The College of Veterinary Medicine celebrated the retirement of Stephen Waldhalm, PhD, DVM, a founding faculty member who helped develop the College’s problem-based learning (PBL) curriculum.

At a reception held May 13, 2013 at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, Calif., College of Veterinary Medicine Dean Phillip Nelson, DVM, PhD, presented Waldhalm with the Dean’s Pioneer Award and announced that he is to be named Professor of Veterinary Medicine Emeritus, effective July 1, 2013.

Waldhalm said he will miss the daily interaction with students, although he plans to return to campus to facilitate small-group discussions and provide other assistance. He is proud of the CVM faculty becoming adopters and champions of PBL.

Waldhalm has devoted his career to veterinary education. He was inspired by a renowned physician educator who said, “The art of medical practice is learning to deal gracefully with our ignorance.” From this arises the educational philosophy that a health professions curriculum must develop in students the behaviors of self-directed learning at least as much as acquiring scientific knowledge.

“I always believed that if you truly understood the things a veterinarian does every day in routine practice, then you would truly have the right knowledge of medicine in hand to go out into the workplace,” he said. “It bothered me that traditional lecture-based curriculum was determined and delivered by a faculty that had become highly specialized in their focus area, and maybe lost sight of what graduates need when they first go into their professional career. So if you go back to what a veterinarian does every day and you truly develop an understanding of the basic sciences underneath those activities, you would have the right education when you finish. That’s what PBL really is — the routine things veterinarians do every day, and the behavior of efficiently finding additional information at the time it is needed.”

Waldhalm is the CVM Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Professor of Physiology. He first came to the WesternU campus in 1998 to demonstrate problem-based learning during CVM’s founding. He then joined the CVM faculty in 2002 to establish the PBL curriculum, after retiring from Mississippi State University.

Bringing Waldhalm on board was probably the most critical hire for the College because of his PBL expertise, said Professor of Radiology Gary Johnston, DVM, MS, DACVR, who is also a founding faculty member.

“We had to have somebody who knew how to teach problem-based learning and how to interview faculty so we would know they would embrace it,” Johnston said. “He was a very integral part of getting this College off the ground.”

Dean Nelson thanked Waldhalm’s wife, Marilyn, for sharing her husband with CVM. He presented her with a bouquet of flowers and a gift certificate.

“Watching this college grow over the past 10 years has been exciting for me,” Marilyn Waldhalm said. “The whole educational paradigm change, what’s happened in the profession, is being led here at WesternU by all of you. Steve may have been a conductor with PBL, but you’re the orchestra, and the music is beautiful.”

The Waldhalms will help create a new Veterinary Student Leadership Award as an endowed scholarship at the college.

“We both have gained so much by working through several veterinary professional associations, and with the leaders in this profession, and we would like to pay forward our appreciation,” Stephen Waldhalm said. “We see a need to encourage and reward active and passionate student leaders of the student chapters of the AVMA or AVMA-sanctioned professional veterinary organizations. This award will help attract students to leadership roles and encourage them to continue service to the veterinary profession long into the future. We hope you will join us in this important effort, which will provide valued and needed scholarship support to generations of student leaders, the future heart of the profession.”

Dean Nelson invited others to talk about the guest of honor during the retirement celebration. CVM Assistant Professor Helen Engelke, BVSc, MPVM, MRCVS, said Waldhalm was the second person she met at WesternU when interviewing for a position, and he was incredibly welcoming.

“I would describe him as wise with a little bit of magic in him. And I say that because there have been many times I have gone in to his office with one emotion and left with a completely different emotion,” she said with reference to the initial emotion. “Generally it was panic, annoyance, anger, and some tears every now and then, and I would leave a completely different person. That’s a skill set that all of us would aim to get to. We really love you and I will personally miss you.”

Waldhalm said he will devote his free time to his many hobbies, including flying simulated aircraft on the computer, woodworking, taking care of a new dog, and visiting his 11 grandchildren and one “grand-dog” spread throughout the country. The Waldhalms also have a home in Oregon and an RV in which to travel the country. He leaves the College with confidence that his work rests in good hands.

“What I was hearing were the words and confidence in this program, and the dream and the vision and the innovation we had put together has become yours. The recruiting effort that brought you here was one of the things that I’m most proud of,” Waldhalm said. “As a result of that, the students we graduated here who are consistently performing above the national average are the true paycheck, the true reward that comes to each of us now. And I’m just so grateful to have been able to make this investment with you and to see you take the mantle upon yourself to bring this program forward.”

For more information about the Veterinary Student Leadership Award or to make your gift, please contact: Tim McPheron, Director of Development at 909-706-3762 or