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TJC celebrates inaugural class of Bachelor of Applied Technology graduates

One of Friday’s Tyler Junior College graduation ceremonies also marked another historic TJC first:

The inaugural graduating class of the new Bachelor of Applied Technology (BAT) in healthcare technology and medical systems (HTMS) crossed the stage to receive their diplomas.

This is the second four-year degree TJC has created as one of four Legacy Colleges designated by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to offer up to five baccalaureate degrees. The first, a Bachelor of Science in dental hygiene, began in 2016.

Graduates and their hometowns: Jennifer Bell-Matthews, LaRue; Irene DeLuna, Longview; Debra Dickerson, Longview; Katy Ereman, Tyler; Danielle Heard, Tyler; Nicole LeBlanc, Whitehouse; Shelly Maxfield, Tyler; Jennifer Melton, Flint; Kelly Peters, Tyler; Shannon Pruett, Longview; Tracy Sawyer, Winona; and Annessa Simms, Tyler.

The HTMS program, which began in January 2019, was designed for working professionals who wish to advance into a higher level of management in the healthcare industry.

Designed for students who juggle work and family, the program offers classes in flexible but intensive five-week sessions. This allows students to complete their upper-division courses in five semesters while only attending one night per week.

Shelly Maxfield has been employed at Texas Oncology-Tyler for 16 years, working in its clinical research department.

“I started as a temp but worked hard and made my way up,” Maxfield said. “I always believed hard work would take you where you want to go, and it did. However, I reached a point that I knew I would need a degree to go any further, but what I should get a degree in was the question that I couldn’t answer.”

When she started taking classes at TJC in 2011, she was a clinical research project coordinator at Texas Oncology. She earned an Associate of Arts in general studies in May 2016, but the degree was not specific to her career.

“While taking a class for medical office management, I met (professor and department chair) Dr. Tammy Burnette,” she said. “She informed me of a new associate degree being offered in healthcare administration. This sounded perfect for me. This was the degree I was looking for.”

In May 2017, Maxfield became the program’s first graduate, earning an Associate of Applied Science in healthcare administration.

The new baccalaureate program was Maxfield’s next logical step.

“In order to promote within Texas Oncology Research, I knew that I would require a bachelor’s degree,” she said in an interview during the program’s first class meeting in January 2019. “With the many opportunities available to me due to my extensive experience in clinical research, successfully completing the BAT degree will only open more doors.”

Earning a baccalaureate degree has opened a big door for Maxfield: In February, she will transition from clinical research project manager to department manager.

“I wouldn’t have been eligible for that position without my bachelor’s degree,” she said. “They were waiting on me to finish my degree, and our manager is retiring; so, it has all fallen together. The timing has been really good.”

She continued, “The program was really convenient. I felt like they created it with the mindset that the students would be working and going to school. So, it didn’t seem like it was overwhelming. Of course, there was a lot of work to do; but I never thought about quitting or giving up.”

She also spoke highly of her professors, Loretta Swan and Dr. Tammy Burnett, and how they prepared her for success.

Of Swan, professor and dean of the TJC School of Professional and Technical Programs, she said, “For our class work, she would give us actual spreadsheets that were relevant to what we would actually be doing in our jobs. I still have my textbooks and refer to them because I know I’m going to come across issues that those courses have taught. It was real-world teaching.”

“Dr. Burnette was great,” she said. “I wouldn’t have been able to finish without her motivation and her patience with her students. She has all of this knowledge and real-world experience, and it comes out when she teaches. She’s really positive and you catch onto that, so you feel the same.”

Burnett said, “These students are entering the workforce with the skills and knowledge they need to be outstanding leaders in healthcare. They have worked very hard to accomplish their educational goals and we are so proud that TJC was able to offer this bachelor’s degree to them. This is just the first of many bachelor’s degree graduates you will see from our program.”

In his remarks to the graduates, TJC President Dr. Juan E. Mejia said, “Today, we celebrate you and your achievements and wish you the best as you go forward in your journey. Whatever you thought you were going to accomplish when you started here, we hope we helped you stretch a bit more and that your dreams got a bit bigger.”

For more information, go to TJC.edu/HTMS.

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