Amazing Students Profiles

Fernando Torres-Vélez

Fernando Torres-Vélez

Fernando J. Torres-Vélez came to the College of Veterinary Medicine in the summer of 2002 as an anatomic pathology resident after completing a fellowship in Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. Since his arrival to UGA, he has been actively involved in research, teaching, and the International Activities program. For his outstanding performance in these areas, he was inducted into the Phi Zeta veterinary honor society after his first year of residency. During his second year at UGA, Torres-Vélez received a half million dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Using the grant, he will work with the CDC to examine the pathogenesis of Nipah virus, a BSL-4 and Category C biothreat agent. He also leads a sea turtle conservation medicine and research project in his native Puerto Rico which he uses to teach vet students about their role as stewards of wildlife and the environment. In the past two years, Torres-Vélez has co-authored several conference abstracts, one scientific publication, and one book chapter.


San Juan/Carolina, Puerto Rico

High School:

Academia del Sagrado Corazón

Degree objective:

Ph.D. in veterinary pathology

Other degrees:

B.S. (Zoology), Colorado State University
D.V.M., Tuskegee University School of Veterinary Medicine

Expected graduation:

May 2009

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

During my second year as a resident, I was awarded a $500,000/5 year grant from the NIH to examine the pathogenesis of Nipah virus in a joint project with CDC. This will be the focus of my Ph.D. research. In addition this project, I have established a very successful sea turtle conservation medicine and research program in my native Puerto Rico over the past three years. As part of my active role in the College of Veterinary Medicine’s International Activities program, I take two or three vet students every summer and work with sea turtles in the Caribbean to teach the students about their crucial role in conservation as future veterinarians. I have established key partnerships between state and federal governments and the private sector to support this project, and I have secured more than $150,000 in donations and grants from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the Morris Animal Foundation. In the pathology department, I help teach pathology to our sophomores and rotating senior students. For this work, I was awarded the Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award last year with further acceptance into the Teaching Assistant Mentor Program, becoming the first graduate student from the College to be accepted in this program. Participants in this program are experienced teaching assistants who have been recognized at the institutional level for their outstanding teaching and are preparing for careers in higher education. Additionally, I help teach Spanish to students traveling to Spanish-speaking countries as part of their International Veterinary Medicine Certification.

Current Employment:

I am currently employed by the pathology department at the College of Veterinary Medicine. I am an assistant research scientist working on a joint project with CDC to show how Nipah virus causes disease using an animal model. I also help teach general and systemic veterinary pathology and help coordinate international activities in the vet school.

I chose to attend UGA because…

After my first year as a fellow at the CDC Infectious Disease Pathology Activity Group, it became clear that my career path was going to be in emerging infectious diseases. September 11th came along, and it turned out that many of the diseases with which I was working or in which I had a research interest were not only emerging infectious diseases, but also potential biological threats. I leaned toward the option that would provide me with the opportunity to pursue the best training in this field. Besides teaching and international work, UGA provided the close proximity to CDC (so I can still work there) and Corrie Brown, an internationally renowned expert in bio/agroterror and emerging infectious disease. This extraordinary human being and amazing teacher became my major professor and colleague in international teaching, research and service projects.

My favorite things to do on campus are…

…having international potluck lunches at the vet school where everybody brings a dish from their native country. Our department is pretty diverse, and it is always very interesting to learn about other cultures while eating!

When I have free time, I like…

…to take approximately 20 minutes between 1 and 2 p.m. for a siesta and about 1 hour in the afternoons to run with my dog. I also spend free time hanging out with my friends in Atlanta, and I enjoy coordinating the sea turtle conservation medicine project mentioned previously. I particularly enjoy working on this project because it gives me the opportunity to give back to my community, to do research, to teach students outside the “ivory towers,” and to help out an endangered species.

The craziest thing I’ve done is…

…hand-raised a chimp. As an undergraduate, I used to volunteer in a zoo where a female chimp had twins and rejected one. We had to hand-raise this boy, “Manix,” until he was old enough to go into the exhibit. I used to bring him home during the weekends—to my mom’s frustration and father’s fascination. It was some pretty hardcore “parenting training” to have that hairy bundle attached to your chest almost 24/7. These babies may look cute, but let me tell you, there is nothing cute about taking care of a really strong, hyper baby that can climb everywhere…and that is assuming he keeps his diaper on!

My favorite place to study is…

…my office. In there I have everything I need for my optimal learning: my books, a fast Internet connection, silence, lots of light, a roomy desk, and my own coffee bar (which is a small table with coffee paraphernalia). I am very demanding when it comes to my coffee!

My favorite professor is…

Without a doubt the faculty in our pathology department are the most outstanding I have ever known in my whole educational career. However, I also have to give credit to my favorite teachers on campus, my fellow TA mentors in the Teaching Assistant Mentor Program.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with…

…my grandmothers. Both of my grandmothers had a central role in my upbringing, and I believe my passion for animals came from them. I had the best time of my life when I was with them. Both of them passed before seeing me become the first doctor in the family, and I would have liked to have shared that moment with them.

If I knew I could not fail, I would…

…join the space program and go to space. I always have been fascinated by the whole space concept. I think it would be really cool to do some research while floating around, and I would like to give a live science class that could be broadcast back to middle/high schools across the planet. I would not want a long space career though; one trip would do it.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…

There is one good and one bad experience I will always remember from here. The good one was my participation in the Teaching Assistant Mentor Program. This program gave me valuable tools to develop and improve my teaching skills, and I got the opportunity to know a truly remarkable group of graduate assistants across campus who have an endless passion for teaching and dedication to their students. The bad experience at UGA that I will remember is my first parking ticket.