New president at valley’s medical university

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Michael J. Lawler, MSW, PhD,

The Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences Board of Trustees has announced the selection of Michael J. Lawler, MSW, PhD, as the President of PNWU.

“I am inspired by PNWU’s mission to improve access to quality health care in rural and underserved communities of the Pacific Northwest by educating new health care professionals,” Dr. Lawler said. “Everyone I’ve met at PNWU, including students, faculty, staff, administration and community members, has been fully aligned with the mission and eager to build on PNWU’s strengths.”

Dr. Lawler has 35 years of professional experience in health and human services, including 24 years as a successful leader and administrator in higher education, to the rapidly expanding health sciences university. He plans to officially begin his role as president on Oct. 8, succeeding current Interim President Dr. Robert Sutton and former University President Keith Watson, DO, who retired from the Office of President this past June after six years of outstanding leadership.

“We have selected an exceptional individual to take over the reins of leadership here at PNWU,” said Dr. Heather Phipps, PNWU Board Chair. “Dr. Lawler possesses so many attributes that make him a great fit for our university. He has experience with service to underserved populations, in health and human services, as a successful leader and administrator in higher education, in interprofessional health sciences education, and in building partnerships with health systems, health care providers, public agencies and other academic institutions. He is the ideal person to take over for Dr. Watson, and I’m very excited about the next stage in our University’s history.”

As the Dean and Professor of the School of Health Sciences at the University of South Dakota (USD), Dr. Lawler led ten academic departments and helped to cement the USD School of Health Sciences as a national leader in interprofessional health sciences education. Alongside internal and external partners and colleagues, he helped to create new programs and research centers, doubled student enrollment, improved graduation rates, increased student scholarships, grew funding for faculty and student research, elevated financial reserves, and raised funds to construct a new teaching and research facility for USD’s Doctor of Occupational Therapy and Doctor of Physical Therapy programs — the very programs PNWU aims to add next.

“I was fortunate to spend several days with Dr. Lawler,” Trustee and Presidential Search Committee member Karen Hyatt said. “From our first meeting, I felt how genuine he is. He has a vision for PNWU that will preserve and protect what we have accomplished with the College of Osteopathic Medicine and propel PNWU into a full-fledged health sciences university.”

Prior to joining USD in 2010, Dr. Lawler worked at the University of California, Davis (UCD) for 16 years, serving as Director of the Center for Human Services, Co-Director of the Center for Public Policy Research, and Chair of UC Davis Extension. At UCD, he partnered with a wide array of stakeholders, including all 58 California counties, state agencies, tribal governments, and federal agencies, as well as business leaders, to secure $130M of extramural funding to create several self-supporting research, practice, and education centers focused on developing policies and practices in health and human services. He remains a faculty affiliate of the UCD Center for Public Policy Research.

In addition to his academic leadership, Dr. Lawler has authored and co-authored more than 80 publications and served as the United States Principal Investigator of Children’s Worlds: International Survey of Children’s Well-Being, an international research project that assesses the health and well-being of children in Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and South America. Additionally, he is an appointed member and chair-elect of the American Psychological Association’s Committee on Children, Youth and Families.

“I believe Dr. Lawler brings to PNWU the perfect champion for our culture and mission,” Sutton said. “I’ve been around since this whole thing was just a dream. The hiring of Dr. Lawler gives me the confidence to retire with a smile on my face and excitement for the future of our University.”



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