Second funded group of “AccPhD” students begins three-year fast-track program


Pictured during the first week of classes are: (standing, left to right): Mona Cockerham, Patricia Bryan, Chukwudi Ekwemalor; with (seated): Laura Santibáñez, Joy Corcione and Seema Aggarwal. (Photo by D. R. Bates)

Pictured during the first week of classes are: (standing, left to right): Mona Cockerham, Patricia Bryan, Chukwudi Ekwemalor; with (seated): Laura Santibáñez, Joy Corcione and Seema Aggarwal. (Photo by D. R. Bates)

(Sept. 16, 2013) – An unprecedented gift of $450,000 from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™ is helping to launch a second group of students in the Accelerated Ph.D. Scholars Program of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Nursing. Six accelerated students were admitted in the just-begun fall 2013 semester to start work on their Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Nursing degree, supported by of total of nearly $1.372 million in local philanthropy.

“The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is dedicated to supporting Texas students with their educational endeavors,” said Don D. Jordan, Executive Committee member of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. “The UTHealth School of Nursing program offers a creative way of addressing the shortage of nurses in the medical field, which will have a direct impact on our local economy. The Show is proud to be a part of this program.”

“This generous gift will support two scholars during their studies and research,” said UTHealth School of Nursing Dean Patricia L. Starck, D.S.N., R.N. “A lot of people will be helped through this gift, because if each accelerated doctoral graduate teaches for just three years, as required by the program, this could mean nearly 200 additional nurses added to our region.”

The successful model for the accelerated Ph.D. program provides highly qualified and motivated candidates with annual stipends of $69,700 for each student (or $230,000 per student over three years, including faculty stipends) to help offset the costs of the program and cover basic living expenses. The stipends enable full-time study so that the students complete their degrees much sooner than the eight years of part-time study it traditionally takes to complete the rigorous doctoral curriculum of 66 post-master’s credits.

The fundraising initiative for the second round of the accelerated Ph.D. program raised $1,371,500 to support six named scholars. The total was raised entirely from local healthcare organizations, foundations and other philanthropic sources over the past 10 months.

“We’re particularly grateful for fundraising assistance from Mike Wells, who was on the Rodeo board for many years, and for leadership from our Advisory Council, chaired last year by Kenneth Lewis,” Starck said.

Each doctoral scholar carries the title of an organization that made a gift to the AccPhD initiative of at least $60,000 per year for the three years. These named scholars are: the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Scholars (two): Seema Aggarwal, M.S.N., R.N., and Chukwudi Ekwemalor, M.S.N., M.B.A., R.N.; the Memorial Hermann Hospital System Scholar: Laura Santibáñez, M.S.N., R.N.; the Texas Children’s Hospital Scholar: Patricia Bryan, M.S.N., R.N.; the Vivian L. Smith Foundation Scholar: Mona Cockerham, M.S.N., R.N.; and the School of Nursing Advisory Council Scholar: Joy Corcione, M.B.A., B.S.N., R.N.

“This is a fine example of how two great Houston institutions, the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo and the UTHealth School of Nursing, can work together toward resolving one of our community’s looming problems; the shortage of nursing educators,” said Kenneth Lewis, who chaired the volunteer advisory council for the past two years. “We are very grateful to HLSR for supporting two of our scholars in the second group of Accelerated PhD candidates. It was a pleasure working with both Mike Wells and Don Jordan on this highly rewarding project – they are both tremendous assets not just to the HLSR, but to the City of Houston.”

The original 10 accelerated Ph.D. scholars (selected in 2010 from among 34 applicants) have finished their coursework and completed challenging research projects. All 10 have joined the UTHealth School of Nursing’s faculty as assistant professors for the current fall semester, and they officially will receive their Ph.D. in Nursing degrees in December.

The pioneering educational initiative was conceived in 2009 as a tribute to Starck’s more than 25 years of service as dean of the nursing school, and it was named in her honor as the “Patricia L. Starck Accelerated Ph.D. Scholars Program.”

“The amazing work ethic of the 10 exceptional students who are now on our faculty, the faculty’s dedication to this innovative model, and the success of the entire program demonstrate that we are creating a model for addressing the nationwide problem of a shortage of nursing educators,” said Starck, the John P. McGovern Distinguished Professor of Nursing. “It also is a remarkable achievement that the accelerated Ph.D. program was funded by philanthropy from area donors during one of the most difficult economic periods in recent memory.”

The second group, like the first, will fulfill the program’s post-graduation commitment of teaching at the baccalaureate level at a nursing school within the Gulf Coast region for at least three years.

Geri L. Wood, Ph.D., R.N., coordinator of the Ph.D. in Nursing Program, noted, “These six students represent a diverse group of nursing backgrounds.”

The youngest scholar in the group is 31, the eldest is 54.  The cohort includes a U.S. Army veteran, a nurse anesthetist, two holders of M.B.A. degrees and a psychiatric nurse.  Four of the six graduated from Houston-area high schools, and five of the six earned previous nursing degrees at UTHealth.

“We'll always remain grateful to Dr. Starck and her team and all of the donors for this opportunity,” said Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Scholar “Chudi” Ekwemalor.

“The School of Nursing knows that by increasing the number of highly-qualified faculty members it can help meet the growing demand for nurses and ultimately improve the overall health of our community, friends, and family members,” said Starck, who also is the Huffington Foundation Chair for Nursing Education Leadership.

In addition to the AccPhD scholars, another 111 doctoral-level students are enrolled in the traditional curriculum. The nursing school’s total enrollment for fall 2013 is 1,129 students at all levels – an increase of more than 18 percent over fall 2012.

– David R. Bates, Communications Director