|It’s really difficult these days to keep up with all of the big announcements coming out of The University of Texas System in regard to the “new UT” for the Rio Grande Valley.
The latest focus has been on seeking public input on a name for the institution, starting the search for a founding president and celebrating the Board of Regents’ approval in mid-November of an almost $200 million funding package to jump start construction of new facilities in both Hidalgo and Cameron counties.
And if all the stars align just right, as early as next March or April we could be celebrating a very historic event on The University of Texas-Pan American campus – groundbreaking for the first new building for the developing new university.
That piece of news was shared by Special Advisor to the Chancellor Kenneth I. Shine, M.D., when he came to campus on November 20 to update faculty and staff on the new regional medical school that will be an integral part of the new emerging research university. (Dr. Shine, who retired earlier this year as UT System’s executive vice chancellor for health affairs, has the huge task of overseeing the simultaneous development of two medical schools for the UT System, in Austin and the RGV.)
Funded by $54 million from the Permanent University Fund, which was part of the $196 million package approved by the Regents, the Medical Academic Building will be built adjacent to the existing Regional Academic Health Center’s research building (known as the E-RAHC) on the UT Pan American campus and will be home to the medical school’s main administration, including the dean’s office, and core faculty.
UT System is fast-tracking the new facility so that it can be ready well ahead of the opening of the medical school in Fall 2016. Dr. Shine explained that the accelerated timeline was possible because a similar facility had recently been designed for the campus of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, providing a template that could easily be adjusted to meet the needs of the RGV school.
Designed to accommodate the progressive and innovative medical education program being envisioned by the UT System for the regional medical school, the 88,000 gross square feet of space will be devoted to teaching facilities that promote faculty and student interaction at the earliest stages of medical school and will make extensive use of online and distance learning to accommodate the regional nature of the academic curriculum.
Dr. Shine told the UT Pan American audience that, while the first class to use the new facility will number about 50, the building is designed for growth and will accommodate up to 400. Among its features will be an auditorium, digital library, preclinical M.D. labs, anatomy teaching facility, student lounge and study spaces, and a clinical skills center for sophisticated testing of students’ knowledge, skills and values.
In his recent update at Pan Am, Dr. Shine also reported that the search for a founding dean for the medical school – a search that is being conducted out of the UTHSC–SA and includes faculty from Pan Am and UTB – should be nearing an end. He said that he has personally interviewed all four finalists and hopes an announcement can be made in the next couple of months.
Obviously, there was much more to Dr. Shine’s conversation with our faculty and staff than I have mentioned here, and I hope you will take some time to watch the entire presentation that our IT team has uploaded to You Tube. Also, I invite you to stay up to date on all of the activities related to the new university by periodically checking out the Project South Texas website, the UT System’s website where new information is being posted almost daily.
As always, your thoughts and ideas are always welcome, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Y como siempre, mano a mano, ¡seguímos adelante!
Robert S. Nelsen is president of the University of Texas-Pan American. The above column first appeared in Nelsen's Mano a Mano presidential newsletter.