Thirty-two years in veterinary practice will teach you a thing or two. “Don’t leave a sedated dog on the table,” said Dr. Danny Walker, assistant professor of animal science. “Why do you think I tell my students that? Because I know what can happen when you turn your back.”
Walker, a Martin native, graduated from UT Martin with a bachelor’s degree in animal science and received his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from Auburn University in 1979. Then, after 32 years at a clinic in Jackson, he finally decided to come home.
“They started a veterinary technology program here, and something I really enjoy doing is teaching,” he said. “It sort of made sense.”
For Walker, teaching isn’t just about book smarts and exams; it’s about learning to be not only the best professional, but the best person that you can. “I want to be the best mentor that I can for these students. … I want to be someone they can look up to and respect and hopefully be a positive example in their lives,” he said. “What I love most, first of all, is interaction with the students. You know there’s so many things that you learn in life that you’re exposed to and you can see down the future for a lot of these students, and they don’t quite get it right now. Hopefully I can convey some of that across to them – not only the knowledge of the book stuff, but also the life principles and what’s really important.”
Teaching is also about hands-on experience – something UT Martin is proud to provide. “I think it’s important when you’re dealing with pre-veterinary science or veterinary technology that you get to touch the animals and handle them and watch how they behave,” he explained. He remembers traveling to local farms during his college days to work cattle and horses as part of his animal science studies. His own decision to join the veterinary profession was heavily influenced by the faculty of the time and the willingness of local farmers and veterinarians to let students observe and assist in real-world situations.
These experiences have served the department well and helped students find employment in their chosen fields. “These (veterinary technology) students, when they graduate, they have jobs; and let’s face it, the idea of going to college is to get a job,” said Walker. “One hundred percent of our people are employed and they actually have jobs waiting as they finish. I see that as a positive push for this department.”
Walker not only teaches a variety of courses for the veterinary technology program, he also coordinates the six-week internships completed by each student before graduation. “We’ve created some great relationships with some (veterinary) practices that are going to be long-standing, and I think that is very important for our program,” he said. He and his wife, Susie, don’t just place the students in their internships, however; they also visit each one and grade both the student and the host practice – a tradition unique to the UT Martin program. “Some of these practices have told us, ‘We’ve had lots of interns, but nobody’s ever come to visit them.’ We want to know if there are areas where we can improve our instruction, and we never want to send anyone to a place where they aren’t treated well,” he explained.
Walker’s second favorite thing about teaching is the atmosphere of cooperation within the Department of Agriculture, Geosciences and Natural Resources. “That is a huge plus,” he said. “I think that we want the agriculture to excel because (UT Martin) has always been known for agriculture. This is an ag school… we live in a rural, agricultural area and I think it’s important for us to keep that heritage and for us to keep pushing forward to expand.”
Danny and Susie Walker recently celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary, have two grown sons and are expecting their first grandchild in October. In the meantime, Danny is writing a book of stories and life lessons from his years as a practicing veterinarian and hopes to travel with his wife to Wimbledon.
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