Josh Dein: A Cross-Disciplinary Approach to Public Service


When F. Joshua Dein decided to retire from his lengthy career as a wildlife veterinarian with the U.S. Department of the Interior in Wisconsin, he and his wife chose Vermont as the place to make their home. Aside from its dearth of Green Bay Packer fans, they felt Shelburne was a good fit for them.

Shortly after his move, Dein became a member of the Natural Resources and Conservation Committee. While he enjoyed that work, he noticed that a lot of the ideas the committee came up with required Selectboard support, so he decided to run for a three-year term. “I spent most of my life in public service,” Dein said “and it seemed like a good opportunity to learn more about what happens in town and to make a contribution to living here.”

Dein thinks the position is a good one for him because one of his strengths is problem solving. “In my area of veterinary medicine,” he said “you spend a lot of time looking for information that isn’t readily available or isn’t available at all. Once you move beyond dogs and cats to zoological or wildlife medicine you develop a certain comfort level with dealing with things you don’t know much about but have to rapidly figure out.”

Dein continues to teach and take part in project management at the University of Wisconsin, including a citizen science program called the Wildlife Health Event Reporter which allows people to report in real time on dead or diseased wildlife. “Probably the first instance of a disease event occurs in the wild,” he said. “A lot of zoonotic diseases are exchanged between humans and other animals.” Dein is also a visiting lecturer at the Graduate School of Veterinary Medicine at Hokkaido University in Sapporo, Japan. He is involved with the One Health Initiative which he describes as a movement to forge collaborations between practitioners of both human and veterinary medicine with those from other health and environmental disciplines.

Dein has done a great deal of work using cross-disciplinary information and has engaged in collaborations with institutions across national and international lines. In keeping with his interest in bridging disciplinary gaps, Dein is a partner in OneScience Partners which is based in Burlington. The goal is to bring people from different backgrounds together for collaborations. Dein noted that many disciplines use the same words but with different meanings so he and his wife, a social scientist, are working to bridge the gap between groups to find common language.

One of Dein’s goals for his term is having Selectboard members be liaisons to other committees as a way to increase interaction between them. Additionally, he would like to find better ways to reach out to the community. “It’s great that you can view meetings from home,” he said “but if you want to ask a question you have to be in the room. Are there ways to make it easier for people to ask questions without being there? It’s important not to lose sight that we’re representing the community.”

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