Inaugural Frederick Douglass Patterson Lifetime Achievement Award goes to Willie Reed

Purdue University veterinary dean recognized for efforts promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion

Drs. Frederick Douglass Patterson and Willie Reed are notable figures in the field of veterinary medicine, both sharing some similarities. They are both Black men who hail from the South and share a commitment to fostering opportunities for underrepresented groups within the veterinary profession. And both Drs. Patterson and Reed had a touchpoint with Tuskegee University during their formative years, albeit through different avenues.

Dr. Patterson helped establish what is now known as Tuskegee's School of Veterinary Medicine, which opened in 1945, as the university's president at the time. Dr. Reed received his veterinary degree from Tuskegee 33 years later. He went on to become dean at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, where he promoted an inclusive culture and created opportunities for underrepresented individuals not only at the veterinary college, but also in the profession as a whole.

Dr. Willie Reed
Dr. Willie Reed gives an acceptance speech before the AVMA House of Delegates (HOD) after receiving of the Frederick Douglass Patterson Lifetime Achievement Award. The award aims to recognize individuals who make significant contributions to the veterinary profession through innovative and transformative leadership in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. (Photo by R. Scott Nolen)

It is fitting, then, that Dr. Reed is the inaugural recipient of the Frederick Douglass Patterson Lifetime Achievement Award. He accepted the award July 14 during the AVMA House of Delegates regular annual session, held concurrently with AVMA Convention 2023 in Denver.

The award aims to recognize individuals who make significant contributions to the veterinary profession through innovative and transformative leadership in promoting DEI.

From Tuskegee to Purdue

Dr. Reed grew up in a rural part of southern Alabama and experienced first-hand the transition from segregation to the post-integration era in the 1960s and 1970s. He received his bachelor's degree in animal and poultry science with high honors in 1976 from Tuskegee University, a historically black college and university (HBCU) formerly known as Tuskegee Institute.

After receiving his veterinary degree in 1978 from Tuskegee, he went on to earn a PhD in veterinary pathology in 1982 from Purdue University. He stayed, teaching veterinary pathology as an associate professor and then becoming assistant director of the Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory. In 1990, Dr. Reed joined Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine as professor of veterinary pathology and director of the Diagnostic Center for Population and Animal Health (DCPAH). In 1997, he was appointed department chair of pathobiology and diagnostic investigation while continuing to serve as director of the DCPAH.

In 2007, when Dr. Reed returned to Purdue University as dean of the veterinary college, he quickly began the process of developing a new strategic plan for the program.

Drs. Sandra San Miguel, associate dean for engagement at the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, and S. Kathleen Salisbury, associate dean for academic affairs at Purdue's veterinary college, both nominated Dr. Reed. They wrote: "Strategic plans don't get dusty at Purdue. We are currently on our third strategic plan, led by Dr. Reed, each affirming the college's values, culture, and commitment to promote a collegial, diverse and supportive work and learning environment enhanced by diversity of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, career goals, socioeconomic background, educational background, and geographic background. The College's strategic plan is further bolstered by a strategic plan specifically focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion."

Creating a more diverse profession

In the 2006-07 school year, underrepresented minority (URM) students accounted for 5.4% enrollment across all four years of Purdue's veterinary program. Today, because of intentional recruitment and retention efforts, Purdue has 29.2% URM enrollment across all four years, and 205 URM veterinary students have graduated from 2008-23.

These efforts led by Dr. Reed include the following:

  • Being awarded $136,000 in 2008 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to create of a Multicultural Scholars Program (MSP) to support recruitment and retention of URM veterinary students.
  • Receiving a five-year, $3.18 million award in 2018 from the Department of Health and Human Services' Health Resources and Services Administration to support the Vet Up! National Health Careers Opportunity Program Academy for Veterinary Medicine. The program's goal is to fill veterinary shortage areas with individuals from underrepresented populations and rural areas.
  • Leading a collaborative effort resulting in the publication of the first book on diversity and inclusion in veterinary medicine, "Navigating Diversity and Inclusion in Veterinary Medicine," in 2013.
  • Establishing a partnership in 2014 among Purdue, the AVMA, and the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC) to establish the first Center for Diversity and Inclusion in Veterinary Medicine, which offers online certificate programs in diversity and inclusion for veterinarians, veterinary technicians and veterinary nurses, educators, and veterinary students.
  • Growing Purdue's National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), and Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA)-supported programming to engage URM children in veterinary medicine. Purdue leads teams of veterinary role models in the League of VetaHumanz program across the country who partner with community organizations and schools to support under-resourced elementary school children through mentoring and delivering veterinary lessons.

Dr. Janet Donlin, AVMA CEO, congratulated Dr. Reed, saying, "Much like Dr. Frederick Douglass Patterson, your steadfast commitment has allowed you to bring about meaningful change and establish a strong foundation for DEI at Purdue University and in the profession. Your innovative mindset and visionary leadership have propelled veterinary medicine forward in the realm of DEI."

A version of this story appears in the August 2023 print issue of JAVMA.

Dr. Willie Reed, dean of Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, talks about the bravery of Dr. Frederick Douglass Patterson in founding the veterinary college at Tuskegee University, which is a historically black college or university, formerly known as Tuskegee Institute. (Video by Matt Zingale)