Animal Science and Other Lessons

Oh joy! Rapture! I've got a brain!

                          --The Scarecrow (The Wizard of Oz, 1939)

She started in 1998 and successfully defended it last month. I don’t need a freshly diploma’d scarecrow to do the math. A 15-year paper chase.

The motivation can be traced to her Crawford County childhood. Milking cows and tending sheep in the pre-dawn crispness with her father. Inculcating as her mother balanced career and family.

My wife earned a Doctorate of Philosophy in Animal Science from Kansas State University. A Multi-Disciplinary Policy Approach to Food and Agriculture Biosecurity and Defense (Jackie’s caps.)

567 pages of whaddaya gonna do with all the dead cows when the terrorists figure out how to infiltrate mad cow disease into the beef supply?


some scintillating dinner table conversation.

My answer was about 566 and 7/8 pages shorter:

Dig a hole.

What else can I help you with, dear? 

In the circles in which she ran when the endeavor was launched, earning the PhD came with the territory. My argument then: In the scheme of things, what difference does it make if you have one more degree? Will it alter your innate passion, talent and skill for helping young people find their way?

In retrospect, that opinion amounted to little more than a short-sighted rage against the machine.

In a previous career of my own, I was involved in a handful of tabletop exercises on this general subject matter of ‘what’re we gonna do when the cows go mad?’ I had just exactly enough experience to come away convinced that when and if it happens, it’s gonna be a gold-plated Charlie Foxtrot (please consult your urban dictionary.)

It may well be. But even Charlie Foxtrot

s can be managed. The flying monkeys can be brought back to Earth. The first place those in power-wielding and button-pushing positions will turn – is the latest research.

Yo. We got 567 pages o’ that action. Right here in this purple thumb drive, my friend.

15 years later, she caught up with the paper.

It’s the same premise behind the Biosecurity Research Institute at K-State and soon, the adjacent National Bio and Agro-defense Facility here in MHK.

By God,


better be out there protecting my cheeseburgers.

Turns out I’m married to one.

If you were to chart it, Jackie’s


work’d look like an upside down bell curve. Lotta work at the beginning and end with fits and starts in the middle.

When the line began trending down, I learned (the hard way) not to seek dissertation status updates. I listened intently when the topic came up over dinner with friends and family.     

There are valuable lessons to be gleaned in a 15-year ebb and flow of


pursuit while parallel tracking career and family obligations/aspirations. There were times when she pondered chucking it. Surrender, Dorothy. But that’d mean walking away from all the time and emotion invested so far.

That was never really a viable option.

Jack McClaskey’s early morning chores were infused with so much more than the care and feeding of farm animals. Barbara Jean McClaskey managed a nursing department at Pitt State while raising six kids.

Oh joy. Rapture. Jackie has a brain, a heart, courage and a home.

And I don’t need a house dropped on me to see how she came by them.