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An MUSC hero
Student advocate honored for commitment

by Cindy Abole
Public Relations
When it comes to helping students and MUSC faculty discover their greatest potential, Tom Waldrep is on their side as a passionate advocate.  
Tom Waldrep

For more than 15 years, Waldrep has steered the creative course and fate of MUSC’s Writing Center (created in 1994) and Center for Academic Excellence (CAE) as an established and active resource on campus. Both programs are used by students to improve their academic skills, writing and oral communication that ultimately lead them toward academic  and professional success. The idea has come far from its humble beginnings. Waldrep and College of Medicine dean emeritus and Distinguished University Professor Layton McCurdy, M.D., approached then-dean of student life Gilbert Bradham, M.D., about a new idea for developing a writing program aimed at improving communications and teaching career skills to medical students, faculty and staff. Considered the first of its kind among independent medical schools and academic health science centers across the country, Waldrep and his colleagues established a program focused on learning, discovery and interpersonal growth. Within six months, the idea received initial funding support from the hospital, and the final proposal and design of the Writing Center was complete.
Three years later, the Writing Center’s success became the model for CAE as a way to continue with the university’s academic mission to provide comprehensive support for students. CAE provided a review of learning styles and strategies, time management, supplemental instruction, professional consultations and other skills.
“Tom Waldrep is a pioneer in health care education. He’s made a transformational impact in the lives and education of our next generation of health care professionals and scientists. Throughout his work and career, he’s demonstrated many great qualities of a human being,” said McCurdy.
“Tom’s vision for student learning through these programs is a testament to his commitment to students and assurance that all MUSC students can succeed and excel to become lifelong learners as future health care professionals and scientists,” said Tom G. Smith, Ph.D., associate professor, who joined the Writing Center and CAE in 1999.

Colleague Shannon Richards-Slaughter, Ph.D., came to CAE in 2000 and remembers being impressed with the role CAE staff assumed on campus not only as educators and counselors but also as student advocates.
“Tom emphasized this always and attributes it to MUSC’s overall success with its students. Students on all levels have learned they can step forward at any time and get the help and support they need. The program recognizes students’ individuality with different learning styles, abilities and goals. When they recognize this, it eases any personal anxieties they might have and boosts their own self-confidence to achieve and do their best,” said Richards-Slaughter.  
Through the years, Waldrep has managed to improve on the continued success of both programs. In 2005, CAE and the Writing Center moved from its location in the Harper Student Center to a larger, more centralized space on the second floor of the Colbert Education Center and Library. They expanded staff and facilities, including a large computer resource lab area, and established collaborative outreach programs such as the College of Medicine’s annual Summer Institute, projects involving the state’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and most recently, the Humanities in Medicine program. CAE programs have been recognized nationally and internationally for innovation and excellence.
In 2001, Waldrep was a recipient of the Earl B. Higgins Achievement in Diversity Award for promoting diversity on campus. He created programs attracting statewide high school and undergraduate minority students toward careers in medicine and the health professions.
“Tom is the creative genius and driving force behind CAE and the Writing Center. It is because of Tom’s wisdom, foresight and great determination that these programs exist today. What he created has earned both a national reputation among medical education programs and made an international impact through the establishment of a new online writing program with a medical research center in Saudi Arabia. Tom is our campus’ greatest advocate and he’s made sure that every faculty member and dean understand and get to know students in the same way that he does,” said Jennie Ariail, Ph.D., associate director for CAE since 1997.

Striving to do his best is a theme that has resonated throughout Waldrep’s life.
He grew up in small-town Roanoke, Ala., where, at an early age, he discovered a love for school and learning. Raised at a poignant time where the sensitivities of a segregated South were continually at conflict, Waldrep witnessed a growing movement for change that promoted equality for all people. In the late 1960s, he graduated from the University of Alabama and began medical school only to drop out several months later following the untimely death of his mother. Instead of returning to his medical studies, he turned to teaching and later, earned a master’s degree in English from Auburn University. He moved to South Carolina to pursue a teaching opportunity and was later hired in 1978 to develop a writing program and serve in various faculty positions in the English Department at the University of South Carolina. From 1992 to 1994, Waldrep was director of USC’s Writing Center prior to relocating to Charleston and MUSC.

“When I was recruited to MUSC 5 years ago, one of the main reasons for my choosing to work at MUSC was the existence of the Center for Academic Excellence,” said Jeff Wong, senior associate dean in the College of Medicine. “The dedication of Tom Waldrep and his CAE staff for doing everything they can as educators to make certain that medical students succeed in their journey through medical school is, in my estimation, the perfect attitude for a medical university to have. The collaborative and constructive peer-teaching and learning that is promoted by Tom de-emphasizes the cutthroat competition so often seen in pre-professional students and provides for me, personally, a wonderful environment in which we can craft educational programs for our future physicians.”
“Tom has been an incredible asset to the university through his establishment of the Center for Academic Excellence and Writing Center. It has been my pleasure to work with Tom over the years principally because of his devotion to ensuring that students who need academic assistance or help with writing skills receive what they need. I will miss his enthusiasm and upbeat approach,” said Perry V. Halushka, M.D., Ph.D., College of Graduate Studies dean.

“Tom Waldrep has more terrific ideas around teaching and learning than any one person should be allowed! Not only will we miss him as a colleague and supporter of education, we will miss him as a friend,” said Mary Mauldin, Ed.D., associate professor, director of the Center for Academic Research and Computing.

Tom Waldrep cares. And because he does, we connected well from day one. I admired his enthusiasm and willingness to experimen, said Gabriel Virella, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Microbiology and Immunology. He never lost track of his goal - create conditions that would allow students to perform at their best possible level. Through practice and self-assessment tests, pre-boards reviews, tutorials, assistance with writing of required papers, Tom and his group were always busy on the trenches. We shared joys and concerns. Joys when the plans worked and we thought we had actually helped students do better….Concerns about what is the best way to help students. Besides caring, we shared this deep-seated feeling of uncertainty about our beliefs and strategies, the engine that kept us trying something new and dropping wonderful ideas that never worked. I will miss my friend, Tom.

In defining Waldrep’s legacy at MUSC, colleagues agree that it his compassion for others and ability to create and establish an environment that promotes success by providing the educational skills and services to support all people in need. In Waldrep’s eyes, everyone at MUSC has the right to be successful in whatever personal and academic goals they pursue. On June 30, Waldrep will retire after 15 years of service.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Catalyst Online is published weekly by the MUSC Office of Public Relations for the faculty, employees and students of the Medical University of South Carolina. The Catalyst Online editor, Kim Draughn, can be reached at 792-4107 or by email, Editorial copy can be submitted to The Catalyst Online and to The Catalyst in print by fax, 792-6723, or by email to To place an ad in The Catalyst hardcopy, call Island Publications at 849-1778, ext. 201.