Claremont resident James Koelbl has done many things and been many places during his 30-plus years in the field of dentistry. Yet the founding dean for the College of Dental Medicine at Western University of Health Sciences (Western U) in Pomona is set to take on even more challenges.

Recently, Mr. Koelbl was elected to the American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation as vice chairman, for a one-year term that begins in October 2007.

“I am honored to be given the opportunity to serve in these leadership roles at this important time,” Mr. Koelbl said.

The election marks the second time that Mr. Koelbl has been selected to a committee this year. Mr. Koelbl was elected as chair of the American Dental Education Association/American Association of Dental Research National Oral Health Advocacy Committee in May 2007 and is expected to serve a two-year term on the committee that will run through 2009.

While both of his elections will have him working with different groups of people that bring different perspectives to the table, the founding dean believes what the groups hope to eventually attain are similar in essence.

“In many ways, the goals of both the Commission on Dental Accreditation and the National Oral Health Advocacy Committee are similar,” Mr. Koelbl explained. “While both organizations approach the issues from different directions, their ultimate goal is to improve the quality of dental education and research, and thus to ultimately improve the quality and availability of oral health care to the people in this country.”

Founded by current president Philip Pumerantz 30 years ago, Western University of Health Sciences is an independent nonprofit health professions university that offers degrees in nursing, osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physical therapy, physician assistant studies and veterinary medicine. The school will soon launch an inter-professional curriculum that will bring together students from all disciplines at the university and bring them together in a classroom setting, small group venues and in clinical experiences with patients.

By 2009, Western U plans to launch new colleges of Dental Medicine, Graduate Biomedical Sciences, Optometry and Podiatric Medicine. The expansion venture of the university comes from the institution’s strategic plan, and the appointment of Mr. Koelbl in December presents the university with the opportunity to gain accreditation and a solid foundation for its future dental program.

“We are very fortunate to have Dr. Koelbl,” Mr. Pumerantz said. “He’s an outstanding dental professional who is creative, has the know how to be successful, is caring and compassionate, and has a great deal of technical excellence. In the field of dentistry, he is one of the best educators in the country.”

The sentiments of Mr. Pumerantz are very similar to what Western U Provost Ben Cohen shared when the founding dean was hired.

“Jim is a natural and easy leader, an innovative visionary and a wise administrator who understands the unique role that dentistry plays in a comprehensive graduate health science education, as well as the health of the whole individual and community,” wrote Mr. Cohen, in a released statement when Mr. Koelbl’s hiring was announced. “We are looking forward to working with Jim as he leads this exciting initiative of founding a new dental college at the university.”

The background of Mr. Koelbl is filled with many career accomplishments and multiple professional memberships. Before he became founding dean at Western U, Mr. Koelbl had served as dean at the West Virginia University (WVU) School of Dentistry since 1999. Prior to his tenure at WVU, he was associate executive director at the American Dental Association (ADA) in Chicago, Illinois.

On top of his elected positions as chair and vice chairman Mr. Koelbl’s professional memberships include being a fellow of the American College of Dentists and the International College of Dentists, a member of Omicron Kappa Upsilon Honorary Dental Society and ADA.

“We support his active involvement in different organizations,” Mr. Pumerantz said. “It makes a lot of sense to enable our leaders to have interactions with other professionals. He needs to be at the table with fellow colleagues discussing the future of dental education.”

Mr. Koelbl has also spent a significant portion of his career in the academic setting, starting with an assistant professorship in the department of prosthodontics (the specialty of implant and reconstructive dentistry) at the University of Illinois. He has served as chairman of the Department of Operative Dentistry, assistant dean for Admissions for Student Affairs, associate dean for Academic Affairs at Loyola University School of Dentistry, and associate dean for Clinical Affairs at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry. For a 20-year period, Mr. Koelbl also practiced general dentistry in both rural and urban settings.

While Mr. Koelbl has proven he has the experience and the technical ability to be a leader in the dentistry field, the founding dean also sensitive to the care of people. The conscientious aspect of dentistry plays a significant role in how Mr. Koelbl goes about his work in a field that continues to change.

“The practice of dentistry, as well as that of all the health professions, continues to evolve,” he said. “Upon graduation, Western U alumni will be prepared to effectively utilize the latest technology and scientific knowledge in their daily practice. They will appreciate the importance of working together with other members of the health care team to help their patients achieve optimum health. They will understand the important links between oral health and general health and they will fulfill their professional obligation to give back to society, especially to those most in need.”