Aside from pharmacy schools at historically black colleges, the University of Tennessee College of Pharmacy has a higher percentage of African-American students than any other U.S. pharmacy school. But James C. Eoff, executive associate dean of the college, has a loftier goal.
"I would like to have our college at about one-third non-white students," Eoff said. "We'd like to get our percentage of African-American students up from 16 to 20 percent."
The UT College of Pharmacy might achieve that goal thanks to a $3.36 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The money will fund a Minority Center of Excellence at the college aimed at recruiting and retaining underrepresented minority students and faculty over the next three years.
"Underrepresented minorities," as defined by the Department of Health and Human Services, include African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and Puerto Ricans.
"In Memphis, our primary minority is African Americans, but a lot of our quality African-American students leave the region to go to undergraduate school," Eoff said. "That's one of the reasons we want to reach them early. We want to at least try to get them to come back for professional study when they leave undergrad."
The Minority Center of Excellence program will begin offering summer workshops to encourage minority high school students to consider studying at UT College of Pharmacy.
"The two-week high school program will get them interested in health professions and we'll make sure they're on track for taking sciences in college," Eoff said.
The college programs will help students brush up on science and test-taking skills. Eoff said they'd be partnering with historically black colleges to encourage workshop attendance.
Additionally, the Minority Center of Excellence will offer a summer research program for minority students.
"We hope to hold at least 10 of those research programs each summer in hopes of getting students interested in a career in research," Eoff said. "There's a real paucity of minorities in research and post-graduate programs. Those people are ultimately our future minority faculty, not only for our own school but for others."
Currently, the UT College of Pharmacy has 18 non-white members out of its 75 faculty. Of that number, only nine fit the "underrepresented" category. Eoff hopes to hire more minority faculty over the next three years.
The Minority Center of Excellence grant also will fund more research into diseases that tend to hit minority populations the hardest, such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.
"We're trying to provide support to encourage our faculty to do more research in minority populations," Eoff said. "In Memphis, we've got such a large African-American population, a lot of our research is already in that area. This grant helps capitalize on that."