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WesternU celebrates and inspires alumni at annual reunion

by Rodney Tanaka

October 10, 2023

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Western University of Health Sciences’ Alumni Reunion provided opportunities to reconnect, explore creativity and inspire graduates to give back.

Alumni toured the WesternU campus prior to the reunion dinner on Sept. 30, 2023. (Steven Webber, WesternU)

WesternU’s Alumni Reunion, held Sept. 30, 2023 on the Pomona, California campus, included dinner, raffle prizes, live music, and other activities. College of Graduate Nursing alumnus Marc Wirtz, MSN ’13, serves as the WesternU Alumni Association Leadership Board President and also served as the master of ceremonies for the reunion dinner.

Some colleges organized activities prior to the reunion dinner. The College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP) provided campus tours. The College of Graduate Nursing hosted a wreath-making workshop, which brought together faculty, staff and alumni for a hands-on activity. CGN alumna Michelle Curtis-Ussery, DNP ’20, teaches at West Coast University and East Los Angeles College.

CGN held a wreath-making activity prior to the Alumni Reunion dinner on Sept. 30, 2023. (Steven Webber, WesternU)

“I wanted to get my DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) because I could see in the future where all faculty would need to have some sort of doctorate,” she said. “Since I was a practicing nurse, I thought the DNP would be better than a PhD. (The DNP program’s) emphasis on education helped prepare me for teaching in academia.”

CGN alumna Michelle Curtis-Ussery, DNP ’20, shows off her hand-decorated wreath. (Steven Webber, WesternU)

Curtis-Ussery said she loved making a wreath and seeing others’ creative ideas.

“I wanted to come to the reunion to meet with everyone again,” she said. “It’s great to see my professors and my classmates again. This is a great school.”

College of Health Sciences alumna Jane Janousek, DPT ’13, also came to WesternU as a working professional seeking her doctorate through CHS’s Advanced Standing Doctor of Physical Therapy program. She earned her bachelor’s degree in 1983 from the University of Pittsburgh and is celebrating 40 years in the PT profession.

“I thought if I want to stay in this profession, I should really think about upgrading my knowledge on it,” Janousek said.

College of Health Sciences alumna Jane Janousek, DPT ’13, (second from right), at the WesternU Alumni Reunion. (Steven Webber, WesternU)

She grew up in Diamond Bar and attended St. Joseph Catholic Elementary School and Pomona Catholic High School in Pomona, so earning her DPT at WesternU was like coming home, Janousek said. She remembers her mother buying their school shoes at Buffums where WesternU now stands.

“I was so impressed with the professionalism here and the fact that it wasn’t enough to just have the book knowledge, that the real value was in producing those skills to help a person who has come to you with a need,” Janousek said. “That was across the board. All the disciplines. I felt energized in my profession, renewed with excitement for why I became a physical therapist in the first place.”

Janousek said she wanted to be part of the WesternU reunion because “I think every occasion to celebrate needs to be celebrated. I tell my patients that. I tell my colleagues that. We shouldn’t pass up these opportunities.”

COMP Acting Dean and alumnus David Connett, DO ’84, (left) and COMP alumna Sima Mirhashemi, DO ’96. (Steven Webber, WesternU)

COMP alumna Sima Mirhashemi, DO ’96, returned to campus for the first time since her graduation in 1996. She toured the campus and was impressed with what she saw, especially the Sarkaria Family Patient Simulation Suite.

“The facility is better than any other medical school that I have had the opportunity to see,” Mirhashemi said. “Their patient simulation is unreal. The medical students are so vibrant, so smart.”

She credits Dr. Gayle Nelson for teaching her anatomy.

“Because of him, I’m an excellent physician because I know anatomy,” Mirhashemi said. “I am so proud to have been a student here. This place is incredible. Truthfully, after today I’m really going to get involved with this school because I’m so proud.”

College of Pharmacy alumnus Kevin Mancilla, PharmD ’22, serves as the Outreach Coordinator on the Alumni Leadership Board. (Steven Webber, WesternU)

Inspiring alumni to get involved was one of the main themes of the night. College of Pharmacy alumnus Kevin Mancilla, PharmD ’22, serves as the Outreach Coordinator on the Alumni Leadership Board. He said when he first started at COP, he planned to get in, earn his degree, and get out without getting involved in other activities. But COP Associate Professor and alumnus Micah Hata, PharmD ’07, changed his trajectory as a student by challenging him and pushing him to be better.

“He encouraged me to get involved in my community and showed me the positive contributions you can make as a health care professional,” Mancilla said. “I owe all my success, the way I continued in my career, to him. He didn’t give me money. He didn’t give me any of that.  What he did was he gave me his time. For those of you here who say, ‘I don’t have money to spare. I’ve got a mortgage. I’ve got these other challenges.’ I would just encourage you to just give your time. There are a lot of opportunities here at the university. You can support the interview process or take students at your rotation sites, or you can get on a committee and get involved. We really want to encourage and engage and empower all of you to take that opportunity to do that to make someone else’s experience much better.”

College of Pharmacy alumni had a strong presence at the Alumni Reunion. (Steven Webber, WesternU)

COMP alumna Niloofar Khatibi-Arnold, DO ’01, is President-Elect of the Alumni Leadership Board. She led the recognition of the classes celebrating milestone reunions, from five years to 40 years. The COP Class of 2003 had a strong showing for its 20-year reunion. COP alumna Shruti Mody, PharmD ’03, and her classmates reached out on social media, texted and rallied their class to attend.

“It’s nice to see so many of us. It’s nice to catch up after so many years, some we haven’t seen in 20 years,” Mody said. “We worked hard, we were tired and stressed, but we had more good memories than bad. We shared a lot of special moments. We got through some tough times. We persevered together. That’s something we share. We are like a family.”

COMP alumnus Herman Bell, DO ’83, (right) with College of Health Sciences Acting Dean Gail Evans Grayson, EdD, MA. (Steven Webber, WesternU)

COMP alumnus Herman Bell, DO ’83, was part of the second COMP class. As an undergraduate, he was interested in health and wellness. His pre-med adviser told him to look up a book on osteopathic medicine in the library.

“After I read the first paragraph I said, ‘That’s me. I look at the body as a whole. I look at people holistically,’” Bell said.

His adviser told him there was a new osteopathic medical school opening up in Pomona.

“The best decision I could have made was to go into osteopathic medicine. I’m still working at 75 years old. I don’t see myself retiring. I love what I do. I love people. They see I care about them,” Bell said. “This school helped me fulfill my dream. Anything this school asks me to do to help students, I will do it. They helped me become a DO. I’ve been in practice since 1985. I’ve loved every minute of it.”

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