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The University of Texas at Tyler Magazine, Fall 2009

Special Section

Investing in Future by Investing in Students  

If not for the foresight and vision of The University of Texas at Tyler Palestine Campus supporters, many students, like Tara Patton, could have never pursued their dreams.

Patton always wanted to finish college and become a nurse. But with a full-time job and three children, traveling to Tyler simply was not an option. “Being able to pursue my dream closer to home couldn’t have been any more important.”

She said the Palestine campus was about 10 minutes from her home and the faculty and staff were always very helpful and supportive. She earned her bachelor of science in nursing degree from the UT Tyler Palestine Campus.

Today, Patton is a director of nurses for The University of Texas Medical Branch for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. She specializes in correctional nursing and is part of a healthcare team of several hundred in the Palestine area. Patton is also pursuing her master’s degree through the online program.

Ashley Wells will complete her degree in early childhood education from the UT Tyler Palestine Campus in December.  “I’m from Palestine and began attending back home after my sophomore year because the commute was expensive,” she said. After she earns her degree, Wells said she may teach in the Palestine public schools before pursuing a master’s degree.

Janice Saunders, at age 51, said she has always wanted to help take care of people, especially older people.  She will soon have that chance, thanks to the educational opportunities at the UT Tyler Palestine Campus. Saunders is scheduled to graduate from the nursing program in December.

“If not for the Palestine campus, I would not be able to go back to school.  As a single woman, I would not be able to financially go back and forth to Tyler,” Saunders said.  “I’m so thankful (the regional site) was here. It’s easy for me to go. And it’s kind of like a family. Everybody’s there for each other, trying to help each other.  The faculty is accessible.”

While many students like Saunders, Wells and Patton are already seeing the impact of the UT Tyler Palestine Campus, this community investment is only beginning to pay off.  Future generations of local residents from the entire region will have new opportunities because of the vision and partnership found in the piney woods of East Texas.

“This institution is a launch pad for students to pursue their dreams,” Texas Department of Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, a big supporter of the effort, said.

“The education and skill development students receive at the UT Tyler Palestine Campus will help them excel in the workforce, and will provide a great benefit to the local community and the state economy.  I remember when this program first started with a dream and only a handful of students.  Now through successful partnerships, this dream is realized, paving the way to a promising future for many.”

Susan Harris, administrative services officer for the Palestine campus, said the master plan of the site allows for future growth, including additional academic and administrative buildings and a conference/retreat center.  She said the campus property is adjoined by city-owned park land with a beautiful lake and woods.

“We can tailor the campus and programs to fit the needs of the community,” Harris said.  “The people in this county and surrounding counties plan to stay and get jobs in the community.  We need to find the educational niche that fits the community.”

Cad Williams, Paving the Way campaign chair, said, “Our goal is not only to enhance educational opportunities for the area but also to pave the way for a stronger workforce and economic stability.”

Williams said an institute of higher learning will not only benefit Palestine, but also the entire region.  “The first and obvious benefit is economic. And the cultural advantages are equally important,” he said.

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