25th Northeast Vet Tech Class First in New Clinic Facility

Published on: June 16, 2020 ,

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 is one of the components of the first phase of the Nexus campaign to build new ag facilities at Northeast. 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 vet tech clinic and classrooms are currently located in a repurposed 1920s era dairy loafing barn located about a mile north and east 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,” commented Veterinary Technology Director Dr. Mike Cooper 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 will also have more storage and dedicated space for specific services and equipment like 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, Dr. Dennis Hughes, is now the Nebraska State Veterinarian. Another, Dr. Paul Sundberg, is executive director of the Swine Health Information Center. The third, Dr. 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.

That first class had about 12 students, Cooper remembered, and enrollment grew gradually until about five or six years ago, when demand outgrew Northeast’s program. About 50 students now vie for the 24 slots available each year.

“Part of the problem,” he said, “is that several area private vet tech programs have closed. 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, he 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,” Cooper explained. “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.”

“At that same time,” Cooper continued, “Faith Regional was taking the surgery equipment out of the old Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital and we were able to get several things from them, including two scrub sinks.”

These improvements have helped Cooper develop a well-respected program. Northeast vet tech students are valuable employees of many veterinary practices across the region. Northeast vet tech graduates score well on the Vet Tech National Exam, with an 85.7% pass rate average for the past three years compared with a national average of about 70%.

“One of the things that has helped our program be so successful,” Cooper said, “is the cooperation of area vet clinics. They provide internships for our students, often hiring the students at the end of their internships.”

“But, the program can’t grow without new facilities,” he said, “and we can’t keep up with modern veterinary medicine without a larger, better designed space.”

Cooper said the new facility will eventually allow the Northeast vet tech program to double in size. “We will start slow,” he said, “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.”

The funding for the new vet tech building and other agriculture 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.

In August 2019, the Acklie Charitable Foundation (ACF) announced a $5 million lead gift to the Nexus project. ACF was founded by the late Duane Acklie and Phyllis Acklie, both Madison County natives and graduates of Norfolk Junior College, a predecessor institution of Northeast Community College.

For more information on the Nexus Campaign, contact Northeast Associate Vice President for Development and External Affairs Dr. Tracy Kruse, at tracyk@northeast.edu, or call (402) 844-7056. Online donations may be made through agwaternexus.com. Checks may also be mailed to Nexus Campaign, Northeast Community College Foundation, P.O. Box 469, Norfolk, NE 68702-0469.