As an associate professor and director of Avian Medicine and Pathology at Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Sherrill Davison, WG’04, works to prevent and manage outbreaks of poultry illnesses like avian flu.
In addition to her lab and field work, she also serves as the agricultural spokesperson for the Penn Vet School, the secretary treasurer for the PA Veterinary Medical Association (PVMA), and treasurer of PVMA’s insurance company. On top of all that, she advises the PA poultry industry.
“I wouldn’t have had the tools to do these jobs without my Wharton MBA education,” said Sherrill, who came to the MBA Program for Executives in Philadelphia in 2002. “My classes gave me the business knowledge and skill set to work with industry and government leaders and understand the economic issues involved in the poultry industry,” she said.
Sherrill’s education at Penn began as an undergraduate student and continued at the Penn Vet School both for her VMD and a master’s in epidemiology. After practicing as a veterinarian for several years, she became interested in advocacy work for veterinary issues — particularly related to poultry — at the state and federal levels.
Taking a sabbatical from her job at Penn’s Vet School, she worked for a state senator where she helped write legislation that eventually became law. Wanting to make an even greater impact in advocacy, she decided to pursue an MBA.
The Economic Impact of Poultry Disease
At that point, she had two young daughters and wanted to continue working full-time. “Wharton’s EMBA program was the perfect fit because I could pursue my education at Penn and not step away from my job at the Vet School,” said Sherrill, whose work included pathology, field investigation, teaching, and research.
In Wharton’s EMBA Program, she learned how to integrate a business perspective into her work and combine that knowledge with her veterinary education to help prevent and control poultry disease.
“My Wharton education let me look at how outbreaks of disease affect farmers, consumers, and the industry,” she said. “It is important to understand the economic impact of an animal disease on the income to the farmer and their employees, loss of jobs on the farm, the effect on industries that support agriculture, and the increase in food prices. Decisions about control measures should include stopping the spread of the disease, but also mitigating the economic impact.”
Today, Sherrill wears multiple professional hats, but it’s common to find her in the field where her goal remains focused on increasing understanding about avian diseases. When birds are ill, she visits both commercial flocks and families with backyard chicken coops. If a bird dies, she puts on her pathology hat to identify the illness and advise about prevention.
Sherrill also works with the poultry industry on statewide issues, such as avian influenza, and teaches several courses at the Penn Vet School, including a lab in which students join her in the field to visit producers, examine ill birds, and learn about the business aspects of poultry farming.
“My Wharton MBA gave me a broader understanding of the business issues in this industry and the confidence to speak with legislators and give testimony on issues like avian influenza and keeping backyard poultry. The EMBA program opened my eyes to the full picture of the poultry industry. My education was the key to being able to take on these leadership and advocacy roles,” she said.
Sharing her Passion and Staying Connected
These days, Sherrill stays engaged with Wharton by joining Wharton lecturer Jason Riis on Business Radio on Sirius XM to discuss consumer preferences in the poultry industry. “We talk about issues like the impact of consumer preferences for organic products and birds that were raised cage free as well as other economic issues in agriculture,” she said.
She also continues to share her Wharton education with Penn Vet students. “After taking Prof. Stewart Friedman’s Total Leadership class in the EMBA program, I served as a mentor in that class and gave lectures to my students at the Penn Vet School to help them learn how to integrate all aspects of their lives. I still incorporate those lessons into some of my classes today,” Sherrill said.
She also enjoys talking to students in the Vet School about how an MBA opened doors for her. “Some veterinary students don’t want to follow a traditional career path, so I share my story about how Wharton’s EMBA program helped me discover different opportunities,” she said. “There are many possible career paths that combine business and veterinary medicine.”
— Meghan Laska
Posted: December 5, 2017