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How Brenau University is growing to meet health care needs
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Brenau University students and instructors work together Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021, inside a lab at the Brenau Downtown Center during a class for the university's physician assistant program. - photo by Scott Rogers

With the launch of Brenau University’s new Department of Physician Assistant Studies and the approaching elevation of its psychology school, Anne Skleder said she can’t help but feel proud. 

“I’m exceedingly hopeful and excited about the future in which Brenau’s historic campus and Brenau’s downtown campus will continue to thrive and continue to help Ganiesville,” Skleder, Brenau’s president, said. “We’re in, of, and for Gainesville-Hall County and we want to continue to do that and grow in important ways.”

Thanks to a $2.6 million donation from Doug and Kay Ivester, the Lynn J. Darby School of Psychology and Adolescent Counseling will be housed on the second floor of the mixed-use Gainesville Renaissance development in Gainesville’s square. The building’s completion is set for January or February 2022.

“There has never been a more important time to focus on mental health,” Skleder said. “We’re going to grow these programs and get to the doctorate, so we can start contributing to educating the next generation of educators.”

The move to the Gainesville Renaissance building will give the department about 50% more physical room than it has in its assortment of offices and classrooms scattered about the campus. Currently, Skleder said the highest level of education in psychology Brenau offers is a master’s degree, which qualifies graduates to become licensed professional counselors.

The new doctoral program, offered in the Gainesville Renaissance development, will allow Brenau students to become psychologists.

“When you look around at what is needed in the community … we need those who are prepared doctorally to be the perfectors of the future, so that they’re teaching those master’s level and bachelor’s level students,” Skleder said. “We don’t have enough of those.”

In January 2021, Brenau started its new Physician Assistant Studies program, welcoming 33 students to its first cohort. 

The program, located in the Brenau Downtown Center, offers a 28-month Master of Science in physician assistant studies, with the first 16 months spent in the classroom and the final 12 consisting of clinical rotations. 

“They're (PA graduates) going to serve our community, which is really important because there’s a great need,” Skleder said. “I’m proud of the facility down there.”

Brenau has also taken another step in growing its international relationships. On Nov. 16, 2020, Skleder met with four people from IFARHU, Panama’s highest student scholarship agency, to sign a memorandum that solidifies a commitment to explore partnership opportunities. 

Through this new alliance, Skleder said the delegation plans to send cohorts of 15-20 students from Panama to Brenau for one year of intensive English learning and cultural immersion, followed by a four-year degree from any program offered at the university. The start date for this program has not been confirmed yet because of the pandemic. 

Bernardo Meneses, IFARHU’s director general, told The Times in November 2020 that those chosen for the five-year program will come from a pool of the highest-scoring students in the best public schools across Panama.

Before the pandemic, students from Anhui Normal University — located in Wuhu, China — would complete their last two years of their undergraduate degrees on Brenau’s campus. Although they could not attend classes in-person this semester, Skleder said the 70 Chinese students have attended remotely. 

“Our faculty are teaching them at all hours, and we’re supporting them at all hours,” she said. “Despite the fact they couldn’t come here, I’m so grateful that they are continuing. Hopefully the seniors will come back next year and graduate in 2022, and the seniors this year will graduate at the end of the year.”

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