Forward

New science center will allow Newman to train more health care workers

Chemistry professor Russell Thiel, left, works with Newman University student Max Bajza in the Bishop Gerber Science Center on Feb. 18. The 52,400-square-foot Bishop Gerber Science Center houses the university's chemistry, biology and physics programs. It opened in August 2017.
Chemistry professor Russell Thiel, left, works with Newman University student Max Bajza in the Bishop Gerber Science Center on Feb. 18. The 52,400-square-foot Bishop Gerber Science Center houses the university's chemistry, biology and physics programs. It opened in August 2017. The Wichita Eagle

Even before the construction of a $24.5 million state-of-the-art science center, and major renovations to its nursing and allied health spaces, Newman University was a leader in educating health care professionals in south-central Kansas.

With August’s opening of the Bishop Gerber Science Center, and recent upgrades to Eck Hall that include high-tech laboratories for hands-on training in nursing, respiratory care and radiologic technology, the private Catholic liberal arts university is poised to train even more workers in the growing fields of science and health care.

New simulation labs for nursing and nurse anesthetist students “are enabling us to prepare people better for clinical placement and future employment,” said Noreen Carrocci, Newman’s president. “In our occupational therapy and respiratory therapy facilities, students can do simulation to be better prepared for clinical placements. And our radiologic technology is as good as any X-ray facility in town.”

About 60 percent of the students at Newman are enrolled in science and health care studies, and many are expected to stay in the area after graduation to practice, said David Schubert, chemistry professor and dean of arts and sciences.

The 52,400-square-foot Bishop Gerber Science Center, which houses the university’s chemistry, biology and physics programs, was a “huge investment in instrumentation and technology,” and will open new doors for research in areas such as biology and cancer strains, Schubert said.

The center, which replaced the 50-year-old Heimerman Science Center, has been open only a few months, so it’s too early to measure its impact on Wichita and the region, Schubert said.

“But what we expect is an increase in the number of science students, including those in health science-related categories – medical, dental, optometry, pharmacy – and an uptick in the number of those who will go out to practice in the region,” he said.

Job growth

Career opportunities in health care rose 106 percent in the last quarter of 2017 from the third quarter, according to data from the Blueprint for Regional Economic Growth for the 10-county south-central Kansas region. Its site lists about 1,440 postings for health care jobs, ranging from physicians and surgeons to registered nurses, sonographers and physical therapy aides.

Newman is particularly proud of its nursing program, Carrocci said. One hundred percent of students “passed on first try their licensure exam,” she said. “That’s rare air to be in.”

The University’s pre-med students have a 95 percent acceptance rate to medical school, she said.

Newman provides the only degree programs in the region in sonography, respiratory care, occupational therapy assistant and radiological technology, Carrocci said. The only other nurse anesthesia program in the state, she said, is at University of Kansas School of Medicine, with which Newman has a partnership.

First-year medical students learn cadaver-based anatomy in Newman’s state-of-the art cadaver lab in the Bishop Gerber Science Center, Schubert and Carrocci said.

“Every station is properly ventilated,” he said, so that students can safely spend adequate time without being exposed to chemicals. The new lab, with capacity for eight cadavers, “enables us to accommodate more students, and that will mean more science and health science workers for our community in the future,” Carrocci said.

The acquisition of high-tech equipment, including a DNA sequencer, prepares Newman to partner with business and industry in the region, Carrocci said.

Newman is working with local companies to tweak its curriculum in fields such as chemistry to improve its relevance to industry and the jobs market, said Kimberly McDowall Long, provost and vice president for academic affairs.

“We are always looking at the impact of the curriculum on business,” she said. “We invite members to serve in an advisory capacity as to how our science training can serve them to build their workforce.”

The new science and health spaces help showcase the diversity at Newman, “one of the strengths we are proud of,” Schubert said. They provide a venue for students from different backgrounds and experiences to follow their career aspirations and work toward a common goal, he said: “Ready to transform society, that’s the mission.”

The science center – named for Eugene Gerber, bishop emeritus of Wichita – and other improvements were about seven years in the making for Newman, and would not have been possible without the generosity of donors to its Facing Forward campaign, Carrocci said. “We are blessed and grateful.”

The bright and spacious science center is “a magnet for students,” with “wonderful group study and socialization spaces,” Carrocci said. “It’s a joy to be able to have facilities that are commensurate with the quality of our programs, finally.”

  Comments