The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine yesterday announced the creation of a $100,000 excellence award - said to be the largest unrestricted award in veterinary medicine - for practicing veterinarians in any country.

Joan C. Hendricks, Penn's Gilbert S. Kahn dean of veterinary medicine, said in a statement that the award would "encourage and reward ambitious thinking and life-changing accomplishment."

The school also is launching two similar awards - each also $100,000 in unrestricted funding - for promising Penn veterinary students.

The school is inviting nominations and could announce winners in about a year.

The program for the annual awards has been established with a $1 million gift from the Hill Family Foundation.

Its president is Vernon W. Hill II, a graduate of Penn's Wharton School and the founder and chief executive officer of Commerce Bank. Its secretary is his wife, Shirley, founder and president of InterArch, an architecture and design firm in Mount Laurel. They live in Moorestown.- Sandy Bauers