Treasured adventures of being dean

President Franklin and Cahalan at 2014 Reunion and Medallion Ceremony

On a recent morning this spring, I had the opportunity to address the 52 new physician assistant students who are members of the PA Class of 2016. I recalled that 27 years ago, I was in their seat, sitting through orientation and wondering what I had gotten myself into. At the time, the program was a bachelor’s level program, so I had arrived with just two years of college experience but with a strong desire to provide medical
care as a PA. Fast-forward to my 25th reunion this May when I got a chance to catch up with one of my PA classmates. He said, “Who would have ever thought you’d now be the dean of the College of Health Sciences?” Good question; certainly not me all of those years ago.

I’ve never met an undergrad who, when asked what she wants to be when she grows up, replies that she wants to be a college dean. Is that because of how they’re portrayed in the movies? Deans like Dean Wormer in “Animal House” and Dean Gladstone in “Neighbors” seem to be unhappy with their jobs and are always trying to kick students out of school. Only Dean Simmons in “The House Bunny” seemed to ever have a heart. In approaching college life from this side of the fence, I try to ensure that we are providing as much care and support as we can to our students while also being as kind as possible when the hard decisions need to be made. While there are many happy times on campus, there are others that can be scary, cause anxiety or are just plain sad. So why do people choose to devote their lives to higher education?

“Who would have ever thought you’d now be the dean of the College of Health Sciences?” Good question; certainly not me all of those years ago.

Well, as in any career, it certainly helps if you believe in what you’re doing. That’s easy at DMU. Our business is “to improve lives in our global community by educating diverse groups of highly competent and compassionate health professionals.” That’s a noble mission and one that the College of Health Sciences works to support. Secondly, as I mentioned at this year’s Commencement banquet, I am always thankful for the over-achieving students and faculty we attract in the college. Although disciplinary issues pop up from time to time, they’re outnumbered by about 50-to-one by the positive contributions our students and faculty make to the University, their communities and their professions.

I’m also proud of the successes of our faculty and students. Our students continue to outperform their peers on national certifying and licensing exams and are also taking their rightful places in the C-suites of health care institutions around the globe. Our faculty continue to improve their respective programs of study and contribute knowledge through their research agendas. In the end, it’s probably the pursuit of knowledge that is most intriguing to me. As a life-long learner who now takes massive open online courses (MOOCs) just for the sake of learning something new, I hope I can inspire others to know that, in the professions for which we provide training at DMU, one can never stop learning. To do so would mean providing antiquated treatments or failing to recognize an emerging biological hazard.

I absolutely love being part of a university community. Each year, I get to see firsthand the excitement that comes with being selected as one of the elite few to earn a spot in one of our classes, and I also get to shake each of our graduates’ hands as they cross the stage. This year, the College of Health Sciences welcomed 254 graduates to the alumni ranks. While we’re very proud of what they’ve already accomplished, it’s what they’ll accomplish next that has us even more excited.

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