McAllen Biomedical Sciences Program Experiences Student, Faculty Growth

Responding to regional industry needs, community planning, and student interest in the Rio Grande Valley, the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) extended its biomedical sciences (BIMS) program to the Texas A&M Higher Education Center at McAllen last fall.

The Texas A&M Higher Education Center at McAllen building and sign, with palm trees and a cloudy skyNow celebrating its first full year of operations, the program is experiencing fantastic growth in student interest, faculty hires, and coursework.

The McAllen BIMS program enrolled 49 freshmen in the fall 2018 semester, aligned with quality standards and a goal of 50 students in its first semester.  Fall 2019 will continue this trajectory, with 49 new students enrolled and set to begin classes Aug. 26.

“We’re excited to begin our second cohort of freshmen, but equally excited to see the sophomore students take advantage of mentoring the first-year students, participating in the first-year experiences, and helping them to succeed,” said Dr. Elizabeth Crouch, the associate dean of undergraduate education at the CVM.

“The students at the McAllen campus are proud to be part of the Texas A&M family and have already created their own set of unique Aggie traditions as ‘P.A.L.M. Aggies,’” Crouch said, referring to the acronym that stands for “Passionate Aggies Leading McAllen,” which was selected by the initial cohort of students to guide their fish camp experience and student activities.

The Higher Education Center at McAllen provides Texas A&M with the opportunity to extend tier one education choice to one of the fastest growing regions in Texas, with a culturally and economically diverse population focused on workforce development, educational attainment, and career success.

“The four-county area of the Lower Rio Grande Valley sits at a ‘crossroads,’ not only as a region dealing with immense growth and change, but as one of the most active international land ports of entry in the world,” Crouch said.  “The opportunity to provide our leading BIMS program expands undergraduate educational outreach, improves our overall capacity, and creates unique setting for real-world ‘Global One Health’ problems to be studied.

“We are also able to offer interested students the BIMS degree with a setting that benefits from lower student-faculty ratio, lower cost of living, and advantages of these real-world educational opportunities that are unique to the McAllen campus,” Crouch said.

In addition to the influx of BIMS students at McAllen, new faculty members are also joining the “P.A.L.M. Aggie” community.

This past spring, Dr. Catherine Busch-Silkwood joined the McAllen team as the first faculty member for the BIMS program. An instructional assistant professor of pathobiology, Busch-Silkwood taught “Introduction to Biomedical Sciences” (BIMS 101),“Introduction to Phenotypic Expression in the Context of Human Medicine” (BIMS 201), and “Genetics in the News” (VTPB 212).

Busch-Silkwood has also taken on the informal role of serving as a faculty adviser in concert with the current Higher Education Center at McAllen advising staff member Josette Gonzalez.

“As we grow our program, it’s nice to have Catherine begin developing the close faculty-student relations we are known for at Texas A&M University,” Crouch said. “As a ‘startup’ operation, the HEC is a close-knit community. Coupled with Josette’s passion for academic advising, BIMS students in McAllen are poised for success.”

Dr. Negin Mirhosseini, a microbiologist, will soon be joining the McAllen-based faculty, allowing a total of six CVM-taught courses to be available for students this fall, in addition to core curriculum course offerings from the Texas A&M College of Science, College of Liberal Arts, and School of Public Health.

The McAllen BIMS program also plans to hire an anatomist within the next year and, eventually, a physiologist as well.

These new faculty members and the courses they will offer will combine well with the public health degree offerings underway, providing students with a “Global One Health” viewpoint of biomedical sciences, Crouch said.

One of the many benefits of the McAllen BIMS program is that it provides students from the Rio Grande Valley with the opportunity to earn an undergraduate degree from the CVM without having to leave the region.

“We have always been blessed to attract a large number of students from the Rio Grande Valley to study at the main campus in College Station; however, for many students, familial commitments, distance from home, and living expenses associated with moving north for school are barriers to their success,” Crouch said. “The McAllen BIMS program puts Texas A&M education in the valley, offering the students a biomedical sciences degree at home, while fostering the relationship between the students in the valley and the opportunities they have with the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

“By creating an opportunity for students to stay close to home for the first four years of their education after high school, we believe we can provide a high-quality experience with our classic animal health focus, preparing students for furthering their education in pre-professional education opportunities in veterinary medicine and other fields, or in launching their career in  bioscience research, pharmaceutical, and public health fields,” she said.

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For more information about the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, please visit our website at vetmed.tamu.edu or join us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Contact Information: Jennifer Gauntt, Interim Director of CVM Communications, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science; jgauntt@cvm.tamu.edu; 979-862-4216