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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Animal & Veterinary

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CVM Staff College: The Learning Resource Center for Excellence

FDA Veterinarian Newsletter 2008 Volume XXIII, No IV

The Center for Veterinary Medicine strives to be a high-performance organization. An important aspect of high performance is a highly educated and informed staff. To that end, the Center has established a Staff College that offers scientific training, as well as courses in management and in leadership, to all of its employees.

In a recent interview with FDA Veterinarian, Connie R. Mahon, Director of CVM’s Staff College, presented an overview of the College and the CVM’s plans for it.

Q: How would you describe the role of the Staff College in CVM’s structure?
A: The Staff College provides learning opportunities for us to grow and develop, foster our Center’s stewardship philosophy, discover what it means to each of us to be a leader and to be a part of something spectacular, an essential member of this organization.

Carl Sagan once wrote about how as civilization progressed we moved ourselves away from the stars by building the walls of the cities around us. Children would grow and mature completely unaware of what was beyond those walls. The CVM Staff College ensures that we (at CVM) have a clear view of the stars, and it strives to remove barriers that may keep us from finding what is ours to find.


Q: You mentioned individual leadership. Under its High Performance Organization approach to management, the Center stresses the leadership role each employee has. How does the Staff College enhance that role?
A: The Staff College offers CVM employees learning opportunities for career and leadership development. The competency-based curricula enhance and reinforce individual skills, promote personal growth as well as organizational performance in support of the CVM mission.

CVM, like many other parts of the government, faces the need to prepare and develop new leaders as the Federal government continues to experience a retirement wave with approximately 60 percent of the Federal workforce eligible to retire over the next 10 years. As CVM deals with developing global events, new threats, from bioterrorism, for example, and emerging science and technology, the requirement for effective leaders becomes even more critical. Leaders of the future will need to be knowledgeable in order to lead global and technological initiatives.

(The Staff College is part of CVM’s Office of Management.) CVM Office of Management’s theme is “leadership belongs to everyone.” It is a reflection of CVM’s philosophy of stewardship and unique culture. We at the Staff College have created leadership development programs for all who aspire to enhance their leadership skills. Our leadership development programs consist of mentoring, coaching, and other development activities; all of which serve as powerful catalysts for our continuous learning, advancement, and growth.


Q: You mentioned that the Federal government, which of course includes CVM, will see a wave or retirements over the next decade. Exactly how can the Staff College help address that issue?
A: In support of the CVM Succession Plan, which was created because of the large number of employees expected to retire over the next 10 years, and to ensure the development of a cadre of talented and ready employees for CVM, we focus on strengthening the talent and skills of everyone in the organization, regardless of the person’s job, role, or position. We believe in developing our employees as they enter the organization, rather than starting their development near the peak of their career.


Distance Learning and the Virtual Classroom


Q: You bring a unique background and a highly developed interest in distance learning to CVM’s staff college. Can you tell us about your background?
A: My interest in and passion for designing distance learning began when the first cholera outbreak in 100 years was reported in South America in 1991. As the outbreak spread across South and Central America including the Mexican states, transmission of the infectious agent among the Texas Border town population was predicted by public health officials. The faculty at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, where I was a member at the time, immediately recognized the urgent need to develop continuing education programs to enhance the knowledge and skills of clinicians and clinical laboratory practitioners in the rapid diagnosis and identification of the cholera agent.

With limited State funding, we traveled hundreds of miles on weekends and delivered continuing education programs along the Texas-Mexico border towns such as Brownsville, Laredo, and Eagle Pass. Participants in these programs included clinicians from interior Mexico, who rarely had such educational opportunities. This experience provided the stimulus to develop continuing education and academic programs via distance education.

Since that time, the availability and capability of virtual/Internet technology in providing distance education have tremendously improved. Today, the ability to provide learners with access to learning at any time and from anywhere is more important than ever.

CVM Learning Resource Center

Q: That explains your interest in distance training. How does that relate to CVM’s public health mission?
A: With emerging molecular technology innovations, scientific discoveries, and gene-based techniques, methods in animal drug development as well as animal food safety have undergone dramatic changes.

At the same time, pathogens and infectious diseases continue to be recognized. The resurgence of “classic” pathogens (those pathogens we have known about for years) continues to occur and microorganisms that previously were treated empirically have expanded their scope of infections so they cause more and different types of infections. These pathogens have also become more virulent and resistant to antimicrobials.

To address the need for continuous professional development in these highly specialized and rapidly advancing areas of new science and biotechnology, we at the Staff College constantly look for innovative ways to effectively deliver program contents that would be easily accessible, available, appropriate, absorbable, and applicable.

Because of improvements in communication technology, we have been able to deliver course offerings that can be accessed at any time from anywhere using virtual technology. We implemented on-demand collaboration applications technology from WebEx Communications, Inc., to provide individuals with access to the CVM curriculum via online training and “e-learning.” Offering on-demand and live online classrooms eliminates the time and distance constraints and increases employee productivity and opportunities to participate. The recording feature of the technology allows us to record presentations and archive them in a reference library for individuals to view at their convenience or look for information pertinent to CVM application reviews. Using this delivery method, we have been able to enhance collaboration across the Agency and external organizations in the exchange of scientific information.

A collaborative MPH program

Q: Under your leadership, the Staff College has brought a Masters of Public Health (MPH) program to CVM. What prompted that, and how will it help CVM do its job?
A: The constant interactions of humans, animals, and the environment have a tremendous impact on public health. Current and evolving health threats include infections transmitted through animals, insects, food, and water, as well as illnesses resulting from environmental toxins, antimicrobial resistance, and bioterrorism. Because of zoonotic diseases and the fact that animals are the major source of the pathogens involved in food-borne illnesses, the need for veterinary scientists who are trained in public health issues continues to increase.

Veterinary public health professionals understand the interaction of human and animal health and have knowledge of the epidemiology and ecology of zoonotic diseases.

In order to address the need for expertise in veterinary public health, the CVM Staff College and the University of Maryland, Baltimore, (UMB) have come together to create opportunities for qualified and eligible CVM employees to pursue a Veterinary Public Health specialization as an option within the MPH degree program.

We offer the MPH courses at the CVM Staff College and design them to allow flexibility and accessibility (via online) to CVM employees, while still allowing maximum class interactions. We delivered the first course, “Principles in Epidemiology,” in the fall of 2006. The course was designed in a “blended-learning” format, a combination of Web-based technology, through which students are able to access course lectures and materials via the Internet, and traditional classroom meetings for interactive class discussion.

Other courses in public health that we have recently offered include “Applied Epidemiology,” “Pharmacoepidemiology,” and “Exposure, Risk, and Public Health.” This fall, we offered new courses “Biostatistical Methods” and “Foundations of Public Health.” These courses were delivered via our virtual classroom using the synchronous live on-line collaboration tool provided by WebEx.

We are now extending our collaborative efforts with UMB to other centers in the Food and Drug Administration. We anticipate that our MPH program will be the model for other collaborative academic and leadership development programs in CVM.


Q: What do you see for the future of CVM’s Staff College?
A: As Yogi Berra once said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

The world has changed. CVM’s Staff College aims to take on the opportunity of becoming a high-impact learning organization. The high-impact factors that we need to address include the multigenerational workforce, alignment of learning and talent management strategies, and the organization’s learning culture.

  • Addressing the multigenerational workforce: We need to consider the impact of employees from “Generation X” and “Generation Y” in our learning development and delivery methods, recognizing that their learning styles are immensely different than those in other generations. We have to be prepared to meet the needs of our younger employees and be able to reach them with our learning development programs.
  • Alignment with talent management: Our career and leadership development programs encourage internal career mobility, assist in recruiting, hiring, and retaining employees as well as facilitate our leadership pipeline. We therefore plan to improve our learning and development programs’ alignment with talent management strategies.
  • Organization’s learning culture: In his editorial, “Best practices for high-impact learning,” (CLO, August 2008), Josh Bersin cited the organization’s learning culture as the greatest predictor of impact in learning environments. He also emphasized that the consistent reinforcement of professional development by management is what drives remarkable results. We are continuing to enjoy the Center Leadership Team’s support and engagement in our efforts, and the encouragement of the Center’s employees in their career development. Collaborative learning, discussion groups, communities of practice and on-demand learning have become as essential as formal lectures and seminars. We need to understand and learn how to develop not just content but also context, and how changes in technology, CVM’s demographics, and organizational structures affect our best practices.

    Where are we going from here? How about toward “second star to the right and straight on until morning.”