Innovation: It’s In Our DNA

Feb 15th, 2018

Innovation: It’s In Our DNA

This story is featured in the Fall 2017 edition of the HPU Magazine. Discover below how HPU’s Congdon Hall ushered in a new era of health innovation and graduate studies.

The entrepreneurial spirit drew them to High Point University.

Today, they watch it come to life in the new $120 million Congdon Hall.

Congdon Hall home of the Congdon School of Health Sciences.

Dr. Daniel Erb, who hails from Duke University, is the dean of HPU’s Congdon School of Health Sciences. Dr. Ron Ragan became dean of HPU’s Fred Wilson School of Pharmacy after building a top program in the Midwest.

Congdon Hall, the university’s single largest investment in history, opened this fall and ushered in a new era of health innovation and graduate studies. Erb and Ragan remember the early days when these programs were merely plans on paper.

But they had opportunity, and Dr. Nido Qubein, HPU president, had vision.

“I came to High Point because there is a can-do attitude here,” Erb says. “That’s more evident today than ever before.”

Erb and Ragan hired faculty who are leading experts in their fields and welcomed students into new programs in physician assistant studies, physical therapy and pharmacy. Their classes are selective — between 60 and 70 in the physical therapy and pharmacy cohorts, and 35 in the newest physician assistant cohort. Their students compete against more than 1,000 applicants for their spots.

Found inside Congdon Hall’s lobby this sculpture depicts Z-DNA (left handed twist), as it appears in this artist’s rendition, transiently appears when DNA is being expressed.

In August, Congdon Hall opened as the hub of innovation for these two academic schools, bringing 220,000-square-feet of medical research and clinical practice space to campus. Expansive labs and technology include a Human Biomechanics and Physiology Lab that is the only North American site where research for Adidas is conducted. There’s a gross anatomy lab that rivals the best in the country, high-fidelity mannequins that act as real patients, an environmental chamber where the altitude can mimic up to 15,000 feet above sea level.

The transformational plan that Qubein began when he became president in 2005 has always centered on taking HPU to new academic heights.

“When campus is infused with the spirit of an entrepreneur, you find opportunities to do things that haven’t been done before,” Ragan says. “We built our programs from the ground up and created opportunities students don’t have elsewhere.”

“The vision was right on target,” says Erb. “The programs we set out to develop are needed in the changing landscape of health care. Now, our mission is to prepare students to become the kind of health care providers who will, quite literally, change lives.”

Focused on Patient Care

In fact, they’ve already started.

In the last year, their new students have arrived as the programs launched in steps — physician assistant studies in 2015, pharmacy in 2016, and physical therapy in 2017. Their work in the classroom has quickly been applied to conducting impactful research and serving the underserved in their community.

HPU’s first physical therapy doctoral students — 60 total —  made history when they arrived on May 17. This fall, they opened a pro bono physical therapy clinic that is meeting the needs of community members who otherwise wouldn’t have access to these types of services.

They’re learning from a group of faculty who hail from leading medical universities and health centers, and their impact is far-reaching. In addition to a partnership with Adidas, faculty also received funding from the National Institutes of Health to conduct a study to help female youth athletes prevent ACL injuries — the most common type of athletic injury among their age group. Then there’s the Virtual Reality and Clinical Gait Analysis Laboratory, where they’re looking for new treatment methods that can improve the lives of children and adults who have cerebral palsy or suffer from stroke or spinal cord injury.

With an aging baby boomer population, it’s no surprise that the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the demand for physical therapists to increase 34 percent by 2024. Working alongside them in Congdon Hall is the first class of the new 3+2 master’s degree program in athletic training.

HPU’s Human Biomechanics and Physiology Lab

While athletic training has been offered at the undergraduate level at HPU for more than 25 years, elevating the program to a graduate level was important for several reasons, according to Dr. Jolene Henning, chair of the department. First, the Commission on Accreditation of Athletic Training Education announced a mandate that all accredited programs be delivered at the master’s degree level. Second, it reflects the high level of skill and care expected from today’s athletic trainers.

“Graduate level education is necessary as the scope and sophistication of clinical practice for athletic trainers has expanded,” Henning says. “We anticipated this change and were prepared. Elevating to the graduate level also allows for interprofessional education opportunities with students in physician assistant studies, physical therapy and pharmacy.”

The physician assistant master’s program welcomed its third cohort of 35 students in May and graduated its first class in August. More than 1,500 applicants are competing for spots in  the program each year. 

“As our nation faces the biggest changes in health care in a century, High Point University is helping fulfill a vision for both increased access and high quality of care for patients in High Point, North Carolina, and across the country,” says Dr. Linda Sekhon, founding chair of the Department of Physician Assistant Studies. “The PA profession is attractive for its adaptability to health care needs as well as the opportunity for a PA professional to be employed in primary care or specialties over the course of their career. With an increasing shortage of primary care physicians, aging population and rapid changes in the health  care climate, PAs will be needed more than ever.”

The Future of Pharmacy

The Fred Wilson School of Pharmacy, the only pharmacy school in the Piedmont Triad, welcomed its second cohort of 74 students this fall.

Pharmacy students and faculty have become highly visible with hands-on learning and volunteerism in High Point.

During orientation, new students complete a day of service in the surrounding community. Then they quickly become involved in over-the-counter medication giveaways held in the city, begin volunteering at the Community Clinic of High Point, and provide health screenings at the High Point Farmer’s Market and local food pantries, where community members with high blood pressure and little access to health care receive services.

“Our faculty have shown students how to be an effective community pharmacist early in their educational studies,” Ragan says. “It’s important that when students are gaining knowledge in a classroom, they begin putting it into practice in a clinical environment soon after. Our students don’t wait until they are upperclassmen to get hands-on experience.”

Scientific research complements the experience students receive in the community. Ragan has also assembled a team of impressive academic researchers so that students graduate with both strong clinical and advanced science skills.

And these pharmacy faculty are well-published and  well-known in the world of health care. Dr. Scott Hemby, chair of basic pharmaceutical sciences, was featured on PBS NewsHour for his research on the plant kratom, which has been used as a replacement for opiates like morphine. Dr. Mary Jayne Kennedy, chair of the clinical sciences department, and Dr. Peter Gal, associate dean for academic affairs, pioneered methods to collect data from premature babies in regards to how drug therapy might be used to help them through critical development stages.

“Our lab space allows HPU students and faculty to contribute cutting-edge research to the health sciences field, obtain additional research funding and thereby improve the quality of life for those in the Triad and beyond,” Erb says.

A Small University with Major Resources

Students learning inside the new Congdon Hall helped the university achieve a milestone this fall — the largest number of graduate students in HPU’s history, and a record total enrollment of nearly 5,000.

That number reflects an important part of HPU’s transformational plan — maintaining a close-knit atmosphere as enrollment expands.

“HPU remains a small university with major university resources,” Qubein says. “The HPU experience is grounded in mentorship. Our growth has always been framed around the mission to empower and encourage faculty to closely educate and guide students in their journey.”

As more students have been attracted to campus, the number of faculty has increased from 100 to more than 325, along with robust academic programming and professional opportunities that support student development.

“What helps students get into graduate and professional school is certainly their aptitude, grades and experiences, but also the faculty members with whom they work,” says Dr. Dennis Carroll, HPU provost. “These faculty publish and present research that captures the attention of professional and medical schools across the country. We’ve hired incredible scholars and scientists for students to work with and learn from.”

Business and communication continue to be the largest undergraduate majors on campus, while the undergraduate sciences are flourishing. The next facility to begin construction is a new undergraduate sciences school to support biology, chemistry and physics majors. Many of the students in these programs are now choosing to continue their master’s or doctoral education in HPU’s new graduate programs.

The number of undergraduate majors on campus is also ever-evolving, with recent additions such as event and sport management, neuroscience and professional sales designed to meet marketplace demands. Meanwhile, wide varieties of minors, concentrations and experiential opportunities mold students into “well-rounded and ready-to-compete candidates,” Carroll says. Professional writing, foreign languages, civic responsibility and innovation minors can complement any major and help a graduate stand out in the job or graduate school application process.

“That’s one of the reasons we’ve built an impressive foreign languages department,” he says. “We offer Portuguese because we understand that Brazil plays a crucial role in the international economy. Our students can take Mandarin Chinese because it’s the most widely spoken language in  the world.”

And regardless of their major, new health programs also benefit all alumni, current students and graduates, Carroll says.

“The research and learning opportunities in Congdon Hall reflect our commitment to innovation and mentorship. These programs set the bar high for the entire HPU family.”


View this story and more in the Fall 2017 edition of the HPU Magazine: