Interview with Nancy Kawahara by Scotty Ray
Every so often we get the opportunity to sit down and chat with a faculty, staff, or administration member of LLUSP to better get to know them. This month we are excited to feature Nancy Kawahara, PharmD, MSEd—Associate Dean for Assessment and Professional Affairs.
What’s your name and what do the students call you?
My name is Nancy Kawahara and “Kawahara” is not hard to spell, but it’s a little bit on the long side so I always refer to myself as Dr. K—that’s pretty much what the students call me as well. I inherited by marriage the Japanese last name. It’s always fun to go to the doctor for the first time when they come out to call your name and they’re expecting a Japanese woman to get up.
What’s your position here at LLUSP?
My position is the Associate Dean for Assessment and Professional Affairs. What that translates to is I’m responsible and have administrative oversight for the assessment activities. I also have the student professional organizations, so two very different kinds of responsibilities.
What’s something unique about you that most people don’t know?
My first job in high school was as Boysen Bear at Knott’s Berry Farm. I had the experience of running around in a character costume for about a year and a half. It was an opportunity to act and nobody knew who I was in that thing so I could pretty much do whatever I wanted without being embarrassed. It was a fun, cool experience for a job out of high school. I was in a commercial because they made one using the characters there. Ironically enough my husband’s youngest sister did commercials when she was little and actually auditioned for that commercial. She didn’t get the role but we came that close to actually having an interaction before we ever met in pharmacy school.
What are some of your hobbies?
I haven’t had a lot of time to do anything but work and be a mother for quite a while now. I do enjoy crocheting. I exercise a lot, so I’m at the gym almost every day; I kind of feel lost when I’m not there. I mainly do the aerobics stuff. I don’t run; I’m getting a little too old for that.
I’ve felt my whole life that I’m a little too old for running. I’ll run if I’m chasing a ball or a bear is chasing me, but otherwise, why am I running?
It was never one of my favorites. I went through a phase in my early college years where I would go and run the track. I do stuff now like the elliptical, the bike, or I walk on the treadmill.
What do you enjoy making when you do have time to crochet?
I went through a phase in life where I made blankets for almost everybody I knew so my parents have a blanket, my sister has a blanket, my in-laws have a blanket, and both of my kids have crocheted baby blankets that I did. Blankets are my kind of specialty and I’d like to get back into doing more of it.
Where did you go to college?
I went to UC Santa Barbara to do my pre-pharmacy work. It was hard to leave as it was a very nice college environment to be in. I came down to USC to finish my PharmD and stayed on to do a residency and fellowship with a focus in teaching. I finished my residency and then completed a masters in education there in 1986. Fairly early on I decided I could really impact more patients by training pharmacists than by being a clinical pharmacists myself because my reach goes beyond simply what I can provide by training other people to do that job. I also did all the coursework for a PhD in educational psychology when I was at the University of Illinois, but kids came along and life happened so I never actually finished that degree.
What influenced you to pick pharmacy?
My mother was a nurse educator so I’m sure that impacted me in some ways. I certainly respected what my mother did and I watched how she interacted with students. For whatever reason, mothers who are nurses really want their daughters to be nurses as well and that was not for me. I mean, I had absolutely no interest in becoming a nurse. She actually helped me chose pharmacy. She did some interaction with the pharmacists in the places she took her students and she said, “You should think about pharmacy.” I think going into the academic side of pharmacy is sort of a way to honor her without becoming a nurse. As a resident, I had a lot of opportunities to interact with students as a mentor, educator, instructor kind of role and I liked it.
What dream do you have that you haven’t yet accomplished?
I’m pretty happy with where I’ve ended up in life. I would like to do more traveling. I’m hoping that when I actually do retire that I’m in good enough health, good enough physical condition and have the finances to actually do more of that.
Are there any places in particular that you have in mind?
My husband and I have talked quite a bit about going to Japan and we haven’t done that yet. We were all geared up to go when my oldest graduated from high school back in 2012 and, of course, that’s when they had the massive earthquake and all the nuclear debris so that wasn’t a good time to go. It just so happened that he started college and the college band was going to the UK the following summer, so we tagged along on that one. Japan is a place I’d like to go and see. It’s not my individual heritage—it’s 50% for my kids and I’ve grown up most of my adult life in that kind of culture with the Japanese.
How many kids do you have?
I have two boys. My oldest, Troy, is 21 and my youngest, Kent, is 18. They’re both still in college; Troy will graduate this year. They’re both at the same institution: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Troy is studying civil engineering and Kent is studying computer sciences.
What is your claim to fame?
I would define that as something I’m extremely proud of with my endeavors in life. When I as at the University of Illinois, I had the opportunity to design a lab-related pharmacy practice course. It was complex because there were 125 or 130 students, and trying to make that all come together without double-booking people is where I really learned that I had the skills to do that very well. It was a course that developed a reputation as being fun but hard, and it lived on after I was there. I think it gave students some skills that they wouldn’t have otherwise.
What do you like most about the School of Pharmacy here at Loma Linda?
Within the internal faculty, I’ve been here the longest. I started here at Loma Linda just about a month before the first group of students walked in to start courses. I think that when I compare my experiences here to other places that I’ve worked, it’s very much the people. It’s a family—it’s just sort of the mindset that we’re here to help one another. We respect and go out of our way sometimes to do something positive for other people, whereas in many other big institutions you don’t really find that. You find it’s like every man for himself and trying to make sure you get what you need is the priority, and I don’t get that sense here. We’ve created that culture by not curving the grade. Everybody can get an A or everybody can fail. It’s to your benefit to help each other; there’s no downside to that.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Dedicated, working mother. I would say that because I’ve had the privilege over the last 21 years of being a full-time mom but at the same time trying to balance a full-time professional career. It takes dedication to both areas.
What’s your favorite quote?
“Believe you can and you are half-way there.” –Theodore Roosevelt