Relief. Excitement. Joy. The graduates of Western University of Health Sciences embraced a gamut of emotions and are ready to seize the moment and make a difference in the lives they touch.
WesternU held five Commencement ceremonies for its nine colleges May 22-24, 2019 in Pasadena, California, presided over by President Daniel R. Wilson, MD, PhD. Nearly 1,000 graduates received diplomas at the ceremonies. Another 104 graduates will celebrate Commencement on the WesternU-Oregon campus May 31, 2019.
For some graduates, Commencement marked the realization of a childhood dream. College of Veterinary Medicine graduate Peter Kummerfeldt, DVM ’19, first became interested in the profession at age 12 when his German shepherd, Star, was euthanized after being diagnosed with osteosarcoma that metastasized to her spine.
“The veterinarian overseeing the case saw I was interested in what he was doing. He explained it at my level,” Kummerfeldt said. “He made it a very interactive experience and made me understand what was going on with my pet. That was nice.”
Kummerfeldt will soon begin an internship at Conejo Valley Veterinary Hospital in Thousand Oaks, Calif. He said he loved CVM’s Problem-Based Learning curriculum, where students explore case studies in small groups to learn basic science and clinical concepts.
“That is the way I learn best The only thing that really seems to work for me is throwing me into the fire and having myself work it out on my own,” he said. “I feel like we have an edge over other veterinary colleges just because it forces us to be more independent, to be able to adapt to different situations, and able to find information much quicker and much more efficiently than other students can. That definitely comes in handy when you’re working with clients.”
College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP) graduate Matthew Petersen, DO ’19, said he become interested in medicine in high school. Both of his parents are MDs. He chose COMP because he came away with the best feeling during the interview process. He will enter an
internal medicine residency at the University of Florida. His parents offered him advice on finding balance as he begins his career.
“They taught me perspective on what the job means, as well as being able to go home and enjoy the rest of your life as well,” Petersen said. “Don’t get caught up too much in the day to day. Trust the process, that you will learn everything you need to know. Make sure to enjoy yourself along the way.”
College of Podiatric Medicine graduate (CPM) Jeffrey Sanker, DPM ’19, said he chose WesternU because of its emphasis on interprofessional education and humanism. CPM and COMP students take many of the same classes and study together. The two colleges held a joint Commencement ceremony for the first time.
“I think it’s phenomenal,” Sanker said of the joint ceremony. “I’m glad that we are able to sit and stand side by side with the colleagues we’ve taken classes with throughout the years and celebrate together.”
College of Graduate Nursing graduate Helen Nwangwu, DNP ’19, has worked as a nurse for more than 10 years. She wanted to earn her doctorate because she teaches in a master’s level nursing program.
“It has really made me uncover ground I never even veered into,” Nwangwu said. “I’m already starting to use some of things I discovered in class through research. I’m more confident. Overall, it has been a rewarding experience.”
College of Health Sciences (CHS) graduate Yaseen Kady, MSPA ’19, said Commencement is the culmination of all the hard work he and his classmates put in not just in PA school, but all the effort it took to get into PA school. He worked in his father’s primary care clinic in San Diego as a youth, and his goal is to provide care to the underserved communities in that area.
“I will miss our cohesive team and the positive environment that encouraged
others to succeed,” Kady said. “I will miss the academic intensity that you can only get in a group setting. I will do my best to apply lifelong learning as a practitioner.”
Graduate College of Biomedical Sciences (GCBS) graduate Thalia Fabian, MSMS ’19, will enter COMP in the fall. The goal of the MSMS program is to help students from diverse backgrounds to gain acceptance to professional schools while increasing the number of health professionals in underserved areas.
Fabian plans to frame her MSMS degree and give it to her parents. She is the first in her family to graduate from undergraduate and graduate programs.
“They’ve seen how much I struggled. I wanted to give up so many times. They’ve been behind me saying, ‘You can do it,’” Fabian said. “This is the biggest gift I can give them as a token of all they have done for me. Their hard work was not in vain.”
WesternU honored two administrators who are retiring after many years of service. Gary M. Gugelchuk, PhD, received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree during the GCBS/CHS ceremony for his service to WesternU and impact on health professions education. He has served WesternU in a variety of roles since joining COMP in 1986, including assistant professor, program
director, associate professor, dean of the College of Allied Health Professions (now the College of Health Sciences), and vice president of academic affairs. He is retiring June 30, 2019 as WesternU’s provost and chief operating officer. He will remain with the University as Professor and Provost Emeritus as well as Special Advisor to the President.
But it is not the dizzying array of titles and roles he has held at WesternU that distinguishes his service, said College of Health Sciences Dean Stephanie Bowlin, EdD, PA.
“Rather it is his intellectual and scholarly rigor, his dedication to student welfare, the breadth and depth of his knowledge of our University and its communities and his stewardship of WesternU’s mission and principles that distinguish him as one of the most effective and influential leaders in graduate health sciences education,” she said.
College of Podiatric Medicine Professor of Podiatric Medicine, Surgery and Biomechanics Emeritus Lester J. Jones, DPM, MSEd, who served as interim dean for nearly two years and retired in April 2019, received a gift from CPM Dean Kathleen Satterfield, DPM, FACFAOM, MAPWCA.
“On behalf of the College, I would like to thank him for his many years of serviceboth to the profession and to the founding of this College,” she said. “We want to present you with a gift to enjoy in your retirement. Thank you, Dr. Jones.”
WesternU graduates received words of wisdom from an esteemed collection of keynote speakers. Christopher J.L. Murray, MD, DPhil, a professor of global health at the University of Washington and Institute Director of the Institute for Health Metrics, told WesternU College of Health Sciences and Graduate College of
Biomedical Sciences graduates that they had “picked the right profession” to make a difference.
“Health sciences is that incredible blend of dynamic discovery — there’s always new things we’re discovering — and a commitment to individual patients and individuals in communities to make their lives better,” he said. “So you’re in the right place.”
Obesity, and the diabetes linked to it, remains a pressing concern, as do Ebola and other new diseases that defy ready solution. In the face of such new challenges, it might be easy to embrace the pessimistic view that things will only get worse, Murray said, but he prefers an optimistic viewpoint based on past success.
“The optimists’ view is that we’re surrounded by a culture of innovation, discovery, new technology,” he said. Despite an abundance of new problems, “I’m quite sure that the future is not predestined. Where we go as a country and as a world is very much driven by what you do, what we all do, in that balance between the pessimism and seizing the optimistic pathway.
“The charge for you as a community starting your careers is to be on the side of optimism and to find ways that we can harness discovery and enhance sense of care to really overcome — as we have in the past — obstacles, and therefore tip the balance of the future trajectory of health toward that better future for us all.”
College of Pharmacy/College of Dental Medicine keynote speaker Robert S. Pugliese, PharmD, Director of Innovation Design at Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health, encouraged graduates to embrace the unknown and think like a designer.
“To think like a designer helps you become a better creative problem solver, seeing problems you’re surrounded by not as impediments but as opportunities to design a better future,” he said. “You have the ability to imagine what could be better and now you have the power to do something about it.”
Some WesternU graduates came from creative backgrounds and entered the health professions as a second or third career, Pugliese said. He encouraged them to draw upon the diversity of those lived experiences to enhance their new role.
“If you’re an artist, stand up and be the first one in a meeting to draw up an idea. If you’re an athlete, be a coach for those around you,” Pugliese said. “If you come from humble origins and got here despite the odds stacked against you, tell your story so others may do the same. In today’s fast-moving and technologically-charged world it is not our ability to regurgitate facts that will keep us relevant, it is our ability to create meaning and value for people in a complex system. I believe making people healthier is a creative endeavor, and we need more creativity in health care if we are to keep moving forward. So do not fear the unknown. Instead, see it as opportunity, as a space where you can go and create something.”