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now where we’ve taken prosthetics that were designed
in our laboratories at Mercer and fit those prosthetics on
landmine victims and other amputees in Vietnam.
These prosthetics are designed to be very high quality and designed to be durable as they have to be for the
people receiving them, most of whom are subsistence
farmers. They have to be comfortable, and finally, they
have to be inexpensive. So we worked on these prosthetics in the labs and began fitting patients with them
several years ago. We have continued to refine those
prosthetics, and this summer, we fitted our 12,000th
patient. It’s something our students and faculty have
been actively involved in. It’s a project we’re proud of.
You could fill our football stadium with the amputees in
Vietnam who have been fitted with these prosthetics.
We’ve got 14 different programs like that going on
around the world. Every one of them is something that is
a good example of how research and service can work
together to provide engaging learning opportunities for
students— as well as changing the lives of the people
who receive the benefits of the service.
The other thing I’m proud of is
the way the university is responding to the need to innovate as
the world around us is changing, and developing academic
programs that are especially
relevant to the needs that
we see in society today.
Consider programs in
informatics which are
applied computer science
programs, or artificial intelligence programs. Or a new
program we’ve launched this
year that’s designed to address
the severe nursing shortage in
Georgia. We’re launching a 12-month
nursing program that allows students who graduated
with degrees in other disciplines to receive a Bachelor
of Science in nursing program in just one year, and we
think that’s going to double our capacity to produce
nurses for Georgia. We’re excited about programs like
those as well and know they’re addressing a real need
we have.
OWENS Student loans and rising college tuition are in the
news almost every day. Can you address what your
administration is doing regarding tuition increases?
UNDERWOOD After coming out of the Great Recession,
our board of trustees decided that there would be no
more real increase in tuition at Mercer. In terms of undergraduate tuition for the last seven, eight, and nine years,
our increases have been tied to whatever the rate of inflation is. What that means is that the increases have been
two or two-and-a-half percent increases, whatever the
rate of inflation is. What that does is prevent any real
increase in tuition. I think that has been a good discipline
that we’ve imposed on ourselves.
Probably even more substantial than that is what
we’re doing in medicine. We’ve only had one 2 percent
tuition increase over the last eight years in the School
of Medicine. For seven of the last eight years we’ve had
no increase in tuition at all. That’s something driven by
our mission. We want to prepare young people for
careers in primary care and holding down their cost is
critically important.
In addition, we recently allocated $35 million for an
endowed scholarship fund for young people who intend
to practice medicine in rural areas. What that does is provide them free medical school education if they’ll commit
themselves to practice in rural communities.
Most of the students who receive that scholarship are
from rural communities, and they’re
looking for a way to return and
serve people they grew up
around. This is a way to make
that possible. It was a grant
from the state, and we use
it to advance the medical
school’s mission.
We’re excited about
this. We think over the next
20 or 30 years— which is the
work-life expectancy of a
physician— this program in
and of itself will produce an
army of physicians for rural
communities throughout the
state. It’s going to be transformational for rural healthcare.
OWENS You can’t talk to a university president in the South and not ask
about athletics. Can you talk about Mercer athletics?
UNDERWOOD Athletics does some things for a university
that almost nothing else does in our culture and that is
build community within universities, and certainly within the Middle Georgia community. People come together
for a football game or a basketball game and pull for the
same thing, where in other circumstances they never
agree on anything. And I think that’s a very healthy
thing in our society to have some setting where we’re all
pulling for the same thing.
Baker Owens is a staff writer for James and InsiderAdvantage Georgia


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