Mentoring as a Career Factor: Six US Women Veterinary Deans Reflect


September 12, 2013

Co Author: Julie Kumble


The previous article in this series1 shows that the number of women appointed as deans of veterinary colleges lags behind appointments of men. During the last nine years (2005–2013), only six of the 32 appointments (18.8 %) have been women, a rate that has increased far behind that of female students, 50% in the mid 1980s and now at 78.5%.


What have the six women said about their careers, their goals, and the factors that expedite or slow progress for other women in academia?


While the path to deanship varies widely, nearly all of these women cited mentors as a major positive factor in their careers. This isn’t to say that men don’t also acknowledge the role of their mentors, but it is noteworthy that almost all the women we’ve interviewed saw them as a critical part of their journey.


Different from role models, mentors are the generous people in life who don’t simply share their knowledge and contacts with those in whom they see promise, but they encourage their (usually) junior colleagues or students to consider new possibilities and to take bold steps to pursue them. Good mentors don’t just encourage from the sidelines but they consistently push their protégés along, encouraging them to take risks, think big, and consider new possibilities. Really good mentors don’t just identify protégés who look and act like themselves, but identify skills and qualities in others regardless of background or gender. In veterinary medicine, the outstanding mentors of the current women deans have mostly been men, in part due to the timing of their entrance into a then male-dominated field, who helped open up opportunities for these women.


Dr. Jean Sander, Dean at Oklahoma State University, reflected on the importance of those who mentor others who don’t look or act similar to themselves.2

Women’s styles and men’s styles are very different. Would be mentors tend to move towards those people who are like-minded when they reach out to bring others up behind them because of the comfort level. Because we have had so many men as leaders in this profession, the natural instinct would be to relate to another man who has a similar style and approach.

There have been a few men who have stepped outside of that. Keith Prasse3 was a big influence for Sheila Allen (current Dean, University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine). For me, it was Barney Easterday4 . Those influences have helped the women with the desire to get that foot in the door. But I don’t think there’s enough of that yet. There’s still a lack of understanding of how women’s leadership styles are going to be successful. I look at those women who are currently in place and we are the ones who are having to prove whether we are going to be able to be successful or not. So I think that is a piece of it: ‘who is being mentored by the leaders?’


Dr. Jean Sander, Dean, Oklahoma State University College of Veterinary Medicine

Dr. Jean Sander, Dean, Oklahoma State University College of Veterinary Medicine
(© Oklahoma State University)


Dr. Sheila W. Allen, Dean of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine expanded:5

I got lucky because the associate dean position came along, frankly a little early in my career, and Keith [Prasse] helped me understand that you can’t wait for something to be easy or convenient. This job isn’t going to be open in two years when you think you’re going to be ready. It’s ready now, so you better get ready. And that’s the role that mentors can play for women.

In my case, he said (to paraphrase), “You’ve got the right stuff, you will grow into the job and I think you will do it.” You can’t ask for more than that!


Dr. Lisa K. Nolan, Dr. Stephen G. Juelsgaard Dean of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State University, reflected that her mentors also saw possibilities in her that she hadn’t considered.6

I have been blessed with people who really knew what was better for me than I knew myself, or saw something to nurture that I was unaware of. Pat Jensen, my dean at North Dakota State, and John Thomson, my predecessor here at Iowa State, both gave me a lot of opportunities. Dick Wooley, my major professor, used to say in jest, “When you’re dean…”’ and, “This is what you need to do to be dean.”


Dr. Deborah Kochevar, Dean and Henry and Lois Foster Professor, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, echoed the opinion that mentors were instrumental in helping her expand opportunities for herself.7


J.D. McCrady was my chair [at Texas A&M] and he was absolutely a wonderful mentor and a strong advocate. He was an advocate in ways that were very low key but it was just an unshakeable faith that I was going to be able to do this job and never mind that I’d never done a post doc, never mind that I was just finishing my PhD degree. You don’t get anywhere on your own steam. People enable you and allow you to just have faith in you and that gives you the confidence to sometimes ignore other advice that then leads you to this good spot.

Not all the women veterinary deans ranked mentoring as a principal factor that contributed to their position. Dr. Joan Hendricks, the Gilbert S. Kahn Dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, felt quite the opposite.8

With regard to leadership positions, I did not have anyone mentoring me at all. What I did have was advice to stop doing it. What I try to say to people is… I think leadership is important and I think there are programs, like coaching programs that can be useful.


Sheila [Allen] and I were appointed on the same day… I presume we both were willing to consider (the deanship) in part because at that point there were not women deans at accredited veterinary colleges.9 I think the fact that we were willing to step up early was in part because there were no other women deans.

The deans also stressed that their primary goal hadn’t been to pursue the college’s top administrative position, but rather to follow the path that allowed them to increase their impact in the field about which they cared deeply, and to do the best they could.


Dean Nolan explained,10

I didn’t do anything in a strategic way, because “I wanted to be a dean,” there was zero thought of that. I just threw myself into whatever was my passion at the time: first, it was teaching and curriculum and so, I worked to be the best teacher I could be… Then, it was research, so I worked to be the best PI I could be, but at some point, I began to look outside my bubble to where I could have the most impact with my career…. I can connect that experience directly with taking on leadership roles.

I’m not sure I appreciated the scope of the Dean position before I was one…it really opens up the


The academic environment is full of outstanding female role models whose numbers are increasing, but since mentoring is so critical to advancing women why is it left to chance or good fortune for women to find a strong mentor? From our interviews, we’ve found that there are rarely formalized systems in academia that encourage, expect or reward senior administrators for actively mentoring promising future leaders. Rather than leave it to luck of the draw, the pluck of ambitious women, or the generous spirit of those in the position to mentor, why not borrow some of the best practices from the corporate world and build mentoring into performance measures?


Dr. Christine Jenkins, Group Director, Veterinary Medical Services and Chief Medical Officer, US Business, Zoetis, shared her career perspective from working at four different corporations and one university. Mentoring has been just as important in her career, but she cited corporate strategies to increase and accelerate the pipeline for women. 11

“Early in my academic career I would argue with my father (a university administrator) that the traditional time it took to become a dean was too long. What I have learned is that the timeline to leadership roles can be shortened if potential leaders are identified and provided leadership experiences earlier in their careers. I have been fortunate to be mentored by strong leaders (both academic and corporate) who invested in me through structured career development, coaching, and formal leadership training which included curriculum tailored for high potential women.

In most situations, leadership roles do not happen just because you are a natural leader or by waiting on the sidelines. Specifically, corporate America recognizes the importance of recruiting, retaining, and investing in their talent, as it ties back to the overall business objective and drives revenue. Corporations invest in their people to better prepare them for day to day challenges and to provide opportunities to demonstrate leadership earlier than what might be typical in an academic environment.


One way to shorten the leadership track in academia is to develop leadership curriculum that has the explicit goal to groom future leaders in academic institutions and to provide them growth opportunities. Universities are creating curriculum which will enrich our pipeline of talented academic veterinary leaders. I am proud of my female colleagues who are now deans and look forward to

Dr. Eleanor M. Green, Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A & M University, agreed with the value of leadership trainings.12

I was inspired and encouraged by my father, who was a surgeon and ultimate role model. His standards and work ethic were impressively high, but it was his uncanny compassion that made him beloved by his patients. Building upon that base, my goal was to be the most competent equine veterinarian I could be.


Along the way, I was always drawn to leadership, reading leadership books for pleasure and taking advantage of leadership training opportunities as they arose. There were many, but three stand out as examples. The first was the Faculty Development Program at Mississippi State University. Dr. Jim Miller, the founding veterinary dean, drew from his corporate background to establish an intensive, eight week training program which was required for every new faculty before they were allowed to begin their official duties as a faculty member. This innovative program had definite impact. The second was access to corporate training programs offered by Monsanto for its employees. All were of the highest quality. The third was the Management Development Program at Harvard University, an intensive, immersive, case based program geared towards university middle managers, such as department heads and deans. I was the only veterinarian and left with a broadened perspective of academe.

These experiences and training made me receptive to leadership positions, none of which I sought. The main attraction of administrative positions was and is to facilitate the faculty, staff, and students in all of their many and varied roles, and at the very least, not hinder them. I still seek opportunities to grow and encourage others to do the same.

Dr. Eleanor Green, Dean, Texas A&M, College of Veterinary Medicine

Dr. Eleanor Green, Dean, Texas A&M, College of Veterinary Medicine
(© Texas A&M University)


It is likely that more women will become deans in veterinary colleges over time simply because of the sheer number of women in the profession today. We can wait for the rate of change to happen naturally, and hope that more women consider entering the academic and administrative pipeline, find great mentors, sort out the family/life balance, and rise to the top.


But we believe we should be proactive and attempt to accelerate the process with concerted dialogue and best practices on mentoring and leadership curricula.


Today, at the 150th anniversary of the AVMA, women deans comprise 20% of all veterinary deans. How might the future be shaped if that number increases to 30% in the next five years? How might we discuss this goal across academic institutions and beyond, including industry, government and nonprofit organizations? In a professional field in which gender has changed so significantly, we have a unique opportunity and perhaps a responsibility, to stand out among other professions so that the profile of our academic leaders more closely reflects our demographics.


and Julie Kumble, Director of Grants and Programs, Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, Easthampton, Massachusetts 01027. She can be reached at .

1. Kumble, J, Smith, DF. Women Veterinary Deans, Perspectives in Veterinary Medicine. 2013 Jul 11.
2. Sander, Jean (Dean, Oklahoma State University College of Veterinary Medicine), interview with Donald F. Smith (Cornell University), 2013, Feb 19.
3. Keith Prasse, Dean, emeritus, University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine.
4. Dr. Barney Easterday, Dean, emeritus, University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Sander was a veterinary student at Wisconsin during Dean Easterday’s tenure.
5. Allen, Sheila W. (Dean, University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine), interview with Julie Kumble (Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts) and Donald F. Smith (Cornell University), 2013 Jul 18.
6. Nolan, Lisa K. (Dr. Stephen G. Juelsgaard Dean of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State University), interview with Julie Kumble (Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts) and Donald F. Smith (Cornell University), 2013 Feb 16.
7. Kochevar, Deborah (Dean and Henry and Lois Foster Professor, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University), interview with Julie Kumble (Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts) and Donald F. Smith (Cornell University), 2013 Apr 8.
8. Hendricks, Joan (the Gilbert S. Kahn Dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania), telephone interview with Julie Kumble (Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts) and Donald F. Smith (Cornell University), 2013, May 1.
9. A woman veterinary dean, Dr. Shirley Johnston, was at Western University of Health Sciences, but the College of Veterinary Medicine was not yet accredited.
10. Nolan, Lisa K. (Ibid)
11. Jenkins, Christine (Group Director, Veterinary Medical Services and Chief Medical Officer, U.S. Business, Zoetis), interview with Julie Kumble (Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts) and Donald F. Smith (Cornell University), 2013 Jul 12.
12. Green, Eleanor M. (Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A & M University), interview with Julie Kumble (Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts) and Donald F. Smith (Cornell University), 2013 Jul 19.


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