Legacies of academic excellence and growth will remain long after the departures of two Health Science Center deans this year. Patty L. Hawken, PhD, dean of the School of Nursing, and James G. Van Straten, PhD, dean of the School of Allied Health Sciences, have nurtured expansion of curriculum offerings, increased enrollments and—forged partnerships with numerous national and international entities.
Dr. Hawken, who began her tenure as dean in July 1974, propelled the School of Nursing from an institution that offered a baccalaureate degree to 300 students that year, to the largest nursing school in The University of Texas System offering a bachelor's degree with two tracks, 12 master's majors and a doctoral program to almost 800 students. "The doctoral program certainly was one of the tremendous highlights of my career here. We spent five years getting approval—and it was the most rigorous approval system that I've ever been through," commented Dr. Hawken.
Under her watch, the school has embarked on numerous research programs; established an alumni association; formed the Nursing Advisory Council, with community leaders comprising the membership; and presided over dedication ceremonies for the School of Nursing building in 1975 and the building's expansion in 1996. "The building expansion was the last item on my agenda before retirement," said Dr. Hawken. "I feel good about having that total project complete. The month I arrived, July 1974, my office was in the basement of the Dental School—the School of Nursing was housed in a temporary building. That October we dedicated the school—so to start your career dedicating one facility and end your career with the expansion of it is quite a fun thing to think about!
"So, I've seen a lot of physical progress in the buildings. But certainly there has been progress on the programmatic side with the graduation of more than 5,000 students and the caliber of the faculty. Almost half of the faculty now have doctorate preparation—when I arrived there was a small number of them," added Dr. Hawken.
When Dr. Hawken retires (officially Aug. 31) she plans to embark on a new exercise regimen, take courses in financial management, continue her activities on professional nursing boards and take small trips. "It's going to be a new experience—I've never retired before! I think I'm going to have to work at it a little bit. I have a large itinerary of places to go," said Dr. Hawken.
As for advice to her successor, Dr. Hawken encourages the new dean to enjoy the experience, while not allowing details to bog one down, and continue to build the international exposure of the school. "If I were younger I'd go for this job," said Dr. Hawken. "This is a fantastic school; the new dean will have a wonderful faculty to work with, a strong alumni association, a very supportive nursing advisory council and a wonderful president."
When Dr. Van Straten came on board in November 1990, following a 30-year career in military medicine, there were no departments in the School of Allied Health Sciences; there were seven programs with directors. Most of the students earned certificates; only three of the programs offered bachelor's degrees. There was no degree higher than a bachelor's. The total enrollment was 323 students, and the school had only two program directors with doctorate credentials.
Now, fewer than seven years later, the school has seven departments with chairmen and a physician assistant studies program. Numerous certificate, seven bachelor's degree and three master's degree programs are available. The enrollment totals 528, and five of the seven chairmen have doctorates and a sixth is nearing completion. "I take virtually no credit for the changes made in the School of Allied Health Sciences," commented Dr. Van Straten. "The changes are due to the cooperation between administration, including the department chairs, and faculty. We worked out a plan and followed it. I think we stayed constant. I do take pride in never being rejected by the Board of Regents nor by the Coordinating Board for an academic proposal."
Dr. Van Straten said that one reason for the growth of the school is its being "blessed by geography." "The population of South Texas is vastly underserved—we haven't begun to saturate the market," he said. In addition, the School of Allied Health Sciences may extend into foreign markets—faculty from the Fijian Province of China are seeking the school's assistance in establishing allied health programs.
Next year the school will open a new building which will enable the school to increase its enrollment significantly. "Allied health is truly a coequal player at the Health Science Center; that's not the case in a lot of academic health centers. We have an equal voice at the table and we receive our fair share of resources, as evidenced by the building now under construction."
Travel is on Dr. Van Straten's agenda following retirement. "I'm fascinated by foreign cultures," said the dean. "My wife and I aim to visit every populated continent—though we're not especially interested in antarctic regions. This world is like an orchard with many fruits available for tasting."
As for words of wisdom for his successor, Dr. Van Straten suggested, "Always remember people are your most valuable and precious resource. You're inheriting a wonderful faculty, staff and student body. Take care of them, and they will take care of you."