After years of planning and preparation, Western Michigan University this fall will welcome its first class of students at its new medical school.
Forming the WMU Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine has been one of the major accomplishments under President John Dunn, who’s entering his eighth year at the Kalamazoo-based school. Another key accomplishment under Dunn’s tenure is WMU’s recent affiliation agreement with the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, which has four campuses around the state in Grand Rapids, Lansing, Auburn Hills and Ann Arbor.
Dunn talked to MiBiz about his outlook for WMU and the implications of having both a law school and a medical school within the organization.
What’s your vision for the university for the next five years?
We have a very good strategic plan and I refer to those sorts of pillars: learner centered, discovery driven and globally engaged. As it’s related to learner centered, our medical school in the next five years will actually be having not only our first class, but our second class graduating. That will be a great addition to the university and also to the state. We’re very pleased about … what that will bring not only to the university but other sectors of the economy. We’ve been working with the Cooley Law School to develop and fulfill the affiliation agreement we have with them. So we’ll be a university in five years that has two private professional schools bearing the WMU name.
What does that mean for students?
(M)ost importantly, … it creates new and additional opportunities for students in ways that they can navigate and do the kinds of things that they want to do as they think about their future. The law school affiliation will also lead to additional locations, and we’ll team with Cooley and will have platforms for Western Michigan University to enhance our presence in Ann Arbor, Auburn Hills, Lansing and Grand Rapids. Those are all nice things that provide good opportunities to connect with students, families and others that are seeking opportunities.
What will the new medical school and the Cooley Law School affiliation really do for Western Michigan University?
It enhances the value of the already-obtained degree for alumni. For our students, it allows an enhancement for their degree. There are not many schools in the United States that have both a medical and a law school. That’s a very unique opportunity and it allows the university to become known in a broader and bigger way. What we’re trying to do is not about the university. It’s about opportunities for students, and we are just fully engaged and thinking about it.
What are some of the other programs or projects that Western Michigan may launch in the coming years?
We’ve been heavily involved in addressing the facility and the fiscal changes of the campus. Sanger Hall is up now, it’s brand new, and it’s a great environment for students to learn and to be able to access all of the latest technology. We will restore East Hall into a marvelous alumni center. We will preserve the oldest and most iconic of our facilities and convert it to an alumni center that I think will be a point of pride for the campus and the community and the state. We’re building new residential living. We took down two of our oldest facilities recently and are now rebuilding the old dorms that we took down.
What new academic programs are you considering?
We’re currently doing an academic review of all of our programs from the standpoint of how we can sharpen those and any way that we can make them continue to be relevant for the needs of society and our corporate partners, etc. We do that by engaging good advisory boards of people who better inform us of things that we need to be cognizant of as we think about new information for our students.
Where do they tell you there’s opportunity?
Design clearly is an area we’re working hard on. There are many opportunities there in design. The successes we’ve had in supply-chain management and variations on that are going extremely well. In the fine arts, we’re already at the top of the top in music and theater and art and dance, but there’s more that we can do and will do.
We just ran a story recently about a collaboration of the Haworth School of Business and the College of Aviation for an aviation concentration in the MBA program. Anything more for that program?
Aviation is celebrating its 75th year. We just added the air traffic controller option to that program. There’s a tremendous need for air traffic controllers, and we’re on top of that. The aviation industry in general is certainly starting to acknowledge a critical need from the engineering standpoint and flight and management standpoint, so we are extremely well positioned.
How about in health care?
We continue to look at the health care field. Obviously, we have a number of those — our physician assistant program, nursing, speech language pathology and therapies. But there are other therapy programs that we are looking at and that we think may be great additions. And then (there are) our research endeavors with the School of Medicine. We’ll continue to strengthen our biosciences and life sciences programs and may begin to capture again what was a real golden era for Kalamazoo, and I think we can do that and should do that.
You are finishing your seventh year in Kalamazoo. What’s your future at WMU?
I have a really good board. I came here to do five years. They asked me to stay two more, and then they asked me to do two more. I think succession planning is something that, in any wise university or corporate setting or business, you always need. You always need to have a succession plan, and we have that at various levels in the university. This has been a great place and there are things that we still have on the radar and want to do and achieve. I’m in for the game here as long as the trustees are happy.