Jan 222012
Authors: Colleen Canty

Transitioning from rhinos to college students may prove more seamless than one might imagine.

Dr. Mark Stetter, current director of animal operations at Walt Disney Co., was recently hired to replace Dr. Lance Perryman as new dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biodmedical Sciences. Perryman will be retiring this spring, at which point Stetter will take the reins.

Although his daily work overseeing a team of 500 animal specialists, veterinarians and curators at the park’s location in Orlando seems worlds away from the classrooms of CSU, Stetter sees invaluable similarities.

“I oversee a large group of people, manage big budgets and work with passionate professionals toward a common mission,” Stetter said. “I am excited for the leadership and strategic planning involved in managing a faculty and staff equally passionate about their jobs.”

Staff and students may not sound as enchanting as snakes and sea turtles, but Stetter, his wife Kelly and their two sons considered the idea of life in Colorado very seriously when contacted by the hiring board. According to Stetter, after speaking with the few close colleagues at the school’s veterinary hospital who put him up for nomination, he was only excited about the opportunities CSU offered him.

“I wasn’t looking to leave Disney; it was a wonderful place to work,” he said. “Logistically, there are a variety of hurdles to meet as my family moves from Florida to Colorado, but I am excited for the opportunities that will come with the wonderful work the college does.”

Stetter has not held a position quite like dean of a college before, but his 15 years of background in teaching, training and education while at Disney runs deeper than the typical zookeeper. With 80 professional interns and 160 college interns training, taking up residency and observing within the animal affairs of Disney’s animal parks, Stetter is no stranger to educating about animal health and care.

He has taught at universities across the nation and sea, touching down in foreign countries such as Africa and, soon, Mexico. According to Dr. Dean Hendrickson, director of CSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, who has worked closely with Stetter for seven years on various projects involving elephants and nominated him for the position, Stetter’s background dealing with a variety of people assuming different roles will be a valuable addition to college.

“I have been exposed to the veterinary curriculum in bits and pieces, but I am looking forward to it full-time as dean,” Stetter said.

Surrounded by 350 species and 3,000 individual animals residing at the Disney parks in Orlando, Stetter’s average day at the company “is hardly typical.” One day a week he spends time doing hands-on veterinary work at Animal Kingdom, which encompasses full physicals to determine the animals’ health. For larger animals, such as the zebras, Stetter routinely does hoof work and will start around 6 a.m. due to their large size and consequently more complicated care. Other days he will work with anything ranging from birds and bats to dolphins and manatees. These results may or may not require him to continue on to anesthesia-aided work like surgery and other medical procedures.

The remainder of Stetter’s day revolves around his team of specialists and director duties; he is in and out of meetings, managing his staff, detailing animal medical records and inventing new exhibit ideas that will “do a better job connecting people with animals and nature.”

Scalpel in one hand, microphone in the other, Stetter meticulously probes at an unconscious gorilla with an audience of onlooking tourists snapping pictures and clutching their Animal Kingdom maps close to their chests, a pane of glass the only barrier between them. Soon, this “on-show area” of the animal park will become a classroom and these international tourists will become CSU’s own student body.

Sophomore microbiology major Maggie Rollert looks forward to witnessing the direction Stetter will take the college, citing not only his “strong education and research background” but his “invaluable experience at Disney” as aspects she believes will contribute significantly to the university.

According to Hendrickson, Stetter’s work at Disney provides just the right backdrop the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences needs to continue moving forward.

“In the zoo world, everyone sort of has their specialty, similar to any teaching operation,” Hendrickson said. “He will bring a fresh perspective unpolluted by the trends we tend to get stuck on and will recognize the self-imposed boundaries we put on ourselves.”

Collegian writer Colleen Canty can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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