Interim dean continues tradition of advocacy for future educators and human service professionals

Contact: Deanne Puca

Dr. Kristal Ehrhardt

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Supporting faculty and students and promoting exciting opportunities at Western Michigan University’s College of Education and Human Development have been paramount for Dr. Kristal Ehrhardt, interim dean.

“We’re listening to the community and want to share with them what we do well,” says Ehrhardt, who also is a professor of special education.

She was appointed in July to replace longtime dean Dr. Ming Li, who passed away on Aug. 4. The loss has been felt across the entire campus community, Ehrhardt says, as the college continues Li’s legacy and advocacy for its students and the University.

“We would often refer to Dean Li as ‘Mr. CEHD’ because he was always promoting the college and had a great deal of pride in our students and their accomplishments,” Ehrhardt recalls. “Our faculty, staff and students are continuing work that is meaningful and impactful.”

“I enjoy the work I get to do to bring students to the University and support them,” she adds. “With the teacher shortages we are now seeing, our work is more important than ever and very rewarding."

Ensuring student success is a top priority for Ehrhardt, and she says she is excited that the College of Education and Human Development has solid support programs in place. Examples are the Urban Teacher Residency Program, which provides financial support for local school employees like paraprofessionals and bus drivers seeking careers as teachers, and the TRIO Future Educator Success Program, which provides financial support and mentoring for first-generation students.

“We do a good job in supporting students, but we can do better,” she notes, “and helping us to do so is one of my goals.”

Besides preparing teacher candidates and student scholars in education and human development fields, she points out the college collaborates with schools and community organizations in Southwest Michigan. The CEHD Cares Day scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 17, is a good example of this collaboration.

Putting a spotlight on influential and successful alumni also is a highlight during homecoming week as the college celebrated its Golden Apple, Keystone Early Career and Keystone Meritorious awards.

“As we celebrate award winners, we can see the impact of the work our graduates do when they leave our University and the impact they have on communities,” she says. “The strength of Western Michigan University is the people that comprise it—students, faculty, staff and administrators alike.”

Ehrhardt joined Western’s faculty in 1995 in the school psychology program and previously worked as a school psychologist in Cincinnati, Ohio. She moved to the Department of Special Education and Literacy Studies in 2003, where she was most recently interim chair from July 2021 until her appointment as interim dean.

“Dr. Kristal Ehrhardt’s kind and compassionate leadership, paired with her demonstrable commitments to excellence and student success, made her an outstanding choice for the interim dean position. With many of us still grieving the loss of the former dean, Dr. Li, it is reassuring to know the college is in capable and caring hands as we pursue a nationwide search to fill the permanent position,” says Dr. Christopher Cheatham, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs.

Ehrhardt holds doctoral and master’s degrees from the University of Cincinnati in school psychology with an emphasis in early childhood special education. She graduated from Miami University, earning a Bachelor of Arts in sociology with minors in political science and psychology.

She and her husband, Dr. Alan Poling, professor of psychology, are also proud Bronco parents. Their son Wade Poling is a senior majoring in biology and daughter Jessica Poling graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in global and international studies in spring 2020.

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