Arkansas State University Vice Chancellor for University Advancement Dr. Jason Penry said Thursday (June 2) it was three and a half year journey to take one of the oldest buildings on the Jonesboro campus and turn it into a medical school.
The journey will continue into the future as university officials and the New York Institute of Technology opened a $12.6 million osteopathy school at Wilson Hall. The building, which housed the political science, English and history departments, opened in 1932 and has served thousands of students, university officials said in discussing the building.
ASU-Jonesboro Chancellor Dr. Tim Hudson said the new school will create medical personnel to help an underserved area, while the rededication of Wilson Hall in the center of campus will help the university as well.
“I believe Robert E. Lee Wilson (the building’s namesake) would be proud today,” Hudson said.
Hudson also thanked the New York Institute of Technology for their support with the project, noting he believes the relationship between ASU and NYIT is built on trust. ASU system president Dr. Charles Welch said the relationship between ASU and NYIT is transformative for the region and will be paid for entirely by private funds.
“We are transforming lives, literally,” Welch said.
ASU began working with NYIT in 2012 on the medical school project. Welch said U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, several ASU board members, Delta Regional Authority federal co-chairman Chris Masingill, former Gov. Mike Beebe and Gov. Asa Hutchinson worked to make the project happen.
NYIT received final approval late last year to open the school. Classes begin Aug. 8, with the first graduation in May 2020. Officials said earlier this year that 115 students will start classes with another 150 students on a waiting list. The college will also draw students from the surrounding area, including Arkansas, Alabama, Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee.
NYIT president Dr. Edward Guiliano said the new school will use technology to teach students about medicine, with a floor set aside to train students using cadavers. Dr. Barbara Ross-Lee, who will serve as dean of the school, said the school will seek to work on a crisis in healthcare in the Delta by training people in medicine. Ross-Lee said osteopathic medicine is a fast growing industry in the United States, with schools all over the country.
The average student in this year’s group has a 3.6 grade point average, with 20% of the students already with masters degrees, Ross-Lee said.
“The practice of medicine is an awesome responsibility. But we have an awesome responsibility to teach medicine, not just now but seven to 10 years from now,” Ross-Lee said.
Hutchinson said the new school is a good partnership, with ASU working on innovation.
“Higher education should be in the business of meeting the needs of the state of Arkansas. And Arkansas State University has done that,” Hutchinson said.
The osteopathy school at ASU is one of two schools being built in the state. The Arkansas College of Osteopathy Medicine will open in Fort Smith next year, in a $31 million facility with 600 students and 65 employees.