Bill Pierson was recently honored with a national award for a career devoted to mentorship, avian disease research and biosecurity.

Pierson was named the 2022 recipient of the Bruce W. Calnek Applied Poultry Research Achievement Award, given by the American Association of Avian Pathologists.

Pierson is Emeritus Professor of Biosecurity and Infection Control and Clinical Specialist in Poultry Health with the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. Although he retired in 2018 and resides in Durham, N.C., he still teaches some courses for the college.

The Calnek award, according to the AAAP website, “is given to a member of AAAP who has made outstanding research contributions resulting directly or indirectly in a measurable, practical impact on the control of one or more important diseases of poultry.”  

Pierson is the 15th recipient of the $1,000 award that AAAP began in 2004.

The award’s namesake, Calnek, was a career avian medical researcher who, according to his online biography, almost ended up as a professor at Virginia Tech himself almost 70 years ago before opting instead to start his research career at the University of Massachusetts.

Pierson, by contrast, spent much of his adult life associated with Virginia Tech, graduating in vet med’s 1984 charter class and getting his Ph.D. in avian medicine and infectious diseases at Tech in 1993. After a short time as a small and exotic animal practitioner in Pennsylvania, he joined Tech’s faculty in 1990, where he became a prolific researcher in avian diseases and a highly sought expert in biosecurity.

“While Bill supported broiler health in Virginia, he is particularly well known and admired for his dedication to the turkey industry and willingness to work on diseases in which there was little research funding,” Margie Lee, department head of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, wrote in her letter nominating Pierson for the award.

Pierson was the director of the Veterinary Teaching Hospital from 2007-2014 and served as interim head of the Department of Biomedical Science and Pathobiology from 2016-2018.

“He wore many hats at the VMCVM which illustrates his exceptional work ethic and versatility,” Lee wrote in the nomination letter.

To many, however, Pierson has been best known as an engaging professor and mentor.

Pierson has taught undergraduate, professional, and graduate-level courses, and advised or was a committee member for 28 Master of Science degree students, 35 Master of Public Health students, and 35 Ph.​D.​ students.

“Dr. Pierson pushed me out of my comfort zone. I was determined to be a field vet and wanted to spend all of my time there, he had to ‘pull back the reins’ to get me in the lab on the bench. I hated it, but now am the manager of a diagnostic laboratory system,” said Jessica Walters, a 2016 graduate of VMCVM now working for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Harrisonburg.

 “Dr. Pierson has been supportive throughout my career thus far as a mentor and as a colleague. He always pushed me to question answers and to make sure things were not only ‘statistically’ significant, but ‘biologically’ significant.”