New center to train students for health care careers
11/21/2001 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn
NOTE: Photos are available for use with this story.
By Jane Dennis*
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (UMNS)- A partnership between a small, predominately black college and a general agency of the United Methodist Church has the potential of significantly improving health care in the Arkansas Delta and around the world and expanding the college's emphasis on mission.
Representatives of United Methodist-related Philander Smith College and the churchwide Board of Global Ministries broke ground Nov. 12 for the Harry R. Kendall Science and Health Mission Center on the college campus.
The new facility is being constructed with an $8 million grant from the Harry R. Kendall Fund of the mission agency's health and welfare unit, the largest gift ever awarded by the department. Focus of the center's programs will be health sciences education, congregational- and community-based health ministries, and educational opportunities for international students.
Kendall was born to a Kentucky farm family in 1876 and began working in the insurance industry at the age of 17. After a long career with Prudential, he led Washington National Insurance Co., the first insurance agency to serve the African-American community. When he died in 1958, he left the bulk of his estate -- $12 million -- to a trust fund for charitable, religious and educational institutions.
The Kendall Foundation was established to prepare African-American students for health professions to address critical needs within communities across the nation. One of the aims of the college's science and health mission center is to educate low-income students from economically depressed regions in the United States and developing countries who will covenant to return to their homes to enhance indigenous health care systems. The Arkansas Delta is one of the poorest economic regions in the nation.
Calling it a "historic occasion," the Rev. Randolph Nugent, chief executive at global ministries, praised the partnership of the 124-year-old college and the churchwide agency. "This will be a facility which shall have an impact on the world," he said. "This partnership is an important effort to care for people in need. The work and love and commitment that will be initiated here will have an effect that will be timeless."
The drone of machines and construction workers erecting a new library and technology center on the campus provided the backdrop for the outdoor ceremony. "It's not often that you gather to break ground for one building while another one is going up right behind you," said the Rev. Paul Dirdak, chief executive of the board's health and relief unit, "That's exciting."
He said the new facility promises to be a "place where young people will be prepared for careers in health services and where they will be trained using the latest technology and equipment. They will be entering professions and fields that need them immediately."
Philander Smith College President Trudie Kibbe Reed called the groundbreaking a "great moment, a proud moment" and said the center will make it possible for the college to bring more students from Haiti, Mexico, Africa, the Arkansas Delta and other places around the world where health care needs are great.
The college -- which has nearly 850 students and 90 full-and part-time faculty members -- has already developed partnership agreements with Heifer Project International, Meharry Medical College, Black Community Developers, and hospitals and mission sites in Haiti and Mexico. Underlying the entire effort is involving and training people with "that missionary heart," said the Rev. Maxine Allen, the college's chaplain.
The two-story, 42,000-square-foot building will contain a fully equipped science research facility, laboratories and conference meeting space that will accommodate large groups and training activities. The denomination's Arkansas Area Ministries offices, as well as the office of Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, will have a new home in the mission center as well. The expected completion date is January 2004.
"The center will have a two-pronged focus," Allen said. "One focus is education at the under-graduate level, and the other is education of congregations and communities on mission and health-care issues."
The Philander Smith mission center is only the second one of its kind in the United States. The United Methodist Mission Center at Emory University and Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta was the first.
"Every year for 45 years, the Board of Global Ministries has made small community-based grants from the Harry Kendall Fund and we sent a lot of young people to medical schools," Dirdak said.
The Philander Smith development is "the first time we have created a partnership with an educational institution for a large project," he said. The effort not only complements the agency's mandate to address world health issues, it will significantly strengthen the college's facilities for training students in the sciences, Dirdak said. Even with the current facilities, which need updating, the college has accrued a 90-percent acceptance rate among its students who apply for medical school.
"We believe this new partnership will build on that great strength," Dirdak said.
Among the Philander Smith graduates attending the Nov. 12 ceremonies were United Methodist Bishop Jonathan D. Keaton of the Ohio East Area; former Philander Smith College President Myer L. Titus of Colorado Springs, Colo.; and Rev. William T. Carter of New York, director of The Advance for Christ and His Church, the denomination's avenue for second-mile mission giving. # # # *Dennis is director of communications for the Arkansas Area of the United Methodist Church and editor of the Arkansas United Methodist newspaper.