Deans and administrators from each college suggested two faculty members who deserve special “kudos” during Faculty Appreciation Week.
Brian Whitlock doesn’t remember exactly when he decided to become a veterinarian. It’s just who he is.
“That’s like asking a cow how she makes milk,” Whitlock said. “She doesn’t know how, she just does it. As a scientist, I’d like to say that there’s some formula that could explain how I arrived at this odd position in my life. I probably couldn’t retrace my own steps if I were asked to start over again.”
Whitlock’s “odd position” is an assistant professor, field services veterinarian, reproductive endocrinologist and sheep brain surgeon at UT’s College of Veterinary Medicine. He may seem to be a Jack of all Trades, but it was a natural progression from his formative years on a cattle and tobacco farm in Gravel Switch, Ky.
He credits his early farm work for his strong work ethic and his curiosity.
“The farm was like growing up in a big lab and there were always more questions than answers,” he said. “My parents encouraged my curiosity by getting me involved in small research projects, like testing the effects of different soil types and fertilizer on corn growth, at a very early age.”
Whitlock attended Campbellsville University in Campbellsville, Ky., where he played football and graduated with honors with a degree in chemistry. After earning his master’s degree at Michigan State University he went on to Auburn University, where he earned both his doctor of veterinary medicine degree as well as his doctorate in biomedical sciences.
Before completing his doctorate, Whitlock logged time in a private veterinary practice in Michigan to enhance his learning experience. As he neared completion of his studies at Auburn, he began looking for a position at a college of veterinary medicine where he could work with students, farmers and animals while continuing to research reproductive endocrinology.
At UT’s Large Animal Clinical Sciences’ field service section, Whitlock does all of that: He teaches, and collaborates on research with colleagues at UT and at other institutions. He is working with faculty at Auburn, Berry College in Georgia and Kansas State University and is involved in grant-funded projects with faculty from around the world.
“Dr. Whitlock has exceptional skills as a researcher, clinician and teacher,” said Jim Thompson, dean of the college. “He embodies the true concept of an academic clinician, as he cares deeply about his patients and his students. He brings exceptional knowledge to the table in multiple areas. Dr. Whitlock is a high-energy, affable teacher, motivated to get his students involved in large animal health care. His communication skills are absolutely tops.”
Whitlock and his wife, Lynette, have three children: 5-year-old twins, Lydia and Grayson, and 3-month-old Truett. Whitlock has helped build churches across the Southeast for the last eight years and recently went on his first veterinary-related mission trip.
Assistant Professor Agricola Odoi grew up in Uganda, a country largely built on its agricultural resources. Growing up on a small farm, Odoi was involved in farm activities and became interested in caring for animals at an early age.
“In Uganda, animals play a vital role in people’s lives in many ways,” Odoi said. “The interaction of people and animals is important but not without health challenges due to the risk of cross transmission of infections.”
Odoi became interested in zoonotic infections – infections that can be transmitted from animals to humans — and public health. His interests brought him to universities in three countries before coming to America and UT. He earned his veterinary degree from Makerere University in Uganda, a master’s degree in epidemiology and animal health economics from University of Nairobi in Kenya and a Ph.D. in epidemiology from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. All the while, his interests continued to evolve with his surroundings, and he began to focus on the patterns of health and illnesses within populations and the use of geographical information in health research.
After completing his doctorate in Ontario, Canada, Odoi took a job monitoring community health and planning for public health issues.
“As a public health epidemiologist I investigated disparities in population health and identified communities that weren’t doing as well as others in terms of disease incidence and quality of life,” he said. “The information was useful for guiding health planning and resource allocation to reduce health inequities and improve population health.”
Odoi came to UT in the fall of 2005 and his research interests have continued to evolve. He has been an instructor of spatial epidemiology at the Appalachian Summer Institute hosted at East Tennessee State University, where he is an adjunct faculty, and has been involved in a number of research collaborations with the University of Kentucky. Odoi also has partnered with UT’s National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) to organize a workshop focusing on modeling the impact of cattle movements on the transmission dynamics of bovine tuberculosis in the U.S.
Odoi’s current research focuses on determinants of population health as well as application of geographical information systems and spatial epidemiology technologies in health research and practice. He is currently investigating disparities in access to emergency heart attack and stroke care in East and Middle Tennessee.
“Some people live too far from the nearest medical facility that can provide appropriate emergency care in the critical moments following a life threatening heart attack or stroke,” he said. “This inevitably affects health outcomes.”
He hopes his study will help identify areas lacking timely access to life-saving emergency treatments so as to guide health planning decisions
“Dr. Odoi brings a smile and hard-working attitude to the college every day,” said Jim Thompson, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine. “His international reach on global animal and human health issues and his touch with organizations throughout the world allow sharing of real-time health care problems in our classrooms. Our college and UT are extremely fortunate to have Dr. Odoi’s expertise and collegiality on board.”
Outside of work, Odoi enjoys being a husband and father and a member of a community church. He and his wife, Evah, enjoy biking with their two children, 8-year-old Faithful and 4-year-old Livia, as well as playing board games.