Archived News

Recognizing Contributions to Veterinary Medicine and Education

June 12, 2009

During commencement, School of Veterinary Medicine faculty members recognize the outstanding teaching and research contributions of their peers by conferring several teaching and research awards. This year, the Distinguished Service Award also recognized stellar efforts of two members of the School of Veterinary Medicine community.

Distinguished Service Award

The Distinguished Service Award honors an individual or an organization whose exemplary service as volunteers, professionals, or advocates has enriched the school’s programs and enhanced its teaching, research, and/or service missions.Two members of the school have been selected this year, a laboratory animal veterinarian and an assistant dean. 

Kelly Nimtz, assistant dean for advancement has been recognized for his outstanding vision and service in developing a solid base of philanthropic support for the school. Nimtz joined the School of Veterinary Medicine in 1986 as its first development officer charged with creating a fundraising unit for the school. His initial focus was split between the Center for Equine Health and schoolwide initiatives. Since that time he has grown the donor base and overseen countless campaigns including the 50th Anniversary Campaign, which raised $85 million, far exceeding its $50 million goal. Nimtz has hired extraordinary fundraisers and staff to support development efforts. He has spent hours and hours teaching the veterinary school community that “vision sells, not need” and coaching its members in how to develop and share the school's vision of excellence with donors and friends. He has based his approach on the notion that development is based on relationships. He actively engages with hundreds of donors personally to cultivate and maintain their ongoing interest in the school. Since 1986, through Nimtz’s hard work and leadership, he and his team have raised more than $220 million for the school’s teaching, research, service and scholarship programs.

Stephen M. Griffey, DVM, PhD,has received the Distinguished Service Award for his leadership in laboratory animal pathology and medicine. His colleagues describe him as a tremendous asset to the university and an able ambassador within the broader biomedical research community. Dr. Griffey has developed the Center for Laboratory Animal Sciences in an entrepreneurial way that not only supports the mission of animal-based research but also advances education in laboratory animal disease. He shares his considerable experience as an experimental pathologist with all the school's trainees and residents in pathology and laboratory animal medicine. School of Veterinary Medicine and School of Medicine faculty and residents participate in Dr. Griffey's rounds and benefit from the resources he shares through the Comparative Pathology Laboratory. He is a valued mentor of veterinary residents for clinical projects. Finally, Dr. Griffey has expanded the pathology residency program by initiating a third year year of training that helps residents become highly marketable in biomedical research institutions. Dr. Griffey's amazing contributions as a collaborator in biomedical research is evidenced by more than 120 publications, and his expert advice regarding animal models has influenced many successful investigations.

Pfizer Animal Health Distinguished Teaching Award

Birgit Puschner, DVM, PhD, has received the 2009 Pfizer Animal Health Distinguished Teaching Award in appreciation of ongoing, distinguished teaching performance at the School of Veterinary Medicine.

Puschner, an associate professor in the Department of Molecular Biosciences, emphasizes team-based learning, creativity, mentorship, clear objectives and the ability to apply material to a variety of situations. Puschner also seeks out new teaching methods: in 2005, she was one of the first faculty members to test a new course management tool, helping the school and campus develop a better system of communication and online course material for faculty and students. Based at the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System in the toxicology laboratory, she teaches about the poisonous properties of animal toxins, chemicals, toxic plants and more. Her teaching incorporates clinical rotations, seminars, residency training, and continuing education for veterinarians and livestock producers. She also developed a new veterinary toxicology program that combines residency training and a PhD degree. Student evaluations describe Puschner as dynamic, approachable, interactive and dedicated, with an excellent understanding of learning styles. Students also value her in-depth assignments that help them learn independently while retaining important concepts.

In the laboratory, Puschner emphasizes the recognition and diagnosis of plant and other natural toxicoses in California livestock, particularly as they relate to food safety concerns. One of her most recent articles, "Assessment of melamine and cyanuric acid toxicity in cats," described how the two ingredients in combination can be lethal for cats.

Pfizer Award for Research Excellence

The faculty have presented the Pfizer Award for Research Excellence to Gino Cortopassi, PhD, a professor in the Department of Molecular Biosciences. This award recognizes exceptional effort and productivity in recent research that has attained or is likely to attain national recognition. Over the last three years, Cortopassi's work has significantly advanced the understanding of mitochondrial genetic disorders and their impact on aging and neuro-degeneration in humans and animals.

Cortopassi has investigated Friedreich's ataxia, a neuromuscular disorder, and Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy, an inherited condition that leads to a loss of central vision. Identifying common mechanisms of mitochondrial disease is likely to identify new therapeutic approaches for animals and humans. Cortopassi is described as "extremely productive," having produced 11 scientific papers in the past three years in such prestigious journals as Aging Cell and Human Molecular Genetics. His innovative ideas have garnered significant support from private foundations and the National Institutes of Health; he is the principal investigator on three NIH grants totaling $10 million.

When not at his lab or teaching veterinary students in the classroom, Cortopassi also participates in service as a member of NIH study sections and reviewer for Science, Nature and other publications.

Contact: Lynn Narlesky, Communications, (530) 752-5257,