Rowan University on Friday formally broke ground on what will be New Jersey’s first-ever veterinarian school — a $154 million project that Gov. Phil Murphy and other leaders painted as a big development for the Garden State.
The Glassboro-based university also revealed the name of the future facility: The Shreiber School of Veterinary Medicine, after a South Jersey businessman who donated $30 million to the venture.
Classes at the school — being constructed at Rowan’s West Campus in Harrison Township — are expected to begin in the fall of 2025, with about 60 students.
It will be the 34th veterinary college in the U.S. and only the sixth on the East Coast, officials said.
Murphy noted the school will also make Rowan one of two universities in the U.S. to offer doctorate degrees in medicine, veterinary, and osteopathic medicine.
“For so many of us, our pets are our family,” the governor said at Friday’s groundbreaking ceremony. “They deserve the highest quality medical care, as well.”
“Just as I want to see more doctors and nurses educated in New Jersey, I want to see veterinarians follow the same path,” he added, saying future graduates will “provide medical care to every member of a family living in New Jersey.”
Officials stressed this comes at a critical time as the veterinarian industry is facing a shortage of trained and licensed vets.
Several colleges in the state do offer programs to meet prerequisites for veterinary programs, according to the New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association. But students then have to leave to get their doctorate.
This school, officials said, will not only keep students in state but attract others from across the country seeking to become animal doctors and technicians, spurring growth in the local economy.
Matthew Edson, the school’s founding dean, said he knows firsthand how important that is. The Burlington County native received his bachelor’s degree in animal science from Rutgers University but had to leave for Kansas State University to get his doctorate in veterinary medicine.
“The ability to fix that for future generations is really incredibly important to me,” said Edson, the owner of Rancocas Veterinary Associates in nearby Mount Laurel.
Edson, also a former councilman in Eastampton Township, stressed this is not just about training people to treat pets.
“This is about public health,” he said, explaining that includes fighting diseases among animals and protecting livestock.
The 108,000-square-foot facility will include a teaching hospital and laboratories.
“This is one hell of a day for South Jersey and the state of New Jersey,” said former state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Gloucester County Democrat on hand for the groundbreaking. “This is a big, big component of our economy.”
The state Legislature last year approved $75 million in state taxpayer money to help fund construction of the facility at Rowan, a public university.
The $30 million donation from Shreiber, chairman of J&J Snack Foods, is the third-largest gift in Rowan history. It will support scholarships toward vet degrees, making them more accessible, said Ali Houshmand, Rowan’s president.
Shreiber, who owns a farm on Mullica Hill that‘a home to various rescue animals, previously gave $3 million in 2019 that helped Rowan establish a pet therapy program. He said the veterinarian school is the culmination of a moment he had as a young boy, when a dog followed him home in Chester, Pa., in the 1950s.
“I kept the dog, but I didn’t have a place to take him for medical care,” Shreiber recalled, saying he’s “honored” to be part of the new school.
“I’m looking forward to that first class.”
Also at Friday’s event were a pair of lawmakers who graduated from Rowan: state Sen. Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, and Assemblyman Bill Moen, D-Camden.
Singleton showed pride by throwing shade at Rutgers, the state’s largest university.
“The real RU is in Glassboro,” he said. “And I mean that sincerely. We continue to set the bar so high for all New Jerseyans to follow.”
Moen said the vet school will allow Jerseyans to “follow their dreams right here at home.”
That includes Kayla Bhagaloo, a 17-year-old Sussex County resident who will be a student at the school. She notes how she hails from an agriculturally heavy area “with dairy and horse farms only a mere few miles from my town and school, making the need for veterinary medicine ever-prevalent.”
“Others that have pursued the same end goal as me have been paying off debt for 50-plus years and had to attain their degree overseas,” Bhagaloo said. “Knowing that I’m only a two-hour drive from home if I ever need a home-cooked meal or a hug is exponentially reassuring.”