Sharing the wealth

Professor emeritus continues serving the community and the profession

If Noah’s ark sails again it could make a fruitful boarding stop in the office of Howard Evans, BS ’44, PhD ’50. A microcosm of biodiversity, this miniature museum is decked floor to ceiling with animal specimens from across the globe. Yet it models only a brief sample of the expansive zoological knowledge Evans holds. This professor emeritus is a proficient anatomist whose life is rich with stories of worldwide adventures, a tireless fascination for how life is built across kingdoms, and an equal delight in sharing this beauty with others.

“Everyone should know some anatomy because it’s the basis of how animals act and what they do,” said Evans. Since joining the Veterinary College’s Department of Anatomy in 1950, he has taught thousands of veterinarians the inside story of how animals work, with courses spanning species from farm to domestic to exotic.

With a joy in teaching as indiscriminate as his joy in nature, he advised Cornell’s undergraduate zoology club, served on 37 graduate committees, and spent 20 summers teaching the AQUAVET program for aspiring aquatic specialists. This generous collaborative spirit extended to his colleagues at the College, where he served as Secretary of the Faculty for twelve years and chaired the department of Anatomy for ten.

He has served the profession’s future through over 160 publications, including his seminal text, Miller’s Anatomy of the Dog, which he and Sandy deLahunta are currently updating to a new full-color edition. He has edited several anatomy journals, and served as consultant for anatomy programs in universities including Tufts, University of Georgia, UC Davis, and international universities in Grenada, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Taiwan, and Japan.

For Evans, retirement means more time for teaching. “Leading trips for Cornell Adult University (CAU) has been good fun, and gave me the chance to collect more specimens for Cornell’s Museum of Vertebrates,” said Evans. Since retiring in 1986 Evans has led scores of Cornell alumni across the world in over a dozen educational expeditions through CAU. Traveling to New Guinea, Australia, Tanzania, Kenya, and more, his recent Antarctic expedition introduced him to the Gentoo penguin skeleton now adorning his desk.

With bins brimming full of tangible treasures including stuffed animals, bones, fossils, and more, Evans now takes his show on tour. The energetic 88-year-old regularly presents on natural history topics across Cornell, including at Alice Cook House, where he is a Faculty Fellow and frequently dines with undergraduate residents. He and his wife, Erica, continue yearly pilgrimages to teach fish structure at Cornell’s Shoals Marine Lab, and he still gives anatomy lectures at the College.

His natural treasures and world of experience fascinate children at local elementary schools, where his visits are in high demand. Twice a week in the fall he gives classrooms a taste of nature’s spectacular show and tell.

“Teachers try to encourage kids to ask questions. But when they get excited about nature they just love to tell stories,” Evans laughed. As a storytelling scientist gifted at both these arts, Evans can relate.

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‘Scopes Magazine
July 2011

Cornell receives $500,000 to tackle salmonella in tomatoes

tomatoTwo experts from Cornell are teaming up to tackle salmonella contamination in produce, thanks to a $500,000 grant from the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Cornell was one of 24 institutions to receive such grants to reduce food-borne illnesses and deaths from microbial contamination. Craig Altier, a salmonella specialist at the Animal Health Diagnostic Center at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, will work with Greg Martin, Cornell professor of plant pathology and plant-microbe biology and an expert on tomato disease resistance at the Cornell-affiliated Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, to investigate how salmonella interacts with tomatoes with the hope of finding ways to stop its spread.

“My lab explores how salmonella interacts with animal intestinal tracts,” said Altier, associate professor of population medicine and diagnostic science. “Bacteria are very frugal creatures; they turn genes on and off only when they need to. They only turn on the genes that make animals sick when they know they’re in an animal, and we want to know how this process works in plants. We will look at which bacterial genes turn on when salmonella enters a tomato and try to figure out how to intervene.”

salmonellaUnwittingly sharing our food with unseen organisms sends thousands to the hospital each year. Some 50 million Americans get sick every year after consuming food-poisoning pathogens, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and 3,000 of those cases are fatal. Salmonella bacteria pose the biggest food-borne health threat in the United States. While the quest for cleaner food reduced cases of many food-borne pathogens during the past 15 years, salmonella infections continue to rise.

Altier will grow mutant strains of salmonella in his lab to study how the bacteria affect tomatoes when they lack certain genes. He will take strains to Martin’s lab to test them on tomato plants while Martin studies the plants’ immune responses. After running them through the course of infection, Altier will remove the salmonella from the plants to analyze in his lab.

“A number of recent salmonella outbreaks started with contaminated produce,” said Martin. “My lab studies how the tomato immune system acts against certain bacterial pathogens, and this new project will test whether the plant immune system interferes with salmonella’s ability to survive on leaves and fruits. If it does, we may be able to breed new varieties that suppress salmonella growth, which could have implications for lessening salmonella contamination in many different crop plants.”

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Original Press Release:

College of Veterinary Medicine news

http://www.vet.cornell.edu/news/tomatoes.cfm

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Cornell Chronicle

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Molecular messenging

From molecular blueprints to bacterial cities, Holger Sondermann explores biological architecture

What do sink scum, dental plaque, and streambed slime have in common? They are all biofilms, billions of bacteria banded together into a resilient community. Beyond clogging your drain, these colonies can turn equipment such as catheters, implants, and heart valves into biomedical hazards. When growing inside the body, biofilms can cause infectious diseases affecting urinary tracts infections, gingivitis, listeriosis in dairy cattle, and the infections associated with the deadly incurable lung disease cystic fibrosis.

But moving from solo life to social life requires communication. Holger Sondermann, structural biologist and student of cellular communication pathways, was determined to find out how Bacteria organize.

“Biofilms cause the majority of all chronic infectious diseases,” said Sondermann. “Once formed, they are extremely difficult to disperse. Knowing how these bacteria aggregate will help us find ways to stop them, but there was a void of information with regard to their signaling mechanisms.”

What happens when a lone bacterium decides it’s had enough of the single’s scene? Like any good Facebook user, it sends out friend requests. Discovering a social networking tool much like those we use online, Sondermann found how bacteria form biofilms by sending invitations to their neighbors. A receptor protein called VpsT accepts the request, and prepares the individual for community life.

“The next step is learning to modulate this pathway,” said Sondermann. “This could inform hospital instrument design, guiding the creation of materials that repel biofilm formation. Understanding how they grow will be crucial in developing future therapies to disperse biofilms and treat chronic infectious diseases. In the case of bovine Listeria infections, understanding these mechanisms could help improve food safety.”

Unveiling such molecular machinery requires probing proteins at the most basic level to uncover their structure. In his second line of research, Sondermann seeks the biophysical blueprints of cell signaling proteins in the brain.

“When they work right, these proteins help telling nerves what to do. When they don’t, they are associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as paraplegias, neuropathies, schizophrenia, and Huntingtons,” said Sondermann. “Our goal is to find how they are normally built in order to see what physically changes when their mutations lead to neurological diseases. Seeing these differences shows us what is physically going wrong, and may lead to better diagnostic tools for neurological disorders.”

A 2008 Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences and Robert N. Noyes Assistant Professor in Life Science and Technology, Sondermann received tenure in November 2010.

“I hope to continue our lab’s work while expanding our collaborations,” said Sondermann. “We have partnered with faculty at the Dartmouth Medical School and University of California, Santa Cruz on the biofilm project, using complementary approaches and exchanging new knowledge.  I also hope to intensify my interactions with colleagues in the College of Veterinary Medicine who are interested in infectious diseases, to explore how our research program can fit into the broader mission of the college to improve health across species.”

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‘Scopes Magazine, Summer 2011

http://www.vet.cornell.edu/news/documents/scopessummer11_web.pdf

New Lyme disease test for horses and dogs will help improve treatment

Bettina WagnerRomping through summer fields seems like a harmless pleasure for dogs, horses and humans alike. But just one bite from the wrong tick can rob an animal of that pastime. The bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi catch rides with certain species of ticks and can cause Lyme disease in animals the ticks bite. Catching the disease early is paramount because it becomes progressively harder to fight as the bacteria conduct guerilla warfare from hiding places in the joints, nervous tissues and organs of their hosts.

A new test for Lyme disease in horses and dogs, developed by researchers at the Animal Health Diagnostic Center (AHDC) at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell, will improve our understanding of the disease and pinpoint time of infection, opening possibilities for earlier intervention and more effective treatment plans.

“We’ve offered Lyme disease testing for years,” said Bettina Wagner, the Harry M. Zweig Associate Professor in Equine Health and lead developer of the test, “but we have recently been able to improve our techniques with the multiplex testing procedure. The new test exceeds its predecessors in accuracy, specificity and analytical sensitivity.”

The multiplex procedure, which can detect three different antibodies produced in response to the bacteria associated with Lyme disease using a single test on the sample, eliminates the need for separate tests. In addition, it requires smaller samples and answers more questions about the disease. Multiplex technology has been used for the last decade, but the AHDC is the first veterinary diagnostic laboratory to use it to test for Lyme disease.

Different kinds of antibodies can be found in the body at different stages of infection. The new test can distinguish and measure these differences, giving more information about the timing of the disease.

The bacteria that cause Lyme disease are particularly difficult to detect, according to Wagner, because after infection they tend to hide where they can’t be found. They bury in the joints of dogs, causing arthritis or lameness. Serious kidney disease has also been associated with Lyme infections in dogs. In humans and horses, they also burrow into the nervous system, in the spine or the brain, causing pain, paralysis or behavioral changes. By the time such clinical signs appear, the bacteria are usually not in circulation anymore.

Horse“Now we can distinguish between infection and vaccination and also between early and chronic infection stages,” Wagner said. “That was not possible before. You were able to say whether an animal was infected, but not when it was infected, or how far the infection had developed.”

The test and information the test provides can help veterinarians make advanced decisions about treatment. After the long treatment period ends, veterinarians usually conduct follow-up testing to see if it was successful.

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Cornell Chronicle: June 16, 2011
http://www.vet.cornell.edu/news/lymeassay.cfm

Grayson Storm Cat Award to study stem cell therapy

Catherine Hackett, DVM, Ph.D., has been selected as the winner of the 2010 Storm Cat Career Development Award. The $15,000 award is presented to an early-stage scientist with an interest in a career in equine research.

Selected from numerous competitors, Hackett’s research will focus on equine stem cells in a project entitled “Temporal Analysis of Mesechymal Progenator Cells.” The research will be overseen by Dr. Lisa Fortier, a distinguished researcher, recipient of multiple Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation grants, and frequent recipient of Zweig funding.

“My project investigates characteristic cell surface traits of cell populations in bone marrow, particularly the cells that can form tissues such as cartilage, bone, and muscle,” said Hackett. “I look at the surface of different cell types to determine what type of mature cells they will become, such as blood or bone cells. I also study how these surface properties change over time in culture as the cells grow and respond to culture conditions.”

For patients waiting for stem cell therapy, it can take time (e.g. four to eight weeks) for cultured stem cells to divide enough times to reach clinically useful numbers. Hackett hopes to find ways to both decrease the time needed in culture before cells are ready to be implanted and to improve the ability of cells to form the correct tissue

“Stem cells from bone marrow have been used in horses to help heal injuries to tendons, cartilage, and joints, improving repair and changing the patient’s immune response to transplantation of cells or tissues from a different donor,” said Hackett. “The same applications are being investigated in humans to treat similar types of injuries as those seen in the horse. The properties of mesenchymal stem cells are still poorly understood, and we hope our research into their characteristics and behavior can help find ways to improve their clinical utility and function.”

The award is named for the Thoroughbred stallion Storm Cat, which stood at Overbrook Farm in Kentucky. Overbrook is owned by the family of Lucy Young Hamilton, a Foundation board of directors member who personally underwrites the Career Development Award.

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Zweig News Capsule
No. 51, June 2011

Pregnancy paper picked by bio elite

A paper on pregnancy immunology from the lab of Dr. Doug Antczak has been selected by the Faculty of 1000, placing his work in a library of the top two percent of published articles in biology and medicine.

According to its website, the Faculty of 1000 (F1000) identifies and evaluates the most important articles in biology and medical research publications. Articles are selected by a peer-nominated global faculty composed of the world’s leading scientists and clinicians who rate chosen articles and explain their importance.

Antczak’s paper, “Functions of ectopically transplanted invasive horse trophoblast,” (Reproduction 2011 Mar. 9), was selected and evaluated by F1000 member Anthony Michael Carter.

“This paper advances understanding of how invasive trophoblast cells are able to establish endometrial cups in the mare,” wrote Carter in an evaluation describing Antczak’s discovery. Trophoblast cells, which form around embryos, can migrate to the uterus. In pregnant mares, these invading cells form ulcer-like structures in the uterus that produce equine gonadotropin. This hormone serves several functions in pregnancy including protecting the embryo from the mother’s immune system.
“Our work may have practical application in equine practice, for example in the development of new methods to prevent unwanted estrus in competition mares,” said Antczak. “It also has implications for biomedical use in the future, as a way to provide sustained delivery of biologically active molecules or drugs.”

The project’s lead scientist, Dr. Amanda de Mestre, was formerly a post-doctoral fellow in the Antczak lab, and is now a faculty member at the Royal Veterinary College in London. De Mestre’s training included two distinct experiences at Cornell. While still a veterinary student in her native Australia, she spent a summer conducting research in the Antczak lab as a participant in Cornell’s Leadership Program.

F1000’s database provides both a repository for peer-rated high-impact biology articles and a social media forum for serious science. Its community features enable discussions to be built around the selected publications. Additional faculty members may evaluate and rate the article, and subscribers can post comments. Antczak will be able to join the conversation, providing follow-up notes concerning his article and responding to ideas put forth by commenters and evaluators.
“As a post-publication peer review service, we embrace the idea that the impact of your article can deepen and spread in unforeseen ways with community interaction,” wrote Sarah Greene, Editor in Chief of the F1000, in a letter to Antczak announcing his inclusion. “Even your own reckoning of the article may advance toward further conclusions and result in new strategies and collaborations.”

This research is part of a continuing program in equine pregnancy immunology at the Baker Institute for Animal Health that has been supported for many years by the Zweig Memorial Fund, the Dorothy Russell Havemeyer Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health.

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Zweig News Capsule
No. 51, June 2011

Bloodstream battles

When bacteria bloom in the blood the ensuing battle can wreak havoc on the body. Endotoxemia, bacterial blood poisoning, ignites a rising tide of immune cells and blood platelets that help fight infection but can also cause tissue damage. In horses, endotoxemia and subsequent inflammation can cause severe complications following abdominal surgeries, in common equine disorders including colic and retained placenta, and in weak foals that fail to nurse properly.

Dr. Thomas Divers is leading a team of Cornell veterinarians investigating a new approach to treating the effects of endotoxemia by quelling the rampaging immune response. Collaborators Drs. Marjory Brooks, Susan Fubini, Ashlee Watts, Tracy Stokol, and Sally Ness aid in the investigation.

“Veterinary clinicians currently use a ‘best guess’ approach to managing horses with endotoxemia,” said Divers. “They typically administer a broad spectrum of treatments to clear bacteria and support cell repair, but specific attempts to block the inflammatory response have mostly failed.  We have developed a new strategy for treating endotoxin that targets blood platelets as a key control point.”

If successful, this novel approach will change the best-guess strategy into an evidence-based solution to suffering by using the anti-platelet drug clopidogrel (Plavix®), one of the most commonly used drugs in human medicine. The project will provide insights into the pathophysiology of endotoxemia and the ability of Plavix® to down-regulate platelet reactivity in endotoxic horses.
“Plavix® is a highly effective oral anti-platelet agent, and holds promise for helping treat inflamed horses,” said Divers. “We have optimized techniques to evaluate equine platelet reactivity, forming a testing panel broadly applicable for investigating thrombosis in horses, particularly in studying laminitis. We are now performing anti-platelet drug treatment trials for horses with endotoxemia. The trials are going well, and we are looking forward to publishing by the end of the year. When the patent on Plavix® expires in 2012, generic versions of the drug will become available, and we will be poised to start using anti-platelet drugs to affordably and effectively treat blood poisoning and inflammation in horses.”

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Zweig News Capsule
No. 51, June 2011

Cross-continental collaboration from farm to fork

dFood sustains us but also can endanger us. In the first major public health project between Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Weill Cornell Medical College-Qatar, a team of multidisciplinary cross-continental collaborators aims to mitigate food contamination and keep food clean, from production to consumption, in Qatar.

With a $1 million grant from the Qatar Research Foundation, Hussni Mohammed, professor of epidemiology at the Veterinary College, is leading a project to assess risks associated with food-poisoning pathogens. Drawing from a network of faculty and resources spanning the two campuses, Mohammed’s team will carry out risk assessment studies to model how pathogens put the public at risk in order to better inform efforts to control contamination.

“We are investigating the epidemiology and ecology of food-borne pathogens as they move through the food chain from the sources to the table in Qatar,” said Mohammed. “Four kinds of bacteria pose major threats to Qatar’s food systems: Escherichia coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter and Listeria monocytogenes. We aim to determine each species’ prevalence; to identify agent, host and environmental factors that perpetuate these pathogens; and to ascertain factors such as antibiotic resistance that could contribute to development of new virulent strains.”

fThis research will help answer questions crucial to addressing contamination. Does infected milk come from infected cows? Or are pathogens more likely to enter the food chain in the packaging facility, during transportation or at the retailers where milk is ultimately sold?

Following food from farm to table, Mohammed’s team investigates all levels of the supply chain, drawing samples from food animals, their products, the environments they pass through and the humans consuming them. Using bacteriological and PCR techniques to test for pathogens at each level, Mohammed is constructing data-driven mathematical models to determine where and how these pathogens infiltrate the food supply system.

“The models we develop will help producers and public agencies develop and implement cost-effective and science-based strategies to ensure the safety and sustainability of Qatar’s food supply system,” said Mohammed. “Taking our data a step further, we are using the samples from humans to search for ties between food-poisoning pathogens and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Little is known about IBD, but several studies suggest it is caused by bacterial imbalances in the gut. We hope our data can help elucidate correlations between these food-borne pathogens and IBD.”

He added: “Qatar is a quickly developing country committed to supporting new research through the Qatar Foundation. It is a privilege to be involved with a project in Qatar that could have life-changing applications for public health in the region and in the wider world.”

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MyScience
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R&D Magazine
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Scientific Computing
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Ph.D student lands three fellowships in three months to combat nerve disorders

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In his effort to address the needs of underserved communities in health and education, Christopher Blackwood, a doctoral student in the area of pharmacology, has landed three major fellowship awards in three months to support his research into how the brain creates new neurons.

Blackwood hopes his work will contribute to new therapies for such neurodegenerative disorders as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, that disproportionately affect minority communities.

This year Blackwood was one of only 20 students across the nation to receive the prestigious Ford Dissertation Fellowship for 2011, which not only provides a stipend and travel expenses, but also opportunities to confer with former Ford fellows.

“Meeting the other current and former Ford fellows is an incredible opportunity to learn from my peers, exchange ideas and forge future partnerships,” said Blackwood.

Blackwood also has received the Cornell Provost’s Diversity Fellowship for 2011 and a Kirschstein research award to promote diversity in health-related research from the National Institutes of Health.

A first-generation minority college student, Blackwood was one of four children raised by a single mother in the Bronx, where economic and educational disparities regularly affected his life. After graduating from Clark Atlanta University, he came to Cornell’s Department of Biomedical Sciences in 2007 to study neurogenesis.

“Producing new neurons is critical to the function and development of the brain. I study how signaling pathways regulate this process,” said Blackwood. “This has important implications for neurodegenerative diseases, in which neurons are progressively lost. For example, by the year 2050, an estimated 150 million people will suffer from Alzheimer’s disease. If we could learn how to increase the production of neurons to compensate for dying brain cells, we may be able to provide new therapies. I hope my research can address health disparities such as neurodegenerative diseases that disproportionately affect marginalized communities.”

Committed to serving underrepresented communities in education as well as science, Blackwood has worked with Cornell’s Office of Minority Educational Affairs to hire undergraduate minority students in his lab. He has recruited several budding scientists, some of whom are already engaged in independent research.

f“The best science comes from diverse minds,” said Blackwood. “In the future I hope to apply my expertise to develop mentorship, recruitment and retention programs for underrepresented minority students. I feel blessed to pursue a Ph.D. at Cornell, to have the credentials to achieve these goals, to speak up about the factors that are detrimental to success and to use my research and teaching to potentially remedy destructive diseases.”

Blackwood’s latest award, from the University of California-San Francisco, will send him to their two-day “Postdoc Bootcamp” in June to learn how to navigate the next tier of a typical research career. The selective workshop for faculty-nominated Ph.D. students in the life sciences will cover strategies for finding postdoctoral positions and keeping a career on track.

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Cornell Chronicle
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ECN Magazine
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Scientific Computing
http://www.scimag.com/

Educator’s award for teaching excellence

fDr. Linda A. Mizer of the Department of Biomedical Sciences received the 2011 American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) National Teaching Excellence Award for achievements as an educator and inspiration to her students. The annual award draws from student nominations, aiming to recognize excellence, innovation, and enthusiasm in the field of clinical veterinary science and education. Mizer was selected from a pool of several faculty members from other veterinary schools across the country. Students Melessa Andritz ’14 and Joy Tseng ’14 co-wrote a glowing nomination, peppered with illustrative examples of Mizer’s effective teaching style.

“During our very last anatomy lecture, Dr. Mizer delivered a talk on the equine stay apparatus,” wrote Tseng. “Knowing that not every student was familiar with the general equine anatomy, she had prepared a fresh specimen of an equine pelvic limb. She was dressed in scrubs and stood on top of the first row of lecture table with a pelvic limb in her arm, nearly as tall as her.

“Aside from the levity that ensued, her use of this teaching aid had a tremendous impact on how my colleagues and I have learned the equine stay apparatus. We could all remember Dr. Mizer holding the limb, simulating the scenario of a horse during some basic slow gaits while physically manipulating the joints. Seeing is believing, and on that day we all believed that the stay apparatus actually does work in the horse. We learned this material while having fun.”

Mizer joined the faculty in 1991, and has been active in educational activities ranging from teaching to editing cases for study, arranging anatomy laboratories, and helping design the curriculum for Foundation Course I: The Animal Body. In recent years she has taught VTMED 5100 – The Animal Body, VTMED 6102 – Anatomy of the Ruminant, and BIOAP 4130 – Histology: The Biology of Tissues. Mizer received prior Teaching Excellence Awards from Cornell’s Student Chapter of the AVMA in 1993, 1994, 2003, and 2004

“Part of Dr. Mizer’s success as an instructor and mentor is her wonderful personality,” wrote Tseng. “As a first-year student, I was extremely relieved to have such an approachable and personable faculty member to encourage me along the way. She always welcomes questions and is always willing to meet with students outside of classrooms in order to clarify any confusion.”

As the winner, Mizer has been invited to attend the 2011 AVMA convention in St. Louis Missouri for a reception. She will receive a complimentary registration along with all travel and lodging expenses, as well as an engraved glass plaque awarded at the reception. A smaller internal reception at Cornell commemorated Mizer’s award on Monday, May 2 in the Veterinary Education Center Atrium.

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http://www.vet.cornell.edu/news/mizer.cfm