By Linda Weiford, WSU News
PULLMAN, Wash. – Michele Hardy knew there’d be big shoes to fill in her new job as a department chair at Washington State University’s veterinary college, but then again, “I’ve never been one to do things in small steps,” she said.
In what may be a record-breaker at WSU, David Prieur stepped down in October as chair of the veterinary microbiology and pathology department after 26 years. In turn, Hardy left her job as a professor and researcher at Montana State University to take his place.
“I came here knowing that I was replacing someone with a strong reputation and an impressive history at WSU,” she said. “Fortunately for me, he’s still here so I can tap into his expertise and historical knowledge.”
Raised and educated in Texas, Hardy became a molecular biologist and eventually moved to Big Sky Country where she taught classes in immunology and infectious diseases at MSU in Bozeman. What the Palouse lacks in grand mountain views, it makes up for in gracious countryside, she said.
“When I first came for my interview, I expected the flatness of west Texas,” Hardy said. “Instead I saw endless hills of wheat fields. The landscape has a quiet beauty that I found very appealing.”
Also appealing was WSU’s veterinary college, she said, with its smart, supportive people who are passionate about teaching and conducting important research. By becoming chair of microbiology and pathology, “I saw an opportunity to participate in the department’s success.”
Less than three months into the job, “I’m working to maintain and sustain what my predecessor established over so many years,” said Hardy. This includes having a well-recognized and respected faculty and providing high-quality education to students, she said.
“My hope is for us to continue turning out veterinarians who can think critically and be successful in their jobs,” she said. What’s more, she wants to preserve an atmosphere where faculty and students can flourish in their infectious-disease research.
From teaching to managing
Like Prieur – who stepped in as chair in what was supposed to be a temporary appointment – Hardy didn’t earn her Ph.D. with the goal of landing in administration: “My focus was teaching and research” with a special interest in viruses, she said.
But after Prieur announced he was leaving the leadership post, people familiar with Hardy’s academic work and collegial but no-nonsense personality proposed that her name be considered as his replacement, said Bryan Slinker, dean of the veterinary college.
And the interviews began.
“Yes, it’s a big change,” said Hardy. “I’m still excited to be here, and with all of us working together I really believe the department can remain strong and continue to grow.”
When Prieur came on as chair in 1987, emailing wasn’t yet the norm, stamps cost 22 cents and the movie thriller “Fatal Attraction” was a box-office hit. And, of course, WSU was much smaller.
“Back then I knew half of the faculty on campus. Now I only know about 10 percent,” said Prieur, who earned his Ph.D. at WSU in veterinary pathology in 1971. After completing a fellowship at the National Cancer Institute in Maryland, he returned to WSU in 1974 to teach and conduct research.
Another big change: “It was more of an academic post back then. Now there are more managerial responsibilities,” said Prieur. The duties range from overseeing budgets and research compliance to recruiting students and faculty and cutting costs.
“The day-to-day work of chairing a department has a different pace and feel than it did when I started,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for the changes – but considering that I was born in 1942, I felt it was time for someone with more energy.”
With Hardy stepping up to the plate, Prieur plans to spend more time in the classroom, fundraising and writing papers for his research on genetic diseases in animals.
And when the weather is good, he just might get out and catch a fish or two.