The Northeast Community College veterinary technology program will welcome its 25th class in 2021 with a new facility.
A vet tech clinic and classroom building are part of the first phase of the Nexus campaign to build new agricultural facilities at Northeast, according to a media release.
Site work is underway, and construction is expected to be complete by fall of 2021. Other components of this phase of construction are a large animal handling facility, a farm operations building and office, a feedlot with a manure lagoon and other structures for livestock and feed storage.
The veterinary technology clinic and classrooms are now located in a repurposed 1920s-era dairy loafing barn approximately a mile northeast of the main campus. The new building will be along East Benjamin Avenue, west of the Chuck M. Pohlman Ag Complex.
“We will all be together in one place,” said Michael Cooper, instructor/director of the veterinary technology program at Northeast, when asked about the advantages of the new building. “So, if a student needs help practicing a skill, we’re just feet away versus miles away. If we need to look at an animal, it’s a five-minute job instead of an hour. If we must run lab work, our lab will be on site.”
The new building also will have more storage and dedicated space for specific services and equipment such as ultrasound. It will be near the large animal handling facility on the relocated Acklie Family College Farm site, so vet tech students will have more hands-on opportunities with large animals.
The current structure has served the program well, Cooper said, but it can no longer be retrofitted to allow for enrollment demand or new equipment.
Cooper first saw the building, often referred to as “the old farm,” when he interviewed for a full-time job at Northeast in July 1991. At that time, the college had been offering veterinary assistant training with three Madison County veterinarians serving as part-time faculty.
One of those three veterinarians, Dennis Hughes, is now the Nebraska state veterinarian. Another, Paul Sundberg, is executive director of the Swine Health Information Center. The third, Larry Moenning, continued to serve as an adjunct faculty member for the Northeast vet tech program until 2019.
“By 1994 or so, area veterinarians were asking for licensed veterinary technicians instead of vet assistants,” Cooper said, “and I started having conversations with Ag Dean Chuck Pohlman about making that change.”
The first vet tech students were enrolled in 1996, graduating in 1998. The first class had approximately 12 students, Cooper remembered, and enrollment grew gradually until about five or six years ago, when demand outgrew Northeast’s program. Nearly 50 students now compete for the 24 slots available each year.
“Part of the problem is that several area private vet tech programs have closed,” he said. “Right now, there is no vet tech training offered in South Dakota, and the only other program in Nebraska is the one at the University of Nebraska School of Technical Agriculture in Curtis.”
To meet the student demand and keep up with changes in veterinary science, Cooper has added space to the vet tech clinic. Originally, he had only a small area in the middle of the current clinic.
With the help of Northeast building trades and electrical instructors and their students, he was able to remodel the west bay, which was once used to farrow hogs. In 2005, Cooper was successful in getting a $20,000 grant from USDA to reclaim the area on the east side of the clinic.
“That was an old hog finishing floor,” he said. “When the weather conditions were right, you could see manure running down the wall. With help from the applied tech faculty and students, the manure pit was taken out, concrete was poured, drains were installed and rooms were framed up for clinic use.”
These improvements have helped Cooper develop a well-respected program. Northeast Community College veterinary technology students are valuable employees of many veterinary practices across the region.
Northeast vet tech graduates score well on the Veterinary Technician National Exam, with an 86% pass rate average for the past three years compared with a national average of around 70%, according to the release.
Cooper said the new facility eventually would allow the Northeast vet tech program to double in size.
“We will start slow, but when we have grown enough to justify additional faculty, we will be able to offer two classes a year, one starting in August and the other in January, doubling the number of graduates each year,” he said.
The funding for the new veterinary technology building and other agricultural facilities will come from the college’s commitment of $10 million, as well as external fundraising to fill the gap.
With a total project cost of $22.3 million, the college has raised enough funds to begin construction; however, fundraising for the Nexus campaign will continue, as more is needed for equipment, technology and furnishings.