Prof. Jerrie Gavalchin, animal science, died as a result of a cycling accident on May 3. She was 64.
In her two decades at Cornell, Gavalchin was a mentor to hundreds of students — even those who were not officially her advisees — helping scores of them get into veterinary school.
“Jerrie was a longtime colleague, an outstanding teacher and dedicated student advisor,” wrote College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Dean Kathryn Boor ’80 in an email to the CALS faculty and staff. “Students will remember Jerrie for her kindness and great generosity in sharing her time and expertise.”
Remembering Gavalchin upon her sudden passing, many students recalled how she supported them on all fronts and how she advocated for them at every turn, caring for them beyond just as students, but as people.
“Before Cornell, I didn’t know what it meant to have somebody advocate for you,” Rebecca Harrison ’14 grad said. “Jerrie wasn’t actually my assigned adviser. But I reached out to her. And it was just like this moment of, ‘Oh my god, like people advocate for you here.’”
“[Her advocacy] meant that you’d be sitting in meetings with her and you’d have a question, and if she didn’t know the answer, she literally would pick up the phone while you were sitting there,” Harrison continued. “Or she’d know people off the top of her head to forward you to or would do that work for you.”
When asked about Gavalchin’s role as an adviser, her husband, Prof. Carl Batt, food science, laughed: “It seemed like every other moment she was putting out a fire and taking things on — as a passion,” he said.
“She was predominantly a researcher at Upstate [Medical University], but when she came to animal science at Cornell,” Prof. Batt said, “she basically became the lead adviser for a vast number of animal science undergraduates.”
“She was really remarkable. I don’t think there are that many faculty-level advisers that take on that kind of responsibility and that take it on as thoroughly as she did,” Prof. Batt continued.
Gavalchin’s former advisees described how she supported them as students across the board — in their academic endeavors and personal lives — while getting to know them deeply.
“She went out of her way to take some of that stress off of her students, to just fight for them in ways that I don’t know that a lot of advisers do,” Harrison said, recalling a time when she missed a prelim while in the hospital and Gavalchin managed the whole situation for her.
Going above and beyond was characteristic of Gavalchin, Laci Taylor ’16 DVM ’22 said about her “once-in-a-lifetime” former adviser.
“When I think about the people who have made a real difference in my life, Jerrie is definitely at the top of that list,” Taylor said. “She always made sure that I had what I needed to succeed and made sure that I had a seat at the table and that my thoughts and concerns were heard. I really feel she saw me for who I was, and I’d been overlooked so many times before in the program.”
Hadiyah Edwards ’17 echoed Taylor’s description of Gavalchin, remembering how Gavalchin made her feel valued and like she belonged at Cornell, where at times she felt isolated and invisible in the animal science major.
Edwards co-founded Minority Animal Science Students at Cornell, and called Gavalchin “our biggest support” as the group’s adviser, even as it received pushback from other members of the department.
In the animal science department, Gavalchin developed a following of advisees and became a sort of legend for helping students get into veterinary school. In 2014, she won the Donald C. Burgett Distinguished Advisor Award.
Many students have attributed much of their success in their educations and careers to Gavalchin and her support.
Edwards recalled examples of Gavalchin creating opportunities for her, never allowing her to settle. She built confidence in Edwards in her immunology class, meeting her only with encouragement. She imagined possibilities for Edwards, finding an internship for her, after a rejection. And later, she helped Edwards get into veterinary school by writing a letter of recommendation and walking through the application process with her. Edwards is now a veterinary student at Ross University.
But what was the most telling of Gavalchin, Edwards said, was the way she rooted for her at every step of the way and responded to her success: “she said, ‘Helping students like you is why I do my job.’”
This reputation came about because she never doubted her students and she supported students in whatever they needed and wanted, even if that wasn’t veterinary school, according to Harrison. Gavalchin also taught an undergraduate course on the versatility of an animal science degree.
“I never had a mentor before Jerrie,” Taylor said. “She encouraged me to take on so many opportunities that I was otherwise hesitant to take, and Cornell Vet was one of those opportunities.
“I definitely would not be here at Cornell Vet without her,” Taylor continued.
Taylor explained that not only did Gavalchin write “literally all” of her veterinary school letters of recommendation, but she spent hours advising her on the applications.
Outside the classroom, Gavalchin’s daughter Samantha Batt ’16 remembered her as her biggest supporter and the “most incredible mother.”
“My mom would come down for girls’ weekends all the time,” Samantha, who now lives in New York City, said. “She was a lot of fun, and she wanted to be my friend more than anything.”
For the past seven weeks, Samantha had been home with her family.
“I think we did something every day together, Samantha continued. “She woke up at 5 or 6 in the morning to make sure she got her work done so that we could spend the day together, because she knew I wouldn’t be too busy. She didn’t want to miss anything with us.”
Both Carl and Samantha said they likely underestimated the impact of Gavalchin’s advising, but the outpouring of love online has been a testament to her reach.
Former students and advisees took to Facebook and Twitter to share fond memories of Gavalchin, echoing the words of Harrison, Taylor and Edwards. Edwards is also putting together a virtual memorial for Gavalchin, receiving tributes from those that knew her.
“During an already challenging time, this is a tremendous loss to the department, to our students and to the Cornell community as a whole,” Boor wrote. “She will be sorely missed.”
Gavalchin is survived by her husband, Prof. Carl Batt, food science, and daughter, Samantha Batt ’16. Memorial service arrangements will be announced by the University when they are available.
Support services are available to all members of the Cornell community. Students may consult with counselors from Cornell Health Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) by calling (607) 255-5155.
Employees may call the Faculty Staff Assistance Program at (607) 255-2673 or [email protected] The Ithaca-based CrisisLine is available at (607) 272-1616. For additional resources, visit Cornell’s Caring Community website.