and translational research to advance the health of animals, people and environment,” said VSTP Director Dr. XinBin Chen.