This story is featured in the Fall 2016 edition of the HPU Magazine, headed soon to a mailbox near you. Discover below how a decade of growth High Point University has led to more than an extraordinary campus; it’s an extraordinary culture.
Change is hard.
But stagnation? That’s worse — deadly, in fact, for those who succumb to the comfort of it.
Dr. Linda Sekhon, founding chair of the Department of Physician Assistant Studies, knows this. That’s why she and her team of faculty developed a problem-based curriculum that pushes their students to prepare for the world as it will be, not as it is.
“Change can be a place that’s uncomfortable to live, but this place of ‘I don’t know’ is where we grow to the next level,” Sekhon says. “We ask our students to do that.”
Sekhon came to build the PA program because she knows there are few places that live and breathe this mantra like High Point University.
It’s been that way for nearly 12 years now since Dr. Nido Qubein entered as HPU president. That’s when a break-through moment hit campus, and the university’s culture began to shift.
Now, woven through HPU’s fabric is the notion that achieving success never ends. Instead, it’s a journey continuously challenging and changing those who pursue it.
The First Pharmacy Class
Sekhon is one of a number of people accomplishing milestones in HPU history. In 2015, she and her team welcomed the first cohort of physician assistant students to the Congdon School of Health Sciences, signifying the university’s entrance into the realm of health education.
Dr. Ronald Ragan, dean of the Fred Wilson School of Pharmacy, is another. The school officially opened its doors this fall as the only pharmacy school in the Piedmont Triad region.
Finding students with the ambition and foresight needed to lead an inaugural class takes a special approach. Ragan knows this after establishing pharmacy programs in other parts of the country.
Yet, he found them. Applications poured in for the Doctor of Pharmacy program, known as Pharm.D. The first cohort brought in top-notch students. They came from HPU’s undergraduate student body, as well as other institutions across the country.
“We’ve had the opportunity to design our program from a clean slate,” says Ragan, an expert in pharmacology, toxicology and the importance of patient care in our aging society.
“Our faculty have taken a step back from the profession, looked at it with a broad lens and asked, ‘What’s the best way a student can learn this skill set?’”
That’s the type of education that inaugural cohort member Jonathan Paez, who came to HPU from Orange County, California, as an undergraduate, believed would be the best foundation for his career.
Paez completed two years of HPU undergraduate work before applying to the pharmacy program, which enrolls students in their junior year on a path to finish in four more years. That’s a total of six years for a doctorate degree.
“I just finished my second year in college and I’m already starting on my doctorate,” Paez says. “Everyone in the class is highly qualified and largely diverse. It’s exciting to be paving the way for the future.”
Practitioners from Day One
Paez believes in the power of good communication and connection between physicians and their patients. That’s partly what attracted him to HPU’s program.
“We know that expecting students to learn something their first year and not put it into practice until the third year is a bad way to learn,” Ragan says. “We’ve built opportunities for experiential learning early on, both simulated and in the community. Our students will take knowledge from lectures to the field in real time.”
This integrative method instills the hard skills. Meanwhile, other initiatives teach students the importance of developing relationships with patients, like the patient in the community who pharmacy students will be assigned to follow for three years. That happens in just the second semester of their pharmacy work.
“Our students will follow them and understand their real-life issues and how they navigate the health system,” says Dr. Mary Jayne Kennedy, a successful pediatric pharmacologist, who created the partnership. “They’ll develop the soft skills, like how to have conversations and how to ask difficult questions.”
It’s a problem-solving approach derived from the demands of the industry after Sekhon’s team surveyed practitioners to understand what they need most in new graduates.
“They all answered the same: We want a graduate who is ready to practice from day one,” she says. So curriculum in HPU’s health programs was constructed to challenge students at a high level early on. “Those were our marching orders,” Sekhon says.
A Facility for the Future of Care
As Ragan has been building an impressive team of faculty, a new program and an inaugural class, so too has Dr. Daniel Erb, dean of the Congdon School of Health Sciences.
He came to HPU from Duke University in 2011 and hired people like Sekhon to train the next generation of health care providers.
The School of Health Sciences already housed undergraduate athletic training and exercise science programs. It has since added an athletic training master of science program, the physician assistant studies program and will soon add a doctoral program in physical therapy.
All the while, something else is being built from the ground up — a mammoth health complex now towering over the western portion of campus.
In fall 2015, Erb and Ragan watched plans transform into reality when ground was broken for a complex to house physician assistant, physical therapy and pharmacy programs. At four stories and 224,000 square feet, the $120 million project is the university’s single largest investment in history. And it’s no secret that faculty and students can’t wait to burst through its doors in 2017 to begin classes.
“We have this fabulous facility as a backdrop to attract renowned faculty and students,” says Ragan. “We have some amazing tools we’ve been able to leverage.”
Inside will be a simulated operating room, a cadaver lab, advanced biomedical facilities, standardized client space that records students’ interactions with patients to allow for critiquing, additional simulation labs, electronic medical records software and many more components that Erb and Ragan know are vital to the development of future health care leaders.
The two-story lobby will be anchored with a sky-high sculpture of a DNA strand. Its significance to the world of health and science is obvious, but it also connects to the DNA of the university.
And as monumental as the ground breaking was, Erb had seen it happen before. In 2012, the university transformed a former retail building into a Human Biomechanics and Physiology Lab, as well as an innovative space for the Department of Physician Assistant Studies. That’s where faculty conduct research and teach students until the new complex opens, and it rivals most permanent spaces at other universities.
“To me, the greatest gift anyone can give is to improve a person’s quality of life,” Erb says. “You can do that in a number of ways. Improving the health or the function of an individual is an amazing thing to do, and we’ve designed our programs and facilities with that in mind.”
The Next Phase of Expansion
The boldness to embrace innovation, growth and change is evident in new health care programs. They’ve taken center stage in the last year with a wave of new people and construction on campus.
But that approach is the nexus for every program, student and faculty, too.
That was evident when Qubein announced in April another $160 million expansion, on top of the $150 million in construction already underway and in addition to $1.5 billion HPU has invested already in academic programs, facilities and student life since 2005.
The $160 million expansion includes:
- Arena and Conference Center — A $70 million Arena and Conference Center will be built on the university’s main campus. The university has hired an architecture firm for the project, set to begin during the 2018 – 2019 academic year.The Arena will become the home of HPU’s men’s and women’s basketball programs, as well as a venue for major ceremonial events, speakers, concerts, entertainment and recreational activities. It will seat 5,000 spectators and include suites, locker rooms, staff offices, concession stands, a merchandising area, media suite, film room, press conference room, weight room, athletic training room, hospitality area, high tech audio and video equipment, ticket office and practice gym.The Conference Center will provide event space for growing undergraduate and graduate programs, student groups and community organizations. It will seat up to 2,500 individuals and have the ability to be subdivided into smaller venues with lighting, sound and video for state-of-the-art presentations.The master plan for the project may include a small, executive hotel, pending approval from the Board of Trustees. It would be located adjacent to the Arena and Conference Center and serve the sport and event management major and a proposed hospitality management program.
- Undergraduate Sciences Building — A $60 million undergraduate sciences facility will accommodate growth in majors including biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, actuarial science and more. These programs complement HPU’s new graduate programs in physician assistant studies, pharmacy, athletic training and future physical therapy program. The building will also house a planetarium and may include a conservatory. Construction will begin in spring 2017. It will be located next to the $120 million Congdon School of Health Sciences and Fred Wilson School of Pharmacy.
- New Residence Hall — A 150,000-square-foot residence hall will accommodate HPU’s growing enrollment. The $23 million facility will house 310 students and be constructed near the new $22 million Cottrell Hall that opened in fall 2015. Construction began this past summer. It will be the tenth residential facility HPU has added to its campus since 2005.
In addition to the projects above, several million will be spent on site preparation.
It’s a testament to the work that began in 2005 — work that was so vastly different from what other universities had done in the past, that some couldn’t help but stop and take a second look.
But Qubein knew then like he knows now that paving the way requires a certain kind of spirit. It demands vision. It requires growth, discomfort and perseverance. Just like those faculty and students leading inaugural classes and doing things that have never been done across campus.
Change. Without it, there’s no growth. Only stagnation.
“At High Point University, we are blessed to do what seems impossible, especially during one of the greatest recessions of our time,” Qubein said at a meeting filled with city leaders, all charged with moving the city of High Point forward. “People questioned us. But we knew that when you have faith and when you have courage, anything is possible. And today, our institution is poised for continued success and endless opportunity on the horizon.”
View this story and more in the Fall 2016 edition of the HPU Magazine: