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seeding change
Seeding change

By Marisa Larson

No one could predict that when Dr. Robert MacDonald boarded a train in Goshen, New York, in 1936 and headed west to Manhattan, Kansas, to study veterinary medicine, he’d later have a profound impact on the College of Veterinary Medicine and Kansas State University.

When MacDonald passed away in 2009 at the age of 95, he left $2.5 million to the college. Much of those funds were used to recruit and hire Dr. Jim Riviere, K-State’s first National Academies faculty member. Riviere was awarded the MacDonald Endowed Chair of Veterinary Medicine, was named a University Distinguished Professor and is a Kansas Bioscience Eminent Scholar. His research focus is on the appropriate use of pharmaceutical drugs on food animals and computational modeling.

The MacDonald endowed chair did more than just enable K-State to hire Riviere. It created a ripple effect of growth and innovation throughout the college and K-State. Along with Riviere, K-State also hired his wife, Dr. Nancy Monteiro-Riviere, who is one of the world’s leading researchers in the toxicity and absorption of chemicals and nanoparticles through skin. She is also a Regents Distinguished Research Scholar and a University Distinguished Professor of Toxicology. While Monteiro-Riviere’s position and research are not funded by the MacDonald endowment, having her at K-State has been a big boon to the university.

Since arriving at K-State, Riviere established the Institute of Computational Comparative Medicine (ICCM). The ICCM is an interdisciplinary, first-of-its-kind animal health research center. The institute will combine pharmacometrics, pharmacokinetics, molecular modeling, computational epidemiology and biomathematics to develop quantitative mathematical models and computer simulations that will help scientists solve basic problems in animal health and disease. Findings may translate to human health and food safety as well.

“The MacDonald funds and other funds, including significant funding from the Kansas Bioscience Authority, have allowed the ICCM to begin and grow,” Riviere said. “That kind of seed funding is critical because it allows you to create something from scratch. Grant funding agencies don’t want to support something that is new because it’s too risky and unproven.”

Two new tenure-track faculty members were recruited and hired to work at ICCM, joining two existing faculty, and other positions are in the process of being filled. “Brand new faculty positions able to work in a collaborative and interdisciplinary environment — that has been unique,” Riviere said. “The people we’ve been able to bring here probably would not have come unless there was enough support evident from the university. It’s really fun to get people coming together in new positions that are tenure-track. It allows them to build programs that should be sustainable for K-State, helping move K-State toward its goal of being a top 50 public research university.”

Having funds to seed their projects will help the researchers find more funding for their research through grants. In order to get grants, the researchers need to have already completed some research and published their findings in high-quality journals. The seed funding allowed Riviere to pull together researchers before his labs were complete, to do some work and produce some publications. This exposure will help them when applying for future grants.

It is doubtful MacDonald foresaw the effects his generous gift would have on the College of Veterinary Medicine and K-State, but his gift is bound to positively impact research at K-State for many years to come.

How you can help

To learn about ways you can plan a gift to support K-State, please contact Kent Sedlacek, senior director of gift planning, at 785-532-7521 or kents@found.ksu.edu.

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