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Published in CenterView on February 13, 2012
Pharmacy students, from left, Lamar Jackson, Sabrina McGee, Betsy Morgan, Stephen Porter and Michael McGuire
Pharmacy students, from left, Lamar Jackson, Sabrina McGee, Betsy Morgan, Stephen Porter and Michael McGuire

New education, research building brings students, faculty under one roof

By Matt Westerfield

Students in the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy tend to lose touch with each other when they relocate to Jackson to complete their education, according to Stephen Porter, a fourth professional year (PY4) student.

After three years of pre-professional training and two years of professional training in Oxford, pharmacy students switch to the University of Mississippi Medical Center for their third year of professional instruction, as do a large number of PY4s - although many of those students are on clinical rotations around the state and Tennessee for their final year.

"A lot of times you didn't see your classmates because we were so spread out," Porter said.

Now, instead of dividing their time between the Jackson Medical Mall Thad Cochran Center, the School of Medicine and other locations at UMMC, pharmacy students and faculty all are under the same roof with the completion of the School of Pharmacy's new education and research building on the Medical Center campus.

A dedication ceremony is scheduled for the new facility at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 23.

Dr. Leigh Ann Ross, associate dean for clinical affairs in the School of Pharmacy, said the building will provide a much-needed home and sense of community for the school's faculty and students in Jackson.

"The most important thing is, it will bring us all together. It will increase our face-to-face interaction, and that is going to increase morale, both for students and faculty," Ross said. "And I've already seen that in the two short weeks that we've been here.

"Our faculty members engage with each other, and students are interacting with faculty on a daily basis."

The building's cutting-edge amenities also promise to enhance learning and research, thanks to fully equipped research laboratories and unique classrooms outfitted with video-conferencing technology.

"This technology provides us the ability to be innovative in our educational offerings," Ross said.

Located on the northeast side of campus, the two-story, 29,692-square-foot building includes 17 classrooms, three research laboratories and a 173-seat auditorium. With a modern design that complements the look of most other facilities on campus, the building features expansive windows overlooking the Norman C. Nelson Student Union and the Guyton Research Building.

Although workers are still placing the finishing touches, students and faculty have been settling in since the start of the semester.

"We decided it would be better to move in while the students weren't here so that the faculty could get settled even though we knew they were going to continue to work around us for a while," Ross said.

The basic science laboratories on the second floor support a second mission of the facility: research.

"Specifically, the laboratories are designed to handle between four to eight researchers and they provide an environment to perform a broad spectrum of translational research," said Dr. John Cleary, professor of pharmacy practice.

He said the laboratories will be geared toward investigating patient-care problems largely concerning pharmacotherapy and pharmacogenomics. Cleary, who has been performing collaborative research with the Department of Infectious Diseases for 25 years, said he and his pharmacy colleagues work in partnership with many other departments.

The new labs will provide space for researchers, both faculty and students, to expand their focus on medication therapy issues.

"It's critical that our students be good problem-solvers so they can contribute to that scientific basis for recommendations regarding medication therapy," Cleary said.

The building's classrooms, meanwhile, are tailored to the school's educational model of problem-based learning. The rooms fit small groups of students who use flat-screen monitors to study patient cases and map out what Ross terms learning issues.

She said the number of classrooms, and the building's advantages as a whole, will aid in the goal of boosting the school's class size to 115.

"The classrooms will help the overall experience, and that word will get out to students who are looking at pharmacy school," she said.

Lauren Enstrom is the PY4 representative for the Department of Pharmacy Practice External Transition Committee, a group of students and faculty who are working to identify ways to assist incoming PY3s transition to Jackson and adjust to student life at UMMC. She said before they had their own home base on campus, student life was very unpredictable.

"Your schedule changed daily. You never knew which room you were going to be in or what building," she said. But now that they have a central location, "I think it gives us a sense of belonging, not only in Jackson but the UMMC campus, because we were spread out.

"Now you can see your classmates and facilitators more often."

Classmate LaDonna Franklin agreed.

"It's also a place we can call our own," she said. "It gives us a sense of pride and a sense of belonging, so it's cool to have that."