CANYON, TEXAS — West Texas A&M University (WT) announced a significant step toward the establishment of a new companion animal science program for students interested in veterinary medicine and other pet-health related studies. The new program will receive $2.1 million in funding from the university’s President Emeritus Russell C. Long and his wife Natrelle Hedrick Long.

Russell C. Long served as WT’s ninth president in 1995 and retired in 2005. During his tenure, Russell C. Long directed the implementation of several academic programs in mechanical engineering, dryland agriculture, the equine industry, environmental science, emergency management systems, athletic, communication disorders and more. He led the establishment of WT’s first doctoral program in agriculture.

Natrelle Long served as executive assistant to WT’s former President Barry B. Thompson. She co-founded the WT Women’s Council, which help establish the donor recognition group Old Main Society.

“This gift is our attempt to satisfy three of our most basic desires: to help WT and WT students, to help animals, and to help the region which has come to mean so much to us,” the Longs said.

The Longs’ donation will help support the new companion animal program and will also establish a scholarship fund for students within the program. The donation also includes the Longs’ collection of books to the Cornette Library at WT.

The gift furthers WT’s One West fundraising campaign, increasing the total amount raised to $116 million out of a goal of $125 million. As part of the gift, the university will create the Dr. Russell C. Long and Natrelle Hedrick Long Professorship in Companion Animal Studies, which will be first held by Sara-Louise Newcomer, DVM.

Many students are expected to study in the new companion animal science program to help prepare for veterinary school, as well as other animal health related programs, according to WT. The university currently offers various degrees in animal science, biology and chemistry.

According to a survey by the American Veterinary Medical Association, nearly 80% of graduating seniors in veterinary fields are interested in working with companion and small animals. According to Newcomer, adding coursework specifically focusing on this group of animals will help fulfill a significant need.

“I appreciate the Longs’ passion and commitment to WT as well as their commitment to animals, and I’m honored to be the first chosen for this position,” Newcomer said. “One of the biggest motivators in this field is the human-animal bond. I have a passion for teaching about that and for looking for ways that we can impact the lives of both humans and animals. That bond affects so many lives in so many different ways.”

In 2020, the global animal health industry was estimated to be worth $18.67 billion, and the market is expected to continue to grow at 9% annually through 2028. According to WT, this growth provides an opportunity for its students as they seek to enter the animal health industry. The university’s educational pathways help support careers in service/therapy dog training, pet grooming, boarding and shelter management, pet nutrition, pharmaceutical research, retail and others.

“The Longs’ gift allows us to further develop WT students’ passion for companion animals and helping them, through their education in this program, to go on to find how they best fit in working with companion animals,” said Kevin Pond, Ph.D., dean of the Paul Engler College of Agriculture & Natural Sciences. “Veterinary medicine is only one need of many in a field that only continues to grow.”

The new program will be included in the Department of Life, Earth and Environmental Science and will offer two paths: a 15- to 18-hour certificate or a minor. WT plans to expand the program’s course offerings as needed, fostering collaborations with the Paul and Virginia Engler College of Business, the Department of Psychology, Sociology and Social Work, and the Terry B. Rogers College of Education.

“We expect that this new program that will enable students to gain meaningful educational experiences relating to their love of companion animals,” said David Sissom, Ph.D., head of the Department of Life, Earth and Environmental Science. “It will benefit our local and regional communities and enrich the lives of the animals we care so much about. The students and faculty of the Department of Life, Earth, & Environmental Sciences are deeply appreciative of the generosity and kindness provided by the Longs.”

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