Addressing Real- World Health Issues

Julie Wolter, Ph.D. Dean, School of Health Sciences.
Julie Wolter, Ph.D.

April 04, 2024
Julie Wolter, Dean, School of Health Sciences | Gonzaga Magazine Spring 2024

It was 2000, and I was practicing speech-language pathology in a rural hospital outside Boise, on the Oregon border. There, I met a 5-year-old boy (we’ll call him Ben) who was getting ready to start kindergarten. There was a problem: Ben was still not talking in complete sentences, and he communicated mainly by echoing others’ words.

After my first session with Ben, it was clear he had autism spectrum disorder. Since the rural community did not have available expertise, Ben missed critical years of early language intervention. It took consultations with a multidisciplinary team of teachers and allied health specialists, but he progressed in basic communication skills and language expression.

With Ben on my mind, I decided to pursue my Ph.D. I was ultimately interested in being a university professor to prepare future health and education providers to support language-literacy in children with developmental disorders, including those in underserved communities. 

I supplemented my studies with grant proposal writing because I understood that work like this would require grants – lots of them.

Almost 25 years later, I’m proud to say I saw great success with those goals, achieving funding through the National Institutes of Health to study new clinical methods and a grant through the U.S. Department of Education to fund health students to stay and serve in their rural communities. A great privilege was seeing one of the funded graduates fill a position that had been vacant for more than two decades in a rural Native American school district.

Today, my passions expand to encompass the multidisciplinary aspects of health and to create new opportunities for education and clinical research.

I couldn’t be more excited to fuse my thirst for innovation and equity with the vision for Gonzaga University’s newly named School of Health Sciences.

Already steeped in the Jesuit value of cura personalis (whole- person care), the school has a strong history of community engagement, experiential learning, and excellent faculty, programs and students. We are now expanding from nursing and human physiology to broader health programming so that any potential student who wants to help others but may not be seeking a career in direct patient care can find a rewarding path.

The University of Washington-Gonzaga University Health Partnership affords a natural connection to UW’s well- established rural medicine training and research. As the Gonzaga arm of the Health Partnership, GU’s School of Health Sciences is ready to drive applied implementation science research and work alongside UW medical students to build interprofessional health teams. Imagine the potential we have to support communities that historically have been underserved and provide them the same quality care available to others!

Indeed, I am honored to be part of Gonzaga’s vital humanistic mission, helping to develop students who will become health science leaders who treat mentees, clients and patients with the same whole-person care they receive in their education. It is a privilege to spearhead the launch of new programs, including the Public Health department (undergraduate degree starting in fall 2024 and the distance-accessible graduate degree in the coming year).

I look forward to more conversations with community partners to study and address real-world health challenges, continuing a journey that all started with Ben.

Learn more about the school Dean Wolter is taking on!