The coronavirus pandemic has taken a toll on colleges and universities across the country, including Texas Southern University (TSU). But the Third Ward institution is thriving in spite of – with a new initiative that could change COVID-19 testing for HBCUs across Texas.
Thanks to part of a $25 million-dollar donation of COVID-19 test kits, diagnostic equipment and related supplies from Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc., TSU will now offer no-cost testing for all TSU students, faculty and staff for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year.
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“What that means is that as students come back to campus for our Spring semester in mid-January, we are able to have the capacity to test anywhere between 600 to a thousand samples a day,” said College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Dean Rashid Mosavin, who will lead the initiative.
The donation will also provide technical assistance to TSU as it expands its laboratories to become a testing hub, which will allow the university to process thousands of samples from other HBCUS in Texas: Jarvis Christian College, Paul Quinn College, Prairie View A&M University and Texas College.
“It’s going to have a huge impact in many ways, including athletics. Because of the NCAA requirements, if athletes are to play, they have to be tested three times a week. So to have the testing laboratory and the facilities, to be able to run all these tests, you can imagine it cuts down the wait time significantly. We’ll be able to test our students and then follow up with any kind of a contact tracing that we might need, or any quarantine or whatever. To have the capacity for such a large number of tests per day on campus is tremendous,” added Mosavin.
Mosavin says there will be three stations on campus where the test is actually administered, then the samples will be sent to the laboratory to analyze.
The initiative, called The Just Project, is named after Ernest Everett Just, a pioneering biologist and HBCU graduate. It’s part of Thermo Fisher’s commitment to expand access to COVID-19 testing and address the pandemic’s disproportionate impact in communities of color.
“The Just Project will help us monitor the health of our campus community and honor the biological and medical legacy of HBCUs in the United States,” said Kenneth Huewitt, interim president of Texas Southern University.
TSU joins seven other HBCUS across the country to serve as testing centers: Howard University College of Medicine, Morehouse School of Medicine, Meharry Medical College, Xavier University of Louisiana, Hampton University, Tuskegee University and Florida A&M.
“For more than 150 years, HBCUs have consistently trained leading doctors, lawyers, engineers and scientists while playing a critical role in closing the achievement gap. During the pandemic, they’ve risen to the occasion, proving their resilience in the face of enormous challenges,” said Fred Lowery, Senior Vice President and President of Life Sciences Solutions and Laboratory Products at Thermo Fisher Scientific. “We’re proud Texas Southern University will benefit from The Just Project in an effort to support a safe learning environment for our next generation of leaders.”
Currently, the testing is reserved for TSU students, staff, and faculty, but Mosavin said there is discussion to open up to the community as well.
“We want students to feel comfortable coming back to campus, knowing they can be tested if necessary,” he said.
While the facility is focused on testing, Mosavin is hopeful that eventually they can spread to administering vaccines.
“Initially, vaccines are going to have to be administered in clinics, and that simply has to do with the fact that the first vaccine coming out has some restrictions in terms of how it’s stored. So we don’t have any facilities, but we are collaborating with a number of clinics in Houston, our pharmacy faculty and pharmacy students are authorized to administer a vaccine. So we may get to a point where we actually not only test that a station, but we may be able to actually administer a vaccine in the future,” he said.
As part of the initiative, Thermo Fisher has also committed to hiring 500 HBCU students over the next three years.
“The opportunity for Texas Southern University to act as a hub for testing to assist other HBCUS fits perfectly with our mission to serve,” added Stephanie Nellons-Paige, a member of the Texas Southern University Board of Regents who was integral in bringing the project to the university. “We appreciate the vision of Thermo Fisher Scientific and their inclusion of the talent and expertise of our TSU team to execute during this critical time for our nation.”
TSU Introduces New Business Curriculum Through Banking Partnerships
The Jesse H. Jones School of Business at Texas Southern University has created a new academic program that gives students direct exposure to commercial banking. The Future Bankers Leadership Program (FBLP) introduces TSU business students to the industry through a formal curriculum, interaction with executives and industry mentors, and commercial banking internships.
The program will start in the Fall 2021 semester. FBLP is an endowed program in partnership with the Texas Bankers Association, Risk Management Association (RMA) – a Credit Essentials Certificate program, and local and national bankers. The commercial banking concentration will be at the undergraduate level, offering foundational knowledge and the critical skills necessary for students looking to enter the financial services sector.
Plans to expand the program will include classes in financial technology, banking compliance and governance, a certificate program, and an initiative that will encourage students majoring in other disciplines to develop banking industry interests.
“What a wonderful collaboration between the Texas Bankers Association, its foundation and others involved in the program,” said Dr. Kendall Harris, TSU’s provost and vice president for Academic Affairs and Research. “We are grateful for partnerships that advance the university and the curriculum used to prepare our students for business careers.”
Allegiance Bank senior executives John Scroggins, Sr. and George Martinez have led the effort to launch and sustain the program at Texas Southern. Scroggins is senior vice president at Allegiance Bank and a TSU alumnus who also is a member of the Business Advisory Council for the JHJ School of Business. Martinez is vice chair of Allegiance Bank.
“This program is important to provide a pipeline of future bankers needed to grow and impact our industry by educating the next generation of community bank leaders. Plus, it is foundational to support the local business community,” Scroggins said.
Texas Southern University (TSU) received reaffirmation of accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). The SACSOC board of directors voted to renew TSU’s institutional accreditation for the next 10 years.