Concordia Hires Alumna as New Dean of Sanford Heimarck School of Health Professions

Dr. Gwen Wagstrom Halaas ’75 calls it a “special privilege to return."

Concordia College is pleased to announce that, after a national search, Dr. Gwen Wagstrom Halaas has been named as the new dean of the Sanford Heimarck School of Health Professions.

Halaas currently serves as vice chancellor of academic affairs and professor with tenure at Washington State University Health Services in Spokane, Wash.

Prior to Washington State University, Halaas held leadership and faculty positions at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the University of Minnesota Medical School and Academic Health Center. 

Halaas earned her medical degree at Harvard and trained in family medicine at the University of Minnesota. She received an MBA in healthcare from the University of St. Thomas.

She brings more than four decades of research, teaching, program development, and administrative experience to Concordia.

“Dr. Halaas has a breadth of knowledge, passion for educating health and wellness professionals, and commitment to health equity,” says Dr. Susan Larson, provost and dean of the college. “We are thrilled she will be joining us. Through her expertise and vision, she embraces Concordia’s mission to graduate students who will influence the affairs of the world.”

This marks a return home for Halaas. She grew up in Fargo-Moorhead and is a 1975 graduate of Concordia College. In 2021, she was honored on campus with the Alumni Achievement Award and says that after reflecting on that experience she realized Concordia is where she wants to be.

“As a first-year student, I moved three blocks to live on Concordia’s campus and that experience changed my life,” Halaas says. “While at Concordia, my experience in psychology gave me a fascination with science and health, and my studies in social work instilled a love of serving families and communities. My studies in music and music performance have kept me healthy with a lifelong love of beautiful music. I am truly excited to be back at Concordia!”

With especially challenging times during the pandemic, Halaas says communities in Minnesota, North Dakota, and beyond need servant leaders.

“My goal for the Sanford Heimarck School of Health Professions graduates is that they are clear and confident in their personal and professional goals and that they enter healthcare knowing the value of teamwork, to creatively solve big problems, and improve the health of communities,” Halaas says.

Halaas will assume the role July 1, 2022.

Concordia is grateful for the contributions of current Sanford Heimarck School of Health Professions Dean Dr. Cynthia Carver who, as part of a phased-retirement, will continue to assist with Academic Affairs during the 2022-23 academic year.

Sanford Heimarck School of Health Professions

In June 2021, the School of Health Professions was renamed the Sanford Heimarck School of Health Professions in recognition of Sanford Health’s continuing and long-standing support. Additionally, the school honors Dr. Theodore Heimarck, who founded the healthcare administration program in 1966 and led the visionary program for three decades.

Academic programs in the school prepare students for leadership and direct care careers in healthcare and medical fields, as well as education, community wellness, and social services settings. The school offers undergraduate, postbaccalaureate, and graduate programs.

Renovations will begin in Spring 2022 to transform the former Sanford Clinic adjacent to campus into the Heimarck Center. The center will include a nursing simulation lab, nutrition assessment lab, and human performance lab. It will also offer spaces to simulate home health settings, telehealth conferencing, interviews, consultations, and board room meetings.