Alumni establish new scholarship to honor mentor and legend
When it comes to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) alumni who have impacted the college and the veterinary profession, Steve Ettinger ‘62, D.V.M. ’64, invariably comes to mind. Now, his broad-reaching influence is being recognized through a new scholarship in his name. The Stephen J. Ettinger 1962, D.V.M. 1964 Scholarship is the culmination of a long-standing wish of Julio López, D.V.M. ’08, whose relationship with Ettinger has been instrumental in shaping his own veterinary career.
“He’s been such a huge part of my life, as a mentor and like a second father as well,” says López. “I don’t know where I’d be in my professional career without him.”
Many other veterinarians would likely agree. Ettinger is considered a founder of specialization in veterinary medicine, having helped establish the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and serving as president of cardiology in that group — from which he received the inaugural lifetime specialty achievement award. He has authored hundreds of journal papers and key foundational textbooks, including Canine Cardiology (1970) and the Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, the ninth edition of which published in January 2024.
Ettinger’s impact at Cornell is also considerable; he has served on the Cornell University Board of Trustees, the Dean’s Leadership Council and the Advisory Council and received a Daniel Elmer Salmon Award for Distinguished Alumni Service in 2010.
A mentor to many
For López, Ettinger’s influence was deeply personal. López worked as a technician at the California Animal Hospital while an undergraduate at UCLA and decided to apply to CVM thanks to his encouragement. After graduating veterinary school, López went on to intern with Ettinger in small animal internal medicine. For years, López wondered how he could show his gratitude to his mentor. However, gaining the financial ability to establish a fund would take time. López purchased his first private practice during the COVID-19 pandemic, which he admits felt a little nerve-wracking initially, but he soon realized that veterinary practices were in higher demand than ever.
“It has always been my dream to have my own practice,” López says. “Dr. Ettinger was instrumental in guiding me through that as well.” Soon, the new clinic was thriving, and López was able to open a second practice — and could give serious thought to a way to honor his mentor. Given Ettinger’s deep belief in helping strengthen the profession and helping others, a scholarship was the obvious choice.
López pitched the idea to fellow alumnus Fred Brewer, D.V.M. ’09, whom Ettinger also mentored, and together they approached Etienne Côté, D.V.M. ’93, a fellow cardiologist who had been similarly influenced by the legendary veterinarian. “He’s played such a role in all our lives,” says López. “It’s the perfect opportunity to come together and make this gift that honors his background of giving back.”
For Brewer, Ettinger’s impact has been significant ever since he first stepped into his practice over 20 years ago.
“It was clear from the first meeting that, as long as I was all in, he was all in,” says Brewer. “And he has been all in with his support every step toward vet school and beyond.”
Côté first worked under Ettinger during a student externship at California Animal Hospital. “That ended up being where I spent the first five years of my career, so his influence was profound,” he says. “No question about it: He showed me what was possible and offered me feedback the whole way along as I navigated it.”
A surprise announcement
López, Brewer and Côté decided to surprise Ettinger with the gift, and contrived to share the news when their mentor would be in Ithaca to celebrate his son Ricky’s graduation from Cornell. Lorin D. Warnick, D.V.M., Ph.D. ’94, the Austin O. Hooey Dean of Veterinary Medicine, asked Ettinger to meet him in his office — much to Ettinger’s bemusement.
“I wondered why the dean wanted to meet me on a Sunday,” Ettinger says. “As I was talking to him, he kept looking at his watch, and I thought that I better get this thing over with and let the poor guy go on his way.”
But then Warnick opened the door to his office, and there to Ettinger’s surprise was a large group of people he knew well — López and Ettinger’s wife Patricia and their children, his cousin Dr. Dennis Socha, and others, along with CVM’s director of development Alison Smith. Still, Ettinger was perplexed. “I still had no idea why they were all there,” Ettinger says. “At that moment, two plus two did not equal four.”
Since the surprise announcement in May, Ettinger has been glad to see his eponymous scholarship help students who need it the most. He himself has helped direct several former clients to make gifts of scholarship to Cornell with this goal in mind, including the Barbara Benz Memorial Scholarship.
“There are kids out there that are more than worthy of joining the profession, but need that financial help,” Ettinger says. “I really appreciate that Cornell works hard to seek out and support those students.”
López, Brewer and Côté are hoping others will feel inspired to donate to this cause.
“Steve has helped a lot of people along the way, both by supporting them and by directing resources and donors to Cornell Vet,” Côté says. “Many people who have gotten a boost from him probably don't know it. This is a good way to keep that momentum going with a tip of the hat in recognition to Steve at the same time.”
Says Brewer, “This scholarship is bigger than the name attached to it. It represents an ethos of paying it forward that needs to be cultivated. Take a brief moment to reflect on your own pathway to veterinary medicine. You will surely find moments where support was given to you. And without that support your success may not have been possible. This scholarship is a recognition of that support, appreciating it with a grateful heart and passing that support forward to future generations of students.”
Written by Lauren Cahoon Roberts