March 3, 2014

USJ, Hartford reap urban harvest from seeds sown early

Photos | Contributed
Photos | Contributed
Pamela Trotman Reid has raised University of St. Joseph’s profile in Connecticut and worldwide since becoming president six years ago.
University of St. Joseph’s graduate-level pharmacy school is housed in downtown Hartford’s XL Center. A number of students and faculty also reside downtown.
Photo | Contributed
Pamela Trotman Reid has made overseas student outreach one of her goals. She also interacts by teaching a class.

When 57 inaugural graduates from University of St. Joseph's pharmacy school walk this spring into history — many with pharmacy jobs in tow — none will be prouder than school president Pamela Trotman Reid.

Those pharmacists will not only vindicate Reid's and her trustees' decision against skeptics that a suburban West Hartford school known mainly for churning out teachers and degreed nurses from its predominately female enrollees could launch another doctoral-degree program. It further validates, Reid says, USJ's choice — again in the face of doubters — about locating its pharmacy-school in downtown Hartford several years ahead of the pending arrival of UConn's center-city campus.

"It raised our visibility to be in the heart of downtown's business community,'' she said.

An obvious win for USJ, too, that could ultimately return more dividends to both the private liberal-arts university and its urban host, as the Capital City transforms into a nest where more young urbanites live, work and play, observers say.

Trotman Reid's creation of an urban pharmacy school from scratch is among her many leadership achievements that, too, have boosted USJ's local and global profile since taking the reins as its president in January 2008. She came from Chicago's private Roosevelt University, where she was executive vice president and provost.

Along with the doctoral pharmacy and nursing school programs, her other USJ achievements include: upgrading St. Joseph College to university accreditation; this summer's scheduled launch of a new master's-degree program in social work; creation of collaborative ties with colleges in Israel and Japan; and its pupil-recruitment outreach to West Africa and the Middle East.

USJ invested around $8 million — some of it borrowed from, but since repaid, to the school's endowment — to establish the graduate pharmacy program in 2010. The college's 50,000 square feet of pharmacy classrooms and laboratory are on the Trumbull Street side of the XL Center, serving as USJ's billboard to thousands of workers, game- and concertgoers who bypass regularly.

"People thought, 'St. Joe's?' They'll never be able to do … ' So, they held back,'' Trotman Reid said of the scarcity of funding pledges early on. "People were like, 'Let's see you do it'.''

"I think it was a game-changer,'' she said.

Today, the pharmacy school has a faculty of 27 and enrollment of about 220, with many of the pupils age 23 and older living downtown.

Trotman Reid achieved all of this at an 82-year-old institution, one with a $50 million annual operating budget, and all before she was tapped by the governor to shape the Hartford region's economic fortunes as a board member of the Capital Region Development Authority. Husband Irvin D. Reid is the retired president of Detroit's Wayne State University.

CRDA colleagues say she's a valued voice whose input was prescient when the quasi-public state agency and UConn mulled the best options for its proposed downtown campus relocation. Being a key tenant in XL Center, which CRDA oversees along with Rentschler Field and the Connecticut Convention Center, also gives Trotman Reid particular cachet.

"She has insight into how that building operates,'' said CRDA Executive Director Michael Freimuth. "That's important for us to understand."

Trotman Reid's CRDA involvement, too, meshes with its mission to reinvigorate not just Hartford's urban core but the entire metropolitan region. It also satisfies school tenets that Trotman Reid, students, faculty, staff and alums reverently refer to as the "Mercy values'' — giving something meaningful back to the communities that USJ touches.

USJ students do it via public service. Embracing tenets that stem from the school's founding by the Sisters of Mercy, USJ's student government mandates that any campus program that receives school funding must offer service to the community. Its full-time undergraduate tuition runs from $32,000 to $33,400 a year.

CRDA is doing that by leveraging close ties to what Freimuth calls "eds and meds'' — area colleges and universities and hospitals, health insurers and other care providers.

USJ students, as well as hundreds more potentially once UConn relocates its West Hartford campus downtown, is what has landlords scrambling to build retail spaces anew or convert offices into hundreds of units of center-city apartments.

Hartford isn't Trotman Reid's first witness to a downtown rebound. She marvels how Chicago's South Loop urban corridor underwent a rebirth and became a "university community" through the efforts of Roosevelt University, the University of Chicago and other academic and commercial partners.

Coincidentally, the South Loop is where West Hartford's Simon Konover Development Corp. and its partners recently sold their months-old Mariano's Grocery property for $41 million. Simon Konover Development President James Wakim is a USJ trustee.

Raised in the Bronx and educated at Howard University, Temple University and University of Pennsylvania as a developmental psychologist, Trotman Reid's focus for now is on upgrading USJ's curriculum to include a behavioral-sciences program, while continuing to upgrade and expand facilities. The Chronicle for Higher Education pegged Trotman Reid's 2009 salary at $319,064.

The school recently paid $1.8 million for a 6 ½-acre parcel off Albany Avenue that it had coveted for years.

The school is in the midst of revisiting its strategic plan, including plotting the property's best use, Trotman Reid said. One possibility, she said, is using the undeveloped site to expand USJ's sports programs. Erecting a much-needed residence hall is another.

Trotman Reid says she would welcome a greater downtown Hartford presence for USJ programs, faculty and pupils. She pointed to downtown's proximity to Hartford Hospital, St. Francis Hospital, as well as health insurers such as United Healthcare and Aetna.

"I would love to have a building with all of our health programs,'' she said. "I could see a whole health-related facility.''

The addition of some 1,000 downtown Hartford apartments is a major step, she says, in driving a critical mass of young, diverse talent who can lift the city's nascent revival even higher.

"That's a good start. When you have young people downtown, more young people will want to live downtown,'' she said.

The addition of a UConn campus downtown will enhance that, Trotman Reid said.

"I love UConn to be downtown,'' she said. "The more students make it a more lively, vibrant city.''

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