Changing the Community through the Fisch College of Pharmacy

Research shows that pharmacies are common sources for important medical information.  Consider that for a moment.  We rely on our pharmacy for everything from flu shots to advice about drug interactions.  There is a wealth of knowledge stored behind that counter in the minds of professional pharmacists.

I am proud to say that, in just a few years, many of the pharmacists helping East Texas patients will have been educated right here in Tyler.

Earlier this year, after years of groundwork, the 83rd Texas Legislature approved a proposal to establish a self-sustaining college of pharmacy at The University of Texas at Tyler in collaboration with UT Health Northeast.  In August, the University of Texas System Board of Regents voted unanimously to make it official.

This is one of several early renderings of the first structure for the Fisch College of Pharmacy.

This is a conceptual rendering of the first building in the Fisch College of Pharmacy.

The new college will be named the Ben and Maytee Fisch College of Pharmacy, acknowledging a generous, multi-year gift for start-up operations and endowment from the Ben and Maytee Fisch Foundation.  We have already hired a founding dean, engaged architects to design its new home and begun preparations for the national accrediting process, which will begin in January.   With favorable winds, we expect to admit the first class of students to the Fisch College in 2015.

That new home will be much larger, nicer and more functional than originally planned, as a result of a large multi-year commitment for the building from the Brookshire Grocery Company (BGC).  Acknowledging their generous help, the building will be named for the company’s founder.  It will be known as  W. T. Brookshire Hall.

Establishing the Fisch College, aside from admitting lower division students for the first time in the fall of 1998, is the largest single change in the UT Tyler landscape in my 15 years as the University’s president.

For most of the past decade, we have been resolute in our goal to one day establish a college of pharmacy, and thus take advantage of—and add to—the medical focus of Tyler.  So, the UT Tyler family is especially delighted to be moving forward with such a significant project.

We are able to bring this new program to Tyler because of the support of so many of you.  Our elected officials, led by Senator Kevin Eltife, carried the day in the Legislature.  Major companies, led by Brookshire’s leaders Chairman Brad Brookshire and President Rick Rayford, provided significant support and brought other key parties to the table.  The same was true of our major hospital systems and the Tyler Chamber of Commerce, led by Tom Mullins.  And, it is very important to say that UT System—including former Chairman Gene Powell and Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa—went far beyond basic support for establishing this new pharmacy college in East Texas.  All of these supporters were solid, and sometimes fierce, advocates.  We thank one and all.

This is the site plan for the new college. The facility will be located next to the Robert R. Muntz Library.

This is the site plan for the new college. The facility will be located next to the Robert R. Muntz Library.

With this project, we are bringing something to the community that will, in many important ways, positively affect UT Tyler and improve the quality of life in East Texas.

First, the Ben and Maytee Fisch College of Pharmacy is a partnership between UT Tyler and UT Health Northeast.  UT Tyler will work primarily on the instructional side, although its faculty and students will undertake research projects that contain a learning component.  UT Health Northeast will undertake major pharmaceutical research projects that involve sophisticated equipment and the special research capabilities of its faculty.  In addition to the treasured potential for developing new drugs, our pharmacy students will have the very valuable benefit of assisting the Tyler health science center in its research.

Secondly, the Fisch College will bring a good number of additional students to UT Tyler and will be a major economic driver for the region.  Fisch College will, by year four, have some 400 students in the program along with 40 new faculty and staff members. Those new students and new high-paying professional jobs will, in turn, bring other new jobs and new consumers into the local economy.

Furthermore, because of the addition of the Ben and Maytee Fisch College of Pharmacy, UT Tyler will experience a substantial increase in enrollment in pre-pharmacy science courses.  The University will be able to build further its already strong reputation in chemistry and biology.

Third, this new college of pharmacy will provide an opportunity for East Texas students to have local access to the education they need.  Only seven other Texas universities offer a pharmacy program, the closest one in Fort Worth.  When area students cannot find a seat in those institutions, they look elsewhere.  According to data from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, 571 Texas residents attended pharmacy school in a state other than Texas in 2012 and paid an average private or out-of-state tuition far exceeding $30,000 annually.

This is the conceptual view of Brookshire Hall as seen from across Harvey Lake.

This is the conceptual view of Brookshire Hall as seen from across Harvey Lake.

Our goal is to give deserving East Texas men and women who want a career in pharmacy the opportunity to prepare for it right here in East Texas.  There is a strong need for pharmacists in Tyler and communities across our region.  We are pleased to be able to help students find quality employment in such a high-demand, high-paying field.

At UT Tyler, we take pride in our commitment to innovation.  The Ben and Maytee Fisch College of Pharmacy will be a strong example of that originality.  The pharmacy program will be self-sustaining.  That is, the college will operate without state funding, using only tuition and philanthropic gifts instead.  This outside-the-box approach will allow us to build a quality program without placing an additional burden on state taxpayers or current UT Tyler students in other academic programs.

One of the best parts of being involved in higher education is seeing the difference we make in the lives of students.  In a few years, when I am standing in front of a counter talking to a pharmacist with a UT Tyler lapel pin on his or her jacket, I will be proud to know that this community came together in a unique way to make the education of such successful individuals possible.


Remembering Convocation

Dr. Rodney H. Mabry

At the beginning of each fall semester, my staff and I present Convocation to the University faculty.  It is a great time to reconnect with our coworkers after the summer and an opportunity to help define our goals for the year.

This year’s Convocation was a little different.  We enjoy being innovative, and Convocation 2013 was a great example of how we are willing to think differently in order to meet the demands of a situation.  Our goal was to develop a program that was interactive and different from what we have presented in years past.

We are halfway through the semester and so far this has been a great academic year.  Innovation and dedication to student success are vital in making this university succeed.  I am sharing the video and speech from this year’s Convocation to remind us that we should keep striving to think outside the box throughout the year.

PATSS and the Importance of Engaged Learning

Change is difficult.  It’s complex, contentious, and time-consuming — but often very rewarding.

In general, higher education has been responsible for many of the world’s new ideas. However, in the vital area of transferring knowledge to new generations, we as an industry have avoided change.

PATSS high resfw copy

Since the time of Socrates in a Greek amphitheater, with adoring students crowded around, the idea of lecture-based teaching has stood the test of time.  But the world is changing.  Widely available new technology now makes it possible to change how we teach while increasing learning and lowering costs.

We live in a society where we talk to friends and family across the world in real time using a cell phone and a wireless data connection.  We shop online, play games with our grandchildren in other states, read books that are stored in the cloud, and keep in touch through social media.

This year’s traditional-age freshmen have never lived without cell phones and barely recall a time before Google.  Today’s students expect and demand information at the touch of a finger.  However, in a world where an almost infinite number of sources (reliable and not) are available on any subject, students still need guidance and encouragement from professors who are able to teach on a flexible schedule using the latest technology. Consequently, our teaching methodology must change, too.  It must change not only to take advantage of the added effectiveness and reduced costs of using new technology, but also because technologically savvy students demand it.

They want to have their professors’ lectures available on YouTube and Vimeo.   They want those lectures to come in natural lengths to fit different topics or concepts, not only in 50-minute blocks.  They want to be able to view material day or night, start and stop a lecture, rewind it, and even view parts of it again.

They want to be directed to the explanations available online from other world-renowned experts.  They want to be able to discuss the material with their classmates online, seek help on unclear items and offer help when they believe they understand.

This quick, and surprisingly deep, interaction with other learners (always monitored by professors and graduate students for accuracy) is particularly important to today’s students.  It is a powerful way to learn.


Finally, students still want class meetings, but not only to hear professors lecture.  Instead, they want to interact with the professors and their classmates in a variety of ways that enable them to answer questions, apply the material and solve problems.  They want to be fully engaged in the learning process.

I am proud to say that at UT Tyler we are moving rapidly beyond the stale classroom lecture to fully engaged learning by implementing an exciting new project.  One of our newest projects, PATSS (Patriots Applying Technology for Success and Savings), allows us to join our students in the technology-based environment they inhabit and use every day.

This fall, our first PATSS classes are being taught across campus. Like many of the initiatives in education these days, PATSS is designed to help us maximize our resources.  That’s the “savings” part.  But it is the “success” part that is truly exciting.

To gain both major benefits – student success and resource savings, not to mention greater student satisfaction – we are “flipping” our classes and fully engaging our students in their own learning process.  In what we are calling Hyflex classes, students learn the material online and take quizzes online.  During class, they discuss.  They participate in activities where the material is used.  They engage with each other in groups.  In short, they apply the material.

UT Tyler offers a web resource specifically geared toward students looking for online options.

UT Tyler offers a web resource specifically geared toward students looking for online options.

Studies of real classroom data show that this learning process is better.  Students learn more per unit of time and retain it longer.  Using technology this way to engage students extends the range of professors and lowers costs.  And students are more satisfied with their learning given the greater interaction with others and given the much greater flexibility and control each student has over the timing of their learning efforts.

Nobel Laureate Dr. Carl Wieman confirms these results in his work on how students learn more physics in “flipped” classes that also use project-based learning to engage students.  He found that more students will succeed in gatekeeper courses such as calculus, chemistry and physics, lowering the withdrawal and failure rates in these tough courses.  Prof. Wieman came to UT Tyler at the beginning of the semester to talk to us as part of our long-running Distinguished Lecture Series.  His studies on learning were certainly an important inspiration for the PATSS project.

We expect that this engaged learning process will be good for our faculty as well.  With this model, after the initial extra work to change teaching styles, faculty will actually save time and be able to do more of what they love – teach – while enjoying it more.

In the fall of 2013, more than 750 students were enrolled in the PATSS project.  So far, the response from those students has been very positive.

Here at UT Tyler, we know the world is changing.  And we are working to embrace and lead that change with it.  We believe in innovation, and PATSS is just one example of how thinking beyond the usual will help us better meet the needs of our students.