It’s been more than 50 years since Philip Pumerantz, Ph.D., has sat in a University of Connecticut classroom, yet he applies the lessons he learned there every day.
Specifically, he said he strives to “listen, care and advise” the way long-time former UConn Education Professor William Gruhn, Ph.D., did when Pumerantz was a student there in the late 1950s and early ’60s, as well as model the way Gruhn “applauded students’ achievements and challenged their mistakes.”
“Dr. Gruhn’s influence is still with me,” said Pumerantz, who 36 years ago founded Western University of Health Sciences and is believed to be the longest-serving health sciences university president in the United States.
Established by Pumerantz as the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific, the Pomona, Calif., school’s first class consisted of 36 students. Today, nearly 3,000 attend WesternU, which thanks to Pumerantz’s vision and leadership has grown to include nine colleges dedicated to Osteopathic Medicine, Allied Health Professions, Pharmacy, Graduate Nursing, Veterinary Medicine, Dental Medicine, Optometry, Podiatry and Biomedical Sciences.
Each of the schools is built around Pumerantz’s beliefs that learning is a discipline, caring is an art and that innovation and collaboration only make an education richer. Focused on adult learners and those looking to change careers, WesternU—like Pumerantz himself—is known for being a leading provider of state-of-the-art higher healthcare education.
“One of things my mother taught me was that education can make a difference in people’s lives, and I’ve always cared so much about people. At one time I thought I’d be a doctor, but then I realized that physics and chemistry weren’t my strengths,” Pumerantz laughed. “One of the things I am good at, however, is envisioning possibilities and bringing together people with the expertise needed to make them a reality.”
A track record of growth at WesternU prove this. Guided by Pumerantz, WesternU in recent years was among the first U.S. colleges to create what has become a highly regarded internet-based advanced nurse practitioner program. Its College of Veterinary Medicine is the only in Southern California. And faculty at its Harris Family Center for Disability and Health Policy work as hard to improve access to healthcare services for patients with disabilities as they do to educate future care providers, Pumerantz said.
Though well past retirement age, Pumerantz said he can’t imagine not coming to work or spending his days at WesternU. He’s been an educator for close to 50 years, starting as a Waterford, CT, high school history teacher shortly after graduating from UConn with his bachelor’s degree. A U.S. Army veteran who spent much of the early 1950s’ Korean Conflict stationed in Germany, his tuition was paid by the G.I. Bill.
“Without that benefit, I might not have been able to go to college, but I wanted to so badly,” remembered Pumerantz, who at Gruhn’s urging went on to earn both an MA and Ph.D. in Education from UConn. Prior to moving to California in the mid-1970s, Pumerantz also served as an education professor at the University of Bridgeport (UB), co-founder of UB’s College of Continuing Education, and director of education for the American Osteopathic Association.
“I’ve always been extremely driven, similar to what I see in many WesternU students,” Pumerantz continued. “In fact, one of the things that distinguishes Western from other medical schools is that because students tend to be older, they bring a maturity that’s quite distinctive. The fact that a huge number of graduates are chief residents of medical programs speaks volumes about the quality of our program and our students.”
However, as excited as Pumerantz is about his students’ futures, he is equally excited about his own: “Life is a work in progress. Every day the world around us changes, so every day we should learn something new. That’s one of the things I try to do.”
He hasn’t been to the UConn campus since receiving UConn’s prestigious selective Distinguished Alumni Award in 1995. But the school is never far from his thoughts. He courted his wife Harriet there when there were both UConn undergrads and remembers waiting underneath her sorority house’s kitchen window for “drumsticks, sandwiches or whatever else she could sneak out to me,” as well as eating ice cream cones with Harriet at the nearby dairy farm.
Many of the books he used in UConn classes also still sit on his shelves.
“UConn prepared me for many things, and it was there I discovered I wanted to be an educational leader,” he added. “At the time I attended, UConn was considered one of the best teacher and administrator preparation programs in the region. It’s exciting for me to see that UConn’s Neag School of Education now has one of the best teacher and administrator preparation programs in the entire U.S. ”