Whether in a classroom, sharing advice over lunch, or quietly leading by example, educators help us strive for a better life. Our college is filled with teachers, mentors, and colleagues who guide us toward lifelong learning. We salute those who show us the way forward.
PEOPLE: THE HEART OF THE CVM
Sometimes a great high school experience becomes a career. In high school, Larissa Minicucci spent six weeks in a Governor’s School for Agricultural Sciences at Pennsylvania State University and worked on a project involving Johne’s disease in cows.
While she loved science and biology before going off to summer camp, the time spent there “got me turned on to the field of veterinary science,” she says. “That was my first real exposure to agriculture and animal science.”
For more than a decade, Minicucci has been a researcher and associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, specializing in public health and preventive medicine. She’s researched zoonotic diseases, those transferred from animals to humans, and their associated risk factors and disease patterns.
“What keeps me fired up about the field is we have new diseases to study all the time,” says Minicucci. “The professionals in the field we collaborate with fortunately have good tools to manage new diseases, whether it’s mad cow, various strains of avian influenza, or monkey pox.”
The University works with external partners to put together diverse, multidisciplinary teams of state officials, industry representatives, and veterinary college experts to work on big challenges such as avian influenza, which decimated a portion of Minnesota’s turkey production in 2015.
In fact, in her role as a researcher, Minicucci is working on a study of why backyard poultry flocks were not affected by avian influenza. These flocks are managed by hobby farmers and others who raise chickens and turkeys for eggs and their own consumption.
Of the more than 1,500 backyard flocks in Minnesota that were tested during the outbreak, only one suffered from influenza, leading researchers to wonder why. A survey is underway to investigate how backyard flock owners manage their birds and determine what others in the industry can learn to avoid future influenza outbreaks, she says.
The project asks how owners manage birds, explores their concerns about avian influenza, and tries to discover with a diagnostic blood test if the flocks were exposed to influenza but did not get sick.
“We’re trying to understand disease patterns in less-studied populations that could inform how we address future outbreaks,” Minicucci says.
Research is only part of her job. She also oversees a fourth-year veterinary student training rotation in veterinary public health that happens eight times a year. The two-week rotation brings students out into the community to give them a keener understanding of regulatory medicine.
Minicucci also oversees a predominantly online dual-degree program that allows students to combine their veterinary studies with the University’s master’s of public health program. More than 140 students from 20 veterinary schools are enrolled in the program, with the goal to upgrade their skills while earning an additional degree focused on public health, Minicucci says.
Another project she enjoys features the kind of community building the CVM has a national reputation for. As the advisor to the Student Initiative for Reservation Veterinary Service (SIRVS), she and other faculty and community veterinarians take students to Native American reservations five times a year. In March, she led a group that spent a week at the White Earth Reservation.
Minicucci is married to Lou Cornicelli, wildlife research manager at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. They raise backyard chickens and turkeys “that keep us entertained,” she says. An outdoorswoman, Minicucci is a kayaker who recently bought a second kayak for fishing.
“I love being on the water,” she says.