The General Education Building (GEB) is known as “the educational hub of the UTHSC student experience.”
On any given day, you’ll see students from various colleges attending lectures or labs there, medical students learning how to properly draw blood, dental students simulating dental practice on manikins in the Dental Simulation Lab, and Clinical Laboratory Science students learning what bacterial cultures look like under a microscope.
The GEB is the primary instructional facility on campus. Its staff is tasked with supporting classroom and clinical instruction for all colleges in three areas, administrative, scheduling and educational development. GEB Director Julie Sutch refers to her team as “the duck that glides gracefully across the water, but is paddling like crazy underneath.” That’s because, “Each day is different,” she said.
“We are a service organization,” she said. “Our goal is to make things run smoothly every day. I hope everyone knows how dedicated this staff truly is. ‘Whatever it takes’ is our mantra. We have a small staff, but if there’s an issue, we all pull together.” Sutch, who started at UTHSC as a media producer, said that as GEB director, there is not a job required of her staff that she is not willing to do.
“Julie and her team support and enhance the educational experience every day in the GEB,” said Lori Gonzalez, PhD, vice chancellor for Academic, Faculty and Student Affairs at UTHSC. “This committed group ensures the trains run on time. I think of them as one of many groups of unsung heroes at UTHSC. They are not always at the forefront, but their efforts provide critical services in support of learning. Their commitment to our students is amazing and the campus is fortunate to have such dedicated staff.”
A class could meet all week for lectures and have a lab scheduled twice in between. Spaces could be used by the College of Medicine one day and the College of Health Professions the next, so a lot of attention to detail is required to build the master academic schedule through a complex, computerized scheduling system.
In addition to three floors of the GEB, the staff also manages learning space accommodations for the Link and Coleman buildings. Other units on campus use the GEB’s computerized scheduling system to schedule space in their facilities. They also handle locker assignments. There are 1,700 lockers in the GEB with 7,600 keys in a database that has to be managed. Hundreds or keys are distributed, and returned as students graduate.
“With 1,500 people a day using the building, facility and safety issues have to be considered,” Sutch said. “Labs don’t just magically happen — prep work, mixing of chemicals and reagents, streaking of petri dishes, production of models, scheduling of space and exams, staging of microbiology, hematology, blood bank, urinalysis, brain, dental, casting and other specialty labs, and other tasks have to take place every day. We carry that load so that the only thing faculty has to focus on is having positive, instructional interaction with students.”
Senior Laboratory Technologist Marsha Yarbro has been with the GEB staff for more than 30 years. Yarbro’s work involves setting up microbiology, parasitology, urinalysis, and molecular labs for the College of Health Professions’ clinical laboratory sciences students. She also sets up microbiology labs for first- and second-year medical students, in addition to those in nursing and physician assistant studies. Yarbro also has some unusual tasks, which include coming into work on New Year’s Day to grow “bugs.”
“Several years ago the medical microbiology labs that occurred in the fall got moved to the first week of January after a curriculum change,” Yarbro said. “Due to the fact that bacteria can take several days to grow, and the large amount of cultures I have to prepare by the first day of the student labs, my winter break is short, depending on the day of the week that the holiday falls on.”
Yarbro considers it all to be a part of her job. “My favorite part of this job is watching the students gain confidence as they perfect their hands-on laboratory skills and to see that ‘light-bulb moment’ when they realize that they understand a test procedure or laboratory concept,” she said. “I get a feeling of accomplishment because I play a part in their success.”
Over the last several years, under the direction of Ken Brown, JD, MPA, PhD, FACHE, executive vice chancellor and chief operations officer of UTHSC, vast improvements have been made in the GEB, including new technology in the lecture halls, replacement of the original windows and doors in the building, remodeled study spaces, installation of a new roof, new carpet, and furniture. In fact, all of the new furniture in the lobby was made possible through the Student Government Association Executive Council. The Center for Healthcare Improvement and Patient Simulation was constructed adjacent to the GEB, expanding educational opportunities for students.
“It takes great coordination, cooperation, negotiation and a sense of humor to keep all the balls in the air at the same time and minimize disruption to the educational mission,” Sutch said. “This team has been together a long time. Several of our staff have been here since the building opened. I don’t really consider it supervision when I’m working alongside people I care about, and we’re all working toward the same goal of providing excellent customer service. “