June 22, 2017 - The Record

Adventures of an Academic: Marilyn Hopkins, Provost and COO at Touro University California

Dr. Marilyn Hopkins

After serving Touro University California (TUC) for seven and a half years, Dr. Marilyn Hopkins, Provost and COO, will retire at the end of June. Dr. Hopkins’ desire to fulfill her vision across the campus has led to many changes and improvements, the results of which can be seen wherever you turn. Dr. Hopkins has always been a proponent for growth at TUC, be it in the form of new departments, places to study, or programs to support. And her deep appreciation for the faculty, students, and staff at the university has made her a great friend to all across campus.

Growing up, Dr. Hopkins’ family was always clear in their support of her. Her mother was a homemaker who did whatever she had to do to make the family successful. And her father was a craftsman who worked two jobs to provide for the family. Dr. Hopkins was always told how important education was, especially by her grandmother who never had the opportunity to go to college herself.

Leaving their Italian neighborhood outside of Chicago, Dr. Hokpins’ family came to California for work in the aerospace industry. When time came for her to go to college, her parents considered taking a loan out on their house to pay for her education. Unwilling to create an added burden, Dr. Hopkins decided to commute to a newly founded nursing program at Sacramento State.

“Mine was the generation of RNs that threw away our nursing caps and petitioned the hospital administrators to wear pantsuits to work,” she beams.

Dr. Hopkins discovered her love for education when she started precepting nursing students in the intensive care unit. Those good experiences teaching led Dr. Hopkins to shift her focus from patients to students. She went from educating students on a part time basis, then full time until she pursued her doctorate and took on leadership positions in education.

Dr. Hopkins came to TUC in 2009 after serving as the Dean of the College of Health and Human Services at Sacramento State where she oversaw the education of more than 5,000 students. In the seven years since Dr. Hopkins was hired as Provost and COO for TUC, the campus has grown remarkably in both size and complexity. Some of the more significant changes that she has made include:

  • The creation of new departments such as the Office of Sponsored Programs, the Office of Institutional Effectiveness, and the Office of University Advancement
  • The completion of many capital projects including renovating Farragut Inn into a study space and event center, a campus staircase to connect lower and upper campus, and creating the library annex with a state of the art Pharmacy Practice Center, new classrooms, and IT offices
  • The completion of the campus branding project to implement a regional marketing campaign and increase university awareness in addition to updating the website
  • Revamping the university website and implementing an emergency notification system

Put together, Dr. Hopkins’ many achievements have changed the face of TUC, enabling something as simple as a comfortable place to eat and as impressive as the almost $3 million awarded in grants last year. Her efforts have had a huge impact, and the campus we enjoy today would not be here without her great influence and direction.

Looking forward now to retirement, Dr. Hopkins is ready. She has her Italian to brush up on in the fall and plans to finally travel to Italy soon. She is currently enjoying Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy and also likes to cook, garden, and watch musical theater when she can. But she will still miss not seeing the people at TUC each day.

“We laugh a lot,” Dr. Hopkins says. “I’ll have to find a way to keep up those relationships.”

Nevertheless, she walks into retirement confident that it will be just another adventure.

Dr. Hopkins reflects, “People say that at retirement you rediscover yourself. But I don’t think I’ve ever lost myself. I know who I am.”

The university and community will gather to celebrate Dr. Hopkins on June 29th in Farragut Inn, where all will get to give a heartfelt “Aloha.” Be sure to attend her big send off and RSVP at https://tu.edu/alohamarilyn/

How to Take Charge of Your Brain Health: Interview with Dr. Barb Puder

Dr. Barbara PuderWhile our minds are often portrayed as something separate from the body, the brain, like any organ, can be cared for or neglected by our own behavior. As Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month comes to a close, Dr. Barb Puder, Neuroscientist and Associate Professor of Basic Sciences at TUC, talks about the steps that anyone can take to better care for their brain.

“The brain is plastic, which means that it’s ever changing,” explains Dr. Puder. “People used to think that every connection you make remains the same, but you can learn new things.”

Because of this plasticity, what you do with your brain matters. A brain that is used to making new connections is able to bounce back with a faster rate of recovery from brain injuries.

“To keep your brain in shape, you should challenge yourself and keep from always doing the same thing,” says Dr. Puder. “Crosswords are something that a lot of people like to do to keep their brains strong, but all that matters is that you’re trying out a new and foreign experience. Picking up a musical instrument, dancing, or learning a second language are all great ways to exercise your brain.”

Travel is another way to change the pathways that your brain takes to approach the world. She recommends reaching for your passport, especially as a way to keep older brains on their toes.

“Everything you see is new. You have to figure out how to get to places differently, learn new kinds of foods. It’s all a novel experience,” Dr. Puder says.

“You have to challenge yourself. Motivation is a neurological circuit in your brain. And it’s by exercising it that you’re motivated to do something great with your day like take that big hike,” says Dr. Puder.

As for those who live with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or dementia, staying socially engaged and having regular human interaction is the best way to keep the brain active.

Get to Know Your BrainDr. Puder has been involved with outreach Brain Awareness events since 2001. She created the "Get to Know Your Brain!" program in 2007, which serves local area K-12 students. For Brain Awareness Week in March, she and TUC student doctors and Master of Science in Medical Health Sciences students got out to schools at Martinez and Pleasant Hill and offered interactive learning stations, catering to different age groups. Children played games like brain lobe twister, which taught them the names and functions of each lobe (frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital). Participants were also able to enter a neuron race where they got to become the neuron and jump along an axon as tennis balls are thrown by their peers to simulate neuro transmitter release.

But the biggest thrill was when they put on goggles and gloves to have an actual hands-on experience with a real human brain.

“Even experienced people are often surprised at how small in diameter the spinal cord really is. They know that the bones of the spine are big, but the spinal cord is actually just the width of your finger,” explains Dr. Puder.

For more information on Alzheimer’s and Brain Awareness Month, visit


Deeper Levels of Satisfaction: Alumnus Adrian Ruelas, CEHS ‘10

Adrian Ruelas, PA-C, graduated from TUC’s Joing MSPAS/MPH program in 2010. He is now a Physician Assistant at Sacramento Community Clinic at Del Paso, a non-profit Federally Qualified Health Center dedicated to serving the underserved population in Sacramento.

After graduating from the PA program, you went back to help in an underserved community. Can you tell us why you took this route? 

Adrian Ruelas, PA-C

The answer to this question stems from why I wanted to become a PA. As a child, I would never have imagined pursuing a career as a Physician Assistant. My family could rarely afford the luxury of proper medical treatment. My earliest experiences of medical care were unpleasant home remedies. In the underserved community I grew up in, my experience was far from unusual. Going to hospitals or medical offices was strictly a last resort. They were places to go to only when all the family remedies had failed, when the excruciating pain of stomach aches became unbearable, when the magnitude of the discomfort interfered with the ability to work or even to get out of bed. Health care was not seen as a valuable tool to improve one’s health. It was rather an exorbitantly expensive method of postponing death. 

Through my experience in growing up and working in an underserved community, I developed compassion and commitment for helping the underserved. Before graduating from PA school, I always envisioned myself working in an area where there was a shortage of medical professionals. I’d want to provide affordable, quality healthcare to the underserved and be where my Latino background would be helpful in establishing a rapport with underserved Latino minorities. Since graduating in 2010, I have been working at a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) where I provide health care to a large Hispanic community in addition to other races and cultures. It has been a truly rewarding experience. As a PA, I’ve been able to leverage my scientific training to improve people’s lives through educational and preventative treatment. After many years of hard work in school and training, each day brings deeper levels of satisfaction and excitement to what I am doing.

How will the repeal of the Affordable Care Act affect your profession? 

Repealing ObamaCare and its counterpart Covered California will hit hardest on working Californians who make too much money to be on Medi-Cal but are too poor to afford private insurance. The numbers of uninsured will go up as people out in the market will stop paying for health insurance. This will in turn impact the abilities for medical providers to effectively treat this patient population. It’s concerning to face an uncertain future where change is certain, but progress is not guaranteed.

How would friends describe you?

Empathetic. Compassionate. Amiable. Sincere.

Our Staff: Tena Casey, Bursar

Tena CaseyMs. Casey was born in San Francisco and raised in the Bay Area. She received her undergraduate degree in Louisiana and still has a soft spot for the South. The youngest of three, she says it’s a myth that the youngest gets everything.

“We were all spoiled in different ways, but I had to fight for attention just so they could see me more!” she laughs.

“You have to be funny in my family,” Ms. Casey continues. “You have to take a joke to give a joke.”

Although he would never admit it, she says that her brother is secretly very proud of all of her accomplishments; he loves to support her from afar.

Before TUC, Ms. Casey worked in San Francisco and Emeryville at the Jamba Juice corporate headquarters for 12 years. She says she loves the classic Jamba Juices like Caribbean Passion, Mango-A-Go-Go, and the Chunky Strawberry Bowl (it’s the peanut butter that makes it chunky). Becoming Bursar five years ago was Ms. Casey’s first move into academia, and it’s stuck with her.

“In corporate America, it’s all about the bottom line. But here at TUC, a simple thank you really makes you feel good,” she says.

As bursar, Ms. Casey oversees the student accounts where she educates students and addresses their concerns on matters like their balances and refunds. Ms. Casey also assists them with navigating the Student Health Insurance Plan. Given how demanding each program is at TUC, she stresses the importance of each student not having to worry about the state of their finances.

“It only gets difficult when students don’t reach out to her,” Ms. Casey explains. But she admits that she loves working with the students to help ease their concerns regarding their finances.

And it’s also the people in Student Affairs who make it all worthwhile.

“Dr. Lisa Waits has assembled a very good team,” she says. “She’s a great mentor and encourages all of the staff. We have a strong support system with her and Dr. James Binkerd.”

One of Ms. Casey’s goals is to travel more. Whether it’s heading back to Victoria, British Columbia; Hawaii; or adventuring somewhere new, she thinks it’s time to appreciate the world again.

The word bursar comes from the Latin word for purse (the one who manages the purse). When asked about her favorite purse, Ms. Casey laughs modestly that she enjoys a good bag before leaning in to whisper, “Handbags are my weakness.”