Personal touch is key to programs success

  Friday, June 26, 2015 2:00 AM

Pittsburg, KS

Personal touch is key to programs success

Over many years, Pittsburg State University has built a reputation as a reliable pipeline for students entering medical school and other professional programs. A big part of that success can be traced back to the faculty and their commitment to students.

In the past 15 years, for example, 261 students from PSU’s pre-professional programs have been accepted into medical schools or into dental, veterinary, chiropractic and physician assistant programs. In two of the past six years, the placement rate in post-graduate professional programs has been 95 percent.

“That’s what I’ve tracked since I arrived on campus in 2000 and I know the program was very successful before then,” said Virginia Rider, a University Professor in PSU’s Biology Department and an adviser for many of the students in the pre-med program. “Pitt State’s reputation has been out there a long time.”

The reason for Pittsburg State’s historical success in placing graduates in medical schools and other professional programs goes beyond well-prepared faculty and strong academics, Rider said.

“The personal relationships we build with students is absolutely critical,” Rider said. “These are our students and we get very personally involved in their lives. I think that’s a big part of our students’ success.”

James McAfee, a professor in the Department of Chemistry, said he likes teaching at a university where he can get to know students on a personal level.

“Every university I’ve been at has been a huge monstrosity where faculty didn't connect with students,” McAfee said. “I was amazed at how nurturing the environment was here. It's not impersonal - it's like family.”

Rider said the daily interaction with students is one advantage Pitt State has over some larger programs at big research universities.

“The classes at PSU are small, so we get to know the students pretty quickly and they get to know each other,” Rider said. “You know your students because you see them every day.”

Phillip Harries, associate professor of molecular biology, said knowing the students well helps the advisers give direction tailored to each student.

“By the time pre-health students are juniors and are getting ready to apply to professional schools, we have had these students in class several times and have had many discussions with them in our offices, in research labs, at lunch, and in the hallways,” Harries said. “We really know these kids. This helps us direct them toward the appropriate next step and allows us to write truly meaningful letters of recommendation that reflect how well we know these students.”

This personal attention pays off, according to Irene Zegar, a professor in the Department of Chemistry.

“Our students go places,” Zegar said. “Our students go to top medical schools and top graduate schools. We send students to summer research programs at Harvard, Vanderbilt and other top universities around the country. We open doors for them.”

Assistant Professor Mandy Peak said the feedback professors get from alumni who have been accepted to medical schools and other professional programs helps them continually improve their advisement.

“We keep in contact with our students during medical school,” Peak said. “This helps us with curriculum changes and keeps us current with medical school acceptance policies.”

Rider said the Pittsburg medical community, which includes a number of PSU alumni, plays an important supporting role in helping PSU students prepare for the rigorous medical school admissions process.

“One of the reasons our program is so successful is because we have the support of the medical community in Pittsburg,” Rider said. “The health care professionals come and talk with the students, they hire students to work in their offices, they provide shadowing support and help with mock interviews. This can happen in Pittsburg because it is a close-knit community and the university receives total support from the town.”

The faculty say their work with students has its own special reward.

“We have great young men and women go through our program here at Pitt State,” said Peter Chung, associate professor of microbiology. “It is an amazing privilege to interact, observe and participate in their personal and academic growth.”

Rider said she believes the PSU students rank among the best.

“The students here are amazing. Out of everywhere I’ve taught, they’re the best I’ve seen,” Rider said. “They’re invaluable as researchers. The cost is a professor’s time up front, but if you’re willing to put in the time, these students will repay you 10 times over.”

Learn more about PSU's pre-med and other pre-professional programs.



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