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“A consistent trailblazer”: College awards highest alumni honor to alumna with sterling service record

Since graduating from Cornell, Sheila Allen ’76, D.V.M. ’81, has shown unwavering commitment to the veterinary profession. To honor this dedication and formally recognize her contributions to the field, the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) Alumni Association has awarded Allen the college’s highest alumni honor: The Daniel Elmer Salmon Award for Distinguished Alumni Service.

Sheila Allen headshot PC Grey Darrah
Sheila Allen ’76, D.V.M. ’81, winner of the 2021 D. E. Salmon Award for Distinguished Alumni Service. Photo: Grey Darrah

The Daniel Elmer Salmon Award for Distinguished Alumni Service honors veterinary graduates who have distinguished themselves in service to the profession, their communities or to the college. It was established by the CVM Alumni Association in 1986 and named in honor of Cornell's first D.V.M. graduate. Salmon is best remembered for his pioneering work in controlling contagious animal diseases in the early twentieth century, and the bacteria salmonella was named in his honor.

“Dr. Sheila Allen is clearly a worthy recipient of the Salmon Award by virtue of her commitment to the profession and the Cornell community,” said Ann Hohenhaus, D.V.M. ’85, staff doctor in oncology at the Animal Medical Center and one of Allen’s nominators. “Society as a whole has realized enormous benefits from her service to veterinary education.”

“Dr. Allen is the type of leader who sparks creativity, encourages talent and sees the bright side on the dimmest day,” said Ann Dwyer, D.V.M. ’83, former co-owner of Genesee Valley Equine Clinic, also a nominator.

While at Cornell, Allen completed her undergraduate degree in chemistry, followed by her veterinary degree from CVM. Allen then went on to the University of Georgia for an internship and residency, as well as for her master’s degree in clinical pathology. She joined the faculty there, focusing on the emerging fields of surgical oncology, reconstructive surgery and pain management. In the clinic, she tackled the most difficult cases, and in the classroom her passion inspired veterinary students to be bold and innovative. She also entered the administration, where her analytic skills influenced curriculum, admissions, instruction and research.

“I’m deeply touched that my colleagues would recognize me in this way,” Allen said. “I have a very strong allegiance not only to my profession, but also to Cornell and the college, so I couldn't be more honored.”

Transforming the student experience

Allen can claim many significant contributions to veterinary medical education, most notably at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine (UGA-CVM), where she first arrived for an internship after graduating from Cornell. At UGA-CVM, Allen served as associate dean for academic affairs, followed in 2005 by an 11-year tenure as dean — the second woman in the country to achieve such a leadership position, and the first woman Cornell CVM graduate to do so.

“From 2005-2016, she oversaw a period of remarkable expansion and change,” Dwyer said.

Throughout her career, Allen has demonstrated her passion for instruction and concern over the future of teaching and learning. Under her leadership, UGA-CVM revised its veterinary curriculum and modified admissions procedures to allow consideration of criteria beyond academic achievement in the admissions process. Not only did UGA-CVM double its applicant pool for the veterinary program under her leadership, it also increased minority representation in the veterinary student body and faculty, and tripled the college’s research enterprise. She also helped institute the dual D.V.M./Ph.D. and D.V.M./M.P.H. programs. Further, Allen oversaw the fundraising for and construction of UGA-CVM’s new Veterinary Medical Center, which opened in 2015. This new, $100 million center replaced a facility built in 1979, and increased the square footage five-fold.

The Veterinary Medical Center at the University of Georgia, PC UGA
Allen oversaw the fundraising for and construction of the Veterinary Medical Center at the University of Georgia, which opened its doors in 2015. Photo: University of Georgia

“This world-class hospital is perfectly designed to deliver state-of-the-art animal care while training veterinarians in an environment that supports health and well-being,” Dwyer said. “Dr. Allen’s ‘signature’ is evident in every corner of this flagship facility and prominent college.”

At Allen’s direction, the old building was transformed into the Center for Vaccines and Immunology, capitalizing on the university’s expertise in infectious disease, veterinary medicine, ecology and public health. It recently received two NIH grants totaling over $200 million. Moreover, the University of Georgia has become a leader in One Health, thanks in large part to the initiatives Allen championed during her tenure as dean.

“I think what I would be most proud of is my teaching and leadership career at University of Georgia,” Allen said. “I spent my entire academic career at that institution, and mentored a lot of students, interns and residents along the way. Nothing is more gratifying than seeing them successful out in the profession.”

Members of the University of Georgia cutting a red ribbon in front of the Veterinary Medical Center, PC UGA
Cutting the ribbon in front of the University of Georgia's Veterinary Medical Center in 2015. Photo: University of Georgia

Steering the field into the future

Allen’s deep involvement in organized veterinary medicine has focused on groups that define modern educational standards, and metrics that ensure training programs and schools of veterinary medicine function as sustainable, effective institutions.

“Dr. Allen leveraged her surgical training and experience as an educator to the benefit of organized veterinary medicine,” Hohenhaus said.

Her early involvement included service on the American College of Veterinary Surgeons Examination Committee and on the Board of Regents. Allen was chosen for a six-year term on the American Veterinary Medical Association Council on Education (COE). Her role expanded to serve as chair of the COE from 2012-2013. At the time, the accreditation process was under intense scrutiny within the profession. Allen provided guidance and ensured that changes were implemented after careful study. Since concluding her original COE service, Allen has continued to work with the COE through her role as senior accreditation advisor for the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC).

“She is diplomatic, even-handed and unbiased,” said Dwyer, who has worked with Allen in this role since joining the COE herself in 2019. “Her role assures that the important business of accreditation is conducted on a fair and level playing field.”

“A big professional challenge is keeping the education of future veterinarians very high quality, while minimizing the cost for students” Allen said. “It’s certainly one of the biggest challenges facing the profession. It’s something I always try to keep in the forefront of my mind.”

Allen has also served as a member of the AAVMC Foresight Task Force, its Board of Directors, as well as on a committee to assess the current and future veterinary workforce needs, sponsored by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Society continues to benefit from Dr. Allen’s service to the Council on Education, which accredits the institutions that train the veterinarians who will serve future generations, and work to foster the health of the world’s animals, environment and people,” Hohenhaus said.

Supporting Cornell at every level

Allen’s dedication to seeing veterinary medicine flourish is a reflection of her dedication over the years to Cornell itself. She’s never missed an opportunity to leverage experience and insight by serving as a volunteer for her alma mater.

Cornell Provost Dr. Michael Kotlikoff was dean when Allen joined the CVM Dean’s Advisory Council. Said Allen, “I was honored to serve, and Dean Kotlikoff and I were able to share a lot of thoughts on common challenges — and common opportunities.”

Sheila Allen with her family in 2012, PC Teresa Bieber
Allen with her husband Doug and son Mark prior to a University of Georgia football game in 2012. Photo: Teresa Bieber 

Dwyer’s time with the Dean’s Advisory Council overlapped with Allen’s by a year. “I marveled at the perspective she brought to that group. I called her ‘the velvet hammer.’ Never strident, always focused, able to zero in on central issues and prove points with logic without overriding others,” Dwyer said.

Allen extended her support to the highest levels of Cornell in 2017, when she was elected to the Cornell Board of Trustees. Her four-year term as an alumni trustee was during an election that saw the highest number of alumni cast votes in five years. This membership gave her insight into the breadth of Cornell’s research and impact. As the only veterinarian on the board, she also offered a nuanced perspective for her colleagues. “I was able to add an element of informing the board about the challenges that veterinary students face,” Allen said.

Since 2009, Allen has served as a member of the Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network, and as a trustee, was the audit, risk and compliance committee co-chair. She has also served as a member of the Cornell University Council and the President’s Council of Cornell Women. As a trustee, Allen prioritized Cornell’s service to students, staff and alumni, and planned for a future that evolved with society.

Changing course

Allen remembers her time at Cornell fondly, specifically during clinical rotations. It was a time for her to apply what she learned as well as an opportunity to get to know some of her classmates better. “The clinical year is just so rewarding and it’s a time when everything starts to click and gel,” Allen said. “To have all those faculty members guiding you, yet giving you the room to learn on your own, is something I will always treasure.”

Several of those faculty members proved instrumental as mentors. These included Drs. Jim Flanders, Jay Harvey and Eric Trotter, surgeons at the time who encouraged her to pursue small animal surgery as a specialty. The most influential mentors for Allen, however, were Dr. Susan Fubini, professor and associate dean for academic affairs, and Dr. Nita Irby, Ruttenberg Senior Lecturer. Both were interns at the time — and both came from the University of Georgia.

“They strongly influenced my choice to go to Georgia for an internship,” Allen said. “Both of them not only influenced me personally and professionally, but they influenced me toward a very important career path. I’m proud to see both of them are still at Cornell.”

Allen’s advice for students highlights this influential mentorship. “Keep your eyes open. Don’t be too focused on the career choice you thought you wanted when you got to school,” Allen said. “That was certainly the case for me. I thought I’d go into mixed animal practice and obviously changed that path.”

Sheila Allen seated with two dogs PC Susan Smith
Allen's advice to current students: “Keep your eyes open. Don’t be too focused on the career choice you thought you wanted when you got to school.” Photo: Susan Smith

Continuing evolution

Over her broad career, Allen has made a profound difference in many aspects of veterinary medicine. Since her time at Cornell, the profession has evolved from its more agricultural roots to include companion animal practice in the United States and global disease challenges worldwide. The latter is partially due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Most of these pandemic disease challenges are diseases that humans and animals share,” Allen said. “So the profession has evolved quite a bit over the last 50 years or so, and I think we are rising to meet those challenges.”

She hopes that it continues to evolve and leverage its human-animal training for the public good. “We look at medical challenges at a little bit higher level, simply because we’re dealing with so many species, as well as the relationships between animals and people, and how all this impacts disease transmission,” Allen said. “Veterinarians are particularly well positioned to identify those threats early on and contribute to the health care teams addressing them.”

Her leadership and dynamic accomplishments have shaped the profession in ways that will benefit students and future veterinarians for years to come. Said Allen, “I’m deeply grateful to my colleagues for nominating me — that alone was truly an honor.”

Compiled by Melanie Greaver Cordova