PULLMAN – As a public information officer at WSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, Charlie Powell has answered all kinds of questions and worked with all kinds of people.
He met the late “crocodile hunter” Steve Irwin during filming for a Discovery Channel TV program. He fielded a boatload of questions about possible salmon poisoning.
Calls “range from questions about animal cruelty to questions from donors about giving to the college,” Powell said. Or maybe a concerned pet owner heard news of tainted dog food and wants reassurance.
Powell is up to the task. He holds degrees in animal science and bacteriology from the University of Idaho. And he has done the job at WSU for 21 years.
During which, the times have changed.
“Dramatically,” Powell said.
For example, liability issues that seldom arose during his first 15 years at WSU have him talking with the state attorney general representative at WSU sometimes two or three times a week. Discussions typically involve student and personnel topics, policy issues and contracts the college maintains, Powell said.
Technology has changed too.
“I remember a conversation back when email was becoming popular,” Powell said. “People in the veterinary college were contemplating having one computer with email capabilities. The dean’s secretary would then be tasked to distribute individual emails as they came in. That idea didn’t last long.
“It seems so funny now,” he said.
Another change – and challenge – is the level of state support for higher education.
“There has been a steady erosion of state support and it has been disappointing,” Powell said. “Higher education is grossly underappreciated.”
If students can’t afford or access college, they will miss out on an education that includes critical thinking. Without that ability, people are unable to look at issues from different perspectives and evaluate multiple possible solutions, Powell said.
Lack of support indicates that people in the state are not seeing the big picture about how important it is to study animal health, he said. Such study can directly impact the health and lives of humans.
“Many health issues can be traced back to animal populations, and then the studies done on animals can help save both humans and animals,” Powell said.
Research and outreach to solve health problems have spurred growth of the college, first with construction of the veterinary teaching hospital and now with establishment of the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health.
“Expansion has made WSU one of the leaders in veterinary medicine and science,” Powell said.