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Christensen, George C.

Published onJul 30, 2021
Christensen, George C.

(February 21, 1924 - August 1, 2020)

Quick Facts

Veterinarian, educator, vice president for academic affairs and photographer.


Self-Portrait, 2000 by George Christensen (American, 1924 - 2020). Selenium-toned silver print. Gift of the artist. In the Permanent Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. UM2007.67

George C. Christensen was born in New York City. He went to Cornell University where he received three degrees – his doctorate in veterinary medicine (1949), master’s in science (1950), and PhD (1953). After receiving his PhD, Christensen joined the faculty at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine as an associate professor of veterinary anatomy from 1953-58. He served as professor and head of the Department of Veterinary Anatomy at Purdue University from 1958-63.

Christensen returned to Iowa State after being named dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, a position he held from 1963-65. Later he served Iowa State’s vice president for academic affairs from 1965-87. He also served as the executive director for international affairs from 1988-89.

Christensen’s chief professional interests included international education and programs, veterinary medical education, academic programs in higher education, and affirmative action in higher education. The author of numerous publications, his research activities focused on cardiovascular system, genito-urinary system and the history of veterinary medical education. He is the co-author of Anatomy of the Dog, a 941-page publication published in 1964.

Once in office as the vice president for academic affairs, Christensen had a significant impact on the university, an impact that continues to this day. The campus grew from less than 10,000 students to more than 25,000 during his tenure. He was responsible for curriculum changes and restructuring of academic departments throughout campus. One of Christensen’s goals was to eliminate division of disciplines by gender. He was instrumental in bringing the physical education courses, which were previously taught in different academic units for men and women, together in the College of Education. He created the College of Design at Iowa State by moving departments from three different colleges to form the new entity.

Christensen had a vision for a new veterinary medical complex, replacing the outdated facility in the “The Quad” on central campus. He laid the groundwork in the early ‘60s for the current College of Veterinary Medicine complex by securing a financial commitment from the State of Iowa. Through discussions and open forums with practitioners, faculty and students, the new facility was built and opened in 1974, while Christensen was the vice president for academic affairs. His work on the project was recognized on July 31, 1997, with the dedication of Christensen Drive, the main road at the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Throughout this career at Iowa State, Christensen was a champion for international studies and for years for known as Iowa State’s unofficial “international coordinator.” Under his leadership, numerous faculty and student exchanges were established at Iowa State with countries around the globe. As an administrator, he was instrumental in the establishment of the World Food Institute and involved in many international organizations such as the Iowa Peace Institute and the Iowa Sister State programs. As relations thawed between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, Christensen was instrumental in developing programs at Iowa State with the People’s Republic of China. He established Iowa State’s first international student services center to assist international students and host foreign visitors. He recruited new faculty to campus to specifically teach international courses and enabled others to add international components to their courses through the university’s study abroad program.

Christensen’s awards and recognitions are numerous. He was named a Clarence Hartley Covault Distinguished Professor in Veterinary Medicine in 1987 and was a recipient of an honorary doctoral degree from Purdue University in 1978. Throughout his career he was actively involved in the executive committee of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges and the National Advisory Research Resources Council. In 1982, Christensen was named a Diplomat-Scholar in the U.S. State Department. He served as a consultant for several countries including Egypt, Costa Rica, Taiwan and China.

The veterinarian also had an eye and talent for photography, dating back to his youth. He became interested in photography at an early age, teaching himself how to take photos and develop film through reading and experimentation. While in high school in Staten Island, New York, Christensen served as editor and photography editor for his high school newspaper. A series of his photographs were exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City while he was still in high school. He later had photography exhibits in galleries and museums in Iowa, Alaska and Indiana. A large body of his photographic work is in the permanent collection of University Museums, Iowa State University.

Christensen married Janeth M. Reid of Ft. Edward, New York, and they had four children. She died in 1997. Christensen remarried Susan Sinclair Christensen.

George Christensen passed away in August of 2020 and is interred in the Iowa State University Cemetery.

Selected Sources

Christensen’s papers are in the University Archives, Special Collections, Iowa State University Library, Ames


Christensen, George C. (1963) "The Changing Image," Iowa State University Veterinarian: Vol. 26 : Iss. 1 , Article 2.

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