(COLLEGE STATION, TX) — Reflecting on its rapid growth while also looking ahead at new opportunities to meet the health-related needs of Texans, the Texas A&M Health Science Center hosted its third-ever academic convocation Wednesday, Jan. 16.

With a theme of “Blueprint for the Future” and a keynote by former Surgeon General Dr. Antonia C. Novello, the convocation at the Leonore and Walter Annenberg Presidential Conference Center in the George Bush Library Complex at Texas A&M University celebrated the renewed vision and reaffirmed commitment to providing quality programs and services throughout the state.

Divided into “Following the Master Blueprint,” “Establishing a Strong Foundation” and “Building for the Future,” it included several references to the new HSC Bryan campus.

“None of the changes that have occurred throughout the Health Science Center, nor the effects of these changes, have happened by accident,” said Nancy W. Dickey, M.D., President of the Texas A&M Health Science Center and Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs for the Texas A&M University System.

“They have been a result of support by our State Legislature, the oversight of the members of our Board of Regents and guidance of A&M System officials. But most critical, these changes and accompanying outcomes have been the result of the enthusiasm, unwavering dedication and innovative minds of our faculty, staff, students and administrators throughout our university.”

In her Presidential Address, Dr. Dickey reviewed the goals and accomplishments related to the 2015 Strategic Plan. She also highlighted its impact on the state’s economic and health of its citizens.

“Our scientists, teachers, staff members and students are making a difference,” Dr. Dickey said.

“Scientific discoveries are leading to the establishment of biotech organizations, committed to preventing and curing disease. Individuals from underserved communities have access to invaluable health care – and health education – that was not previously present. Those living on limited means are being helped to get access to much-needed prescription medications. Members of the aging population are leading more active and healthier lives. And, every day, researchers from throughout the Health Science Center are contributing in meaningful ways to assure our active duty soldiers and returning veterans are receiving the care and attention they deserve.”

Keynote speaker Novello, M.D., M.P.H., born in Puerto Rico and the first woman and first Latina Surgeon General, shared her insight on “Health Not for All: Disparities in Our Midst” during the “Building for the Future” portion of convocation.

“The world needs to know the Texas A&M Health Science Center serves the poorest, the neediest, the disenfranchised – those who often feel they have nowhere else to turn,” Dr. Novello said. “You are serving people of all colors and all languages, no matter if they were born in this country or arrived yesterday by foot. You are working hard to eliminate the health disparities of all Texans through compassionate care, superior science and exceptional health education. The Texas A&M Health Science Center is the glue that holds the art of health care together.”

During her tenure as Surgeon General from 1990-93, Dr. Novello advised the public on health matters such as smoking, AIDS, diet and nutrition, environmental health hazards, and the importance of immunization and disease prevention. A board-certified pediatrician, she is a clinical professor of pediatrics at Georgetown University School of Medicine and the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, as well as adjunct professor of pediatrics and communicable diseases at the University of Michigan and adjunct professor of international health at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

According to Dr. Novello, there are many reasons the health status of racial and ethic minorities still lags far behind non-minorities. This includes existing socioeconomic health disparities (poverty, lack of education and/or health insurance), access to high-quality health care for minority children and their parents, the lack of comprehensive minority data, and the need for increasing minority representation in health care professions. There also are issues of institutional racism – the maintenance of disparities caused by actions and/or institutional practices – and lack of a comprehensive research agenda.

Dr. Novello then offered several approaches to “earning” community trust – fund projects that start with commitment to solve community problems; fund organizations with a history of collaboration; define the problem broadly and comprehensively; offer long-range, multi-year grants; demand outcome data; and be a partner in your community.

“As we listen and talk to one another here today and as we go about our daily lives tomorrow, let’s remember to watchdog the process and participate in the outcome,” Dr. Novello said. “Those of us who have the privilege of speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves have the ultimate responsibility to speak loudly and clearly. We must never forget that we owe something back to the community where we live.”

During the “Foundation” portion, Dr. Dickey awarded six Presidential Awards for Excellence to individuals or groups who personified servant leadership in the areas of community outreach, health care services and delivery, research, institutional enhancement, education and mentorship, and administrative support. She also acknowledged multiple faculty and research awards – some of which were presented at an earlier faculty luncheon – along with Regents Professors and distinguished and emeritus professors.

Additional remarks were provided by A&M System Chancellor Michael D. McKinney, M.D.; Bill Jones, J.D., A&M System Board of Regents Chairman; Catherine Hawes, Ph.D., Speaker of the Faculty Senate; and Nina M. Williams, HSC-School of Rural Public Health graduate student and 2008 Chair of the President’s Student Advisory Board.

The convocation concluded with the unveiling of several renderings of the new HSC Bryan campus, for which a groundbreaking occurred earlier in the day. The future Bryan campus will ultimately allow the HSC to consolidate its academic programs and administration currently located throughout Bryan and College Station onto a single campus. The first buildings are expected to open in 2010.

In academia, “convocation” is a ceremonial assembly of the members of a college or university. Traditionally, it celebrates a special event, such as the beginning of the academic year or the anniversary of an institution.

The HSC conducted convocation ceremonies in 2002 for the inauguration of Dr. Dickey and in 2006.

The Texas A&M Health Science Center provides the state with health education, outreach and research. Its six colleges located in communities throughout Texas are Baylor College of Dentistry, the College of Medicine, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the Institute of Biosciences and Technology, the Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy, and the School of Rural Public Health.

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