Instructor prepares ag students for life after college

Fresno State instructor Neal Spiro teaches classes in the animal sciences department. He uses his experience from owning his own veterinary practice to prepare students for graduation.

Fresno State instructor Neal Spiro teaches classes in the animal sciences department. He uses his experience from owning his own veterinary practice to prepare students for graduation.
/Photo by Roe Borunda

Fresno State instructor Neal Spiro takes a different approach when teaching his classes, not only teaching with great passion for the dairy industry, but also with a realistic point of view on life.

A staple of the Fresno State animal sciences department, he has decided to retire at the end of the semester and move on to greener pastures.

Spiro, already a veterinarian, began working as a professor at Fresno State in 2007, where he teaches dairy science and pre-veterinarian classes, such as anatomy and physiology.

Though he enjoys teaching, Spiro said he never thought he would become a professor.

“It was a huge culture shock for me when I started teaching,” Spiro said.  He said there are special qualities to both his veterinary practice and teaching.

“Working with students is always the best part about teaching,” Spiro said. “I really enjoyed being a veterinarian.”

Prior to becoming a professor, Spiro went to Cal Poly, where he received a bachelor’s degree in dairy science and continued on to Ross University for his doctorate of veterinary medicine.  He began as a herdsman, and then worked at a mixed-animal practice and later, a dairy.

Spiro moved back to California in 1989, and in July of 1990, he started his own veterinary practice.  He still has his practice, although it is much smaller than it used to be.  His focus is mostly on dairy cows, but he also works with some equines.

Spiro said his greatest personal achievement was starting his veterinary practice.

“I was always blessed to have excellent clients to work with,” he said.

Though he loved the work, he had to cut back on his veterinary practice because it is a physically demanding career, he said.

“I did mostly large-animal [practice], and physically it starts taking a its toll on your body, especially with the dairy practice,” he explained.

Spiro’s job is not only to teach, but also to prepare his students for the work environment.  He said obtaining work in the students’ desired areas is very important and feels it is part of the faculty’s job to help with that.

Spiro uses his classes as a time to prime students with the skills that will be needed in the workforce.

“It’s really important to try and bridge the gap between academia and, for lack of a better word, the real world,” Spiro said. “I think the two need to stay connected, and students need to be made aware of what’s going to be expected of them when they leave college.”

Spiro is also an assistant coach for the Dairy Challenge team, the Pre-Vet Club adviser, the department representative and is on the Institutional and Animal Use Committee.

Whitney Etcheverry, a Dairy Challenge team member for three semesters, said the challenge is a competition between schools to give consulting advice to different dairies.  The team travels to various dairies and evaluates them to find ways to make them more efficient.

April Chabala, a senior in the animal science pre-veterinary program at Fresno State and the Pre-Vet Club president, said Spiro is adept at relating class work to the actual industry.

“Spiro is excited when he teaches,” Chabala said.  “He teaches with a realist aspect that helps us implement it in real life.”

Chabala said that Spiro doesn’t cut corners and teaches with a straightforward approach.  She said Spiro supports the Pre-Vet Club and makes sure the students know it is a competitive industry.

“He brings forth the realization that not everyone gets into vet school,” Chabala said.  “He teaches us it is important to have a plan B.”

Like many of his graduating students, Spiro is not sure where he will end up after the semester, but looks forward to the next stage of his life.

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