Thirty years ago today, the day after Labor Day, 1977, I stepped onto what would become a campus. I was greeted with tumbleweeds rolling down the street, empty buildings and a clear view of the mountains – mountains that would become a metaphor for the challenges and barriers that lay ahead.

Today, on the 30th anniversary of the founding of the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP), the first college of Western University of Health Sciences, we celebrate what has been accomplished in the past 30 years, we look forward to a future that is rich with possibilities, and we applaud the people who made this happen.

Let me start by recognizing some of the people who, in reality, are the University. First among these is a group of superb people who are our heart and soul, the faculty. Their greatest gift to their students is the gift of themselves. They are the role models the examples of how they want their students to treat their patients when they become health care providers.

The faculty are joined by an outstanding staff – secretaries, recruiters, administrators, technicians, directors, managers, facilities, and security personnel. When alums come back to visit, they often stop to see the staff members first…people who had expressed kindness and concern when the alums were students.

And then, I want to acknowledge the alumni and their families. After all, they are the main reason we are here. In many ways, the alumni families symbolize the true meaning of our university. As a University Family, we are there for each other and when the students graduate, they in turn will be there for their patients. To get a sense of the feeling of this family, one of our alums paid tribute to his wife when he said, "Thanks for waiting for me at the door every night when I was a student coming home late from the library."

Our alumni distinguish themselves in many ways. A number have returned to the University to teach and assume leadership roles; they are involved in cutting-edge research; others have served our country in a variety of health professions roles; still others have held positions at public agencies and prestigious professional associations.

That, in part, is the state of the University.

I have been honored to have a hand in the growth of this University as it has emerged as a major force in the Inland Empire, in California, and throughout the West. From our origins in 1977 as COMP, which is led by Dean Clint Adams; to the transformation to a University in 1996, we have seen the opening of other colleges. They are the College of Allied Health Professions under Dean Stephanie Bowlin’s leadership; a College of Pharmacy led today by Dean Daniel Robinson; a College of Graduate Nursing, headed by Founding Dean Karen Hanford; and a College of Veterinary Medicine now under the leadership of Dean Phil Nelson.

These five colleges, with more than 2,000 students and over 200 full-time faculty, are soon to be joined by three new colleges–the College of Dental Medicine, the College of Optometry, and the College of Podiatric Medicine, all of which will open in 2009 as part of the University’s Strategic Plan. The new colleges will be housed in a four story academic building to be constructed at the east end of campus, and in an adjacent clinical building just west of Towne Avenue.

Starting three professional schools at one time has been described by many as a bold move, and three new schools don’t just pop up like magic. There is a process —a creative process—a scary process filled with the contemplation of risk—of daring— that starts with a vision of who we are as a University and what we want to become. And it rests on the confidence and belief in those on whom we count on to implement the vision. That process is the Strategic Plan, of which Provost, Dr. Benjamin Cohen, is the chief architect.

The Strategic Plan, that, a couple of years ago, may have seemed nearly impossible, today is a reality. With the enthusiastic support of the Trustees, we are designing the greatest asset of our university, its future. While the Strategic Plan is filled with the excitement of an adventure, it also is infused with the confidence that it can be done because of our track record of accomplishments. I like to think that the plan is one more brush stroke to an evolving picture.

And if adding three new colleges is not enough, we are doing it simultaneously with our multi-year Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) re-accreditation process. Teams of faculty and staff have been working for over a year on the first phase of re-accreditation, and we will be documenting the track record of our accomplishments as part of this first phase for inspection by our peers in higher education. Paula Harmer and her Institutional Research staff have been charged with the responsibility to amass this rich documentation of our good work.

As the University grows, we will build an institution that is a national leader; distinctive in its vision, its philosophy, and its accomplishments. This is an extraordinary time for our students and faculty and staff. Indeed, to think about opening three new colleges, and using the opportunity to create an innovative interprofessional curriculum, was a powerful incentive to our decision and was so compelling that it made the decision virtually inevitable.

When all of the new classes are enrolled, Western University will have more than 2,600 students and over 300 full-time faculty. It will rank among the most comprehensive health science universities in the United States. But we will not stop there. Our plans call for adding a Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and a College of Public Health before 2012. At that point, we will have ten colleges on campus, almost 4,000 students, and more than 400 full-time faculty.

In addition, COMP has accepted responsibility for training a cohort of osteopathic physicians for the Pacific Northwest in cooperation with Samaritan Health Services in Corvallis, Oregon. The next step in this partnership will be to open new residency programs in several specialty areas. Like the rest of the United States, Oregon has a severe physician shortage, and this is an opportunity for WesternU to address this need and spread its influence and innovations.

The nationally known Center for Disability Issues and the Health Professions, under Founding Director, Brenda Premo, is a unit that serves the University as a whole. It was established in 1999 to improve health professionals’ care of persons with disabilities through a curriculum at pre- and post-graduate levels. Also, the Center strives to increase the number of students with disabilities who are admitted to our programs, and to develop and distribute research findings on health care services for persons with disabilities.

Under the leadership of Dr. Steven Henriksen, Vice President for Research, the University has vigorously nurtured and expanded the quality and quantity of faculty research. Such a commitment makes it possible for new knowledge to be disseminated for the public good, which is central to our mission.

We have been successful in recruiting highly qualified professors both to teach and to conduct nationally recognized, sophisticated biomedical research. To enhance recruitment, we have added 25,000 sq. ft. of new laboratory space in the last two years, and additional laboratory space is planned for the new academic building. We have begun to offer significant and competitive start-up funds to research faculty. Currently, we have 35 faculty members with extramurally funded research programs. The number of applications for NIH, NSF, pharmaceutical companies, and contracts has doubled in the last two years.

A University-wide Strategic Plan for the future of the research enterprise at WesternU is entirely compatible with interprofessional and interdisciplinary learning.

With the expansion of basic and clin
ical research at COMP, Pharmacy, Veterinary Medicine, and the three new colleges at WesternU, we will be better positioned to address many of the clinical questions that have remained unanswered. Our basic and clinical scientists are in a unique position to spearhead joint multi-center collaborative research initiatives that would take healthcare from laboratory bench findings to clinical bedside applications.

We also are securing research dollars from private sources, such as the $1 million gift from Drs. Daljit and Elaine Sarkaria for an endowed research position in COMP to study the molecular mechanisms of Parkinson’s disease. The Sarkarias also have funded research on Alzheimer’s disease at WesternU.

Research in the College of Pharmacy has focused on the areas of drug delivery systems, Alzheimer’s disease and neuropharmacology. Scientific presentations at national and international meetings, and papers published in peer reviewed scientific journals have disseminated findings of this productive young college faculty. Recently, the University signed a licensing agreement with a pharmaceutical company to develop a drug delivery system based on our research expertise in Pharmaceutical Science.

Faculty in the College of Veterinary Medicine faculty have active and diverse research programs in fields such as development of an Alzheimer’s vaccine, avian influenza, public health implications of echinococcosis, feline immunodeficiency virus as a model for human AIDS, and antimicrobial resistance of Campylobacter in poultry. As these examples illustrate, there are multiple overlapping interests among different scientific disciplines and among faculty of different colleges, which in turn will serve to contribute to even greater interactions and collaborations.

In addition, the University has developed a number of very significant linkage partnerships with area colleges and universities such as Pitzer College; Scripps College; California State Polytechnic University, Pomona; and California State University at San Bernardino. These partnerships provide a pathway for select students in undergraduate programs to enter WesternU’s professional schools. Discussions are underway now with other potential partners.

Those who have followed the growth of the University through the years are aware that we have a need for more space. To address that problem, we have entered into an aggressive building and acquisition program. For example, we are constructing a new Veterinary Clinical Center and have acquired a new Nursing Science Center. We will shortly break ground on a new 180,000 sq. ft. building to provide academic space for the three new colleges and space for some parts of the College of Osteopathic Medicine. Also, we will construct a new 70,000 sq. ft. ambulatory care clinical services building that will allow us to expand our health care delivery services to residents in this community. Adjacent to the clinical building will be a 600-space parking structure. In addition, we are currently examining options to significantly enlarge the Library and acquire additional facilities on campus.

The three new deans are already on board. I should point out that they were drawn here because of the philosophy of the University, its lofty vision, and the enthusiasm and collegiality of our WesternU Family. Dr. James Koelbl is the Dean of the College of Dental Medicine, Dr. Elizabeth Hoppe is the Dean of the College of Optometry, and Dr. Lawrence Harkless is the Dean of the College of Podiatric Medicine. These academic leaders are already hiring faculty, writing curricular plans, and submitting applications for accreditation. Each of them brings a shared commitment to elevate WesternU to be among the largest and most innovative providers of health care education in the country. More importantly, they bring a commitment to help create a new model that builds partnerships among all health professionals. Our new colleagues, along with our present five deans, give us a critical mass of talent, experience, brainpower, creativity, and collegiality all in one place. This is a veritable unity of disciplines that can be described as a rich symphony of education.

It is important to note that the centerpiece of our Strategic Plan is the establishment of a unique, interprofessional curriculum that will truly make WesternU a pioneer among health care educators. This unity of professions reflects the notion of “one-health; one-medicine; one-vision.” We anticipate that the curriculum we will produce will revolutionize medical education in this country and break down the silos that characterize so many health professions campuses today. In this curriculum, students from many disciplines will learn together in the classroom, in small group venues, and in clinical experiences with patients.

An important part of the interprofessional curriculum will be small group learning, using human cases from the beginning of life to the end of life. Dr. Ben Cohen’s plans to have case studies shared among the health professions will be the first of its kind in the United States and will draw increased visibility and attention to Western University. One student from each discipline (such as osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, optometry) will join students from other disciplines and a faculty facilitator in weekly meetings to learn basic sciences, clinical sciences, communication, and teamwork skills in an interdisciplinary area. In fact, our new facilities have been designed to accommodate this educational approach. Vice Provost Dr. Sheree Aston and Director of Interprofessional Clinical Services Dr. Joan Sandell joined Western University this summer to coordinate the successful launch of this curriculum.

The University has never been stronger in its administrative structure. We have outstanding leaders and strong teams across the board in both academic and administrative offices. Under the leadership of our CFO, Kevin Shaw, we can report a healthy financial position.

This past May we graduated the charter class of the College of Veterinary Medicine, an achievement to which I credit the Founding Dean, Dr. Shirley Johnston. In June she turned over the Dean’s baton to Dean Phil Nelson, and accepted the position of Vice President of Advancement where she will use her people skills to direct a major university capital campaign.

I am proud of the fact that the growth we are experiencing is accompanied by attention to faculty, staff, and student welfare. We have implemented policies and procedures that enhance the campus environment and support student needs. I want to recognize the dedicated work of Dr. Howard Pardue, Vice President of Human Resources; and Dr. Beverly Guidry, Vice President of Student Affairs.

I also am impressed with our Information Technology Department, under the leadership of Denise Wilcox, who recognizes that technology does not replace human interaction and face-to-face relationships.

And, who can miss the attractiveness and utility of our campus with its new esplanade and safe, comfortable buildings. For this, Todd Clark, Earlene Carter, and Cheryl Schott of Campus Facilities deserve great credit.

Thank you to Patricia Vader, whose leadership of the Harriet K. and Philip Pumerantz Library provides the central core of learning resources for all of our current and, soon, our future students.

While I am giving out kudos to some deserving individuals, I should not neglect our go-to-man. He is the institutional memory, our WASC liaison, and the editor of many key documents of the University—including this SOUA—Dr. Gary Gugelchuk.

We are also proud of the fact that we have a solid and dedicated Board of Trustees. The Chairman of our Board, Mr. Warren Lawless, has been in that position for 25 years. Dr. Ethan Allen, the Founding Chair, now serves as Treasurer of the Board.

But the University is much more than the growing numbers of its colleges and programs and buildings and budget. It is the spirit, the learni
ng, and the compassion of its people. Let me give you another view of the state of the University. I want to do this by looking at a sampling of some stories of students and alums.

Consider these individuals who comprise our university:

  • Jon Porter, a first year medical student who started in COMP just a few weeks ago. Jon became afflicted with acute transverse myelitis, a rare autoimmune disease at age 16. Over the course of just a few hours, his body became permanently paralyzed from the chest down, and he now uses a wheelchair. During his treatment at the Shriner’s Hospital in Sacramento, he observed that the physicians who truly cared were ones who could look patients in the eye and see beyond their disability. He applied to Western University after learning about the osteopathic approach to medicine. He knows that healing is not just one dimensional, focusing on the disease, but multidimensional, focusing on the patient.
  • The University is Tiffany Kiana Burleson (MSHS 2007), whose directed field work is the implementation of a health education plan for the people of Uganda and Rwanda. In October, Kiana and her colleagues will travel to Africa to teach “first responders” in remote areas how to treat sick and injured patients so that they will survive long enough to reach more sophisticated medical facilities
  • It is Deirdre Murdy (DVM 2011), a native of Ireland, who decided to apply only to the College of Veterinary Medicine at Western University this year among all other such colleges in the world because of its commitment to Reverence for Life.
  • It is Pamela Bautista, a third year student in the College of Pharmacy, who, on a clinical rotation, spent an hour in an Albertson/Savon Pharmacy with an elderly woman who was on many medications for multiple medical conditions. In collaboration with her preceptor and the patient’s physician, Pamela was able to recommend an improved and simplified medication regimen that resulted in a monthly savings of $400 to this patient.
  • Western University is husband and wife Greg Randall & Tarri Weber, who met while studying physical therapy at Western University and who now are working together for the Indian Health Services.
  • It is Brittany Hartman, a first year student who was drawn to COMP because of its goal to produce compassionate physicians. Brittany volunteered in a women’s homeless shelter in downtown Seattle for nine years. In June of 2007, she traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa with her physician uncle to provide diabetes and hypertension screening in remote villages in the Ituri Rainforest.
  • The University is Minh Cao, an entry level nursing program student, who was preparing to embark upon a degree in law before deciding to realize a childhood dream of becoming a nurse, a dream that started when she was 8 years old and saw her brother die in their mother’s arms en route to health care. Minh chose Western University because of the quality of its nursing faculty and programs, its outreach to the Pomona community, and its humanistic traditions.
  • It is Spagna Kanhukamwe from the 2009 PA class, a native of Zimbabwe, who immigrated to the United States and went to college to become a marketing analyst. When her beloved sponsor became ill, and she was thrust into the role of a caregiver, she realized that her true calling lay in a redirection to the Physician Assistant program.

This is the state of the University. These individuals have dedicated themselves to make significant changes toward the betterment of human (and animal)-kind. Indeed, “one–world, one–medicine, one–vision.”

As we look at what we do today, think of what we will do tomorrow.

  • Imagine educating optometrists who will rehabilitate vision defects and stroke and head trauma patients.
  • Imagine educating podiatrists who will save the toes, feet, and mobility of diabetic patients.
  • Imagine educating dentists who will reach out to underserved communities with dental screening for children as primary care doctors for the mouth.
  • Imagine a University not constricted by the walls of its colleges but an open campus where communication flows easily across all the disciplines.
  • And, best of all, imagine educating all our health professions students together, in classrooms, in small group learning sessions, and in clinical experiences where they will be enriched by the other disciplines, where they will learn to use, support, and rely on each other’s strengths, with the underlying goal of optimizing patient care.

What started 30 years ago, with the matriculation of scarcely more than 30 students, today is:

  • a successful, vibrant, thriving, and growing university of almost 2,500 students and over 500 faculty and staff representing a unity of disciplines;
  • a University that is poised to grow even more dramatically in the next thirty years;
  • and one that is ready to provide unprecedented contributions to the health and welfare to all of the beings of our planet.

It is important to note that we established these new colleges and increased our enrollment in other programs in response to expanding health care demands in our region and throughout the country. As the population in the United States continues to grow and age, it brings with it many issues that must be addressed both in health care training and in health care delivery.

The nationwide shortage of health care professionals will worsen as aging baby boomers become Medicare patients; the increasing fractionation of the nation’s health providers, often caused by communications failures between members of different health care professions, has resulted in more errors and greater suffering than at any time in our nation’s history; and never before have emerging diseases been able to move easily around the world. For example, there are more than 200 zoonotic diseases, which are transmissible between animals and man such as West Nile Virus, Avian Flu, SARS, and Mad Cow Disease.

These challenges are exacerbated in the Inland Empire because of the rapid growth that has overwhelmed its infrastructure. Western University is a major economic engine for the City of Pomona. Increasingly, we are making an economic impact on a City that welcomes this assistance as it reinvents itself. Already we see signs of economic development taking advantage of what the University represents. For example, the University is a center around which new housing, including student housing, and small business opportunities blossom in proximity to the campus. This becomes in effect, a University Village. The University’s investment in its new construction, it should be noted, is over $100 million.

I have often used the analogy of leadership as reaching for the brass ring. People have asked me, “What would you do if you got the brass ring?” My response and sincere belief is that the brass ring in life is like the brass ring on a merry-go-round. If you are fortunate enough to grab one, another one appears right away, and you have the chance to reach for a second brass ring. Each time we achieve a goal; additional goals appear on the horizon. These become increasingly bold and challenging. And, indeed, this has been our success story as a University.

Not too long ago, I received an e-mail from an alum who said, “Western U’s success has been my success, and I thank everyone at the University for making it so.”

Seldom has the world had greater need for our graduates. The work before us is inspiring and exhilarating. It has been said, “Dream no small dreams, for they have no power to stir the hearts of men.” I invite all of you to join me as we dream large dreams, and pursue an enduring vision to become something even more unique, not just in education, but in all of human enterprise, as we continue
to grow and serve the health care needs of the world.

Now, permit me to enter a personal note here. None of us, in whatever work we do, succeed in a vacuum–all alone. We depend on others. And in that spirit, I want to recognize a special person here today–on this special occasion.

If it were not for her, I would not be here today to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the University. After all, she permitted me to take on a challenge 30 years ago. I am indebted to my wife, Harriet, for sharing my vision back in 1977 and believing in me and agreeing to move our family, with three young children, to Southern California as we pursued this exciting experiment. Harriet’s faith and encouragement made it possible for me to dream the impossible dream and to have the chance to see it fulfilled.