Gannon University is extending its reach all the way to Ruskin, Fla., by opening a new campus location that offers health science programs including an occupational therapy doctoral program.

In the summer of 2015, Gannon intends to offer graduate Health Professional programs after being granted Florida State Education Commission approval.

Gannon is waiting on accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). After accreditation is obtained, graduates will be eligible to take the national examination.

The occupational therapy doctoral program is only offered by a few schools in the country – and Gannon is now one of them.

Keith Taylor, Ph.D., Gannon’s president, said he is very excited about the new addition to the university. Taylor said the school in Ruskin will not be seen as a separate entity; it will be part of Gannon the same way the Morosky College of Health Professions and Sciences is part of the university.

“We don’t want the campus to be seen as something separate from the Erie location,” Taylor said. “It will be essentially seen as another facility being added. We will be keeping the administration the same; we will just be adding new faculty to teach the new programs.”

The new professors will be brought to Erie for orientation to capture the essence and style of Gannon, Taylor said. He said Erie will remain as the central location for Gannon.

According to the online brochure for the Ruskin campus, the OT doctoral program begins in the summer semester of the entering year. Three required and foundational OT courses are to be done in an online distance education format; there is also the possibility of one required on-campus day.

On-campus full-time graduate course work starts in the fall. It is a three-year program; the summer between the first and second years will not include courses and the fall semester of the final year will be spent in full-time clinical internships.

The new facility will have state of the art technology in labs, opportunities for travel, field work and capstone courses.

Taylor said Ruskin will have a campus population of 230 to 250 students within four to five years. He said Gannon and Ruskin will hold similar student- to -teacher ratios. There will be 20 to 25 new faculty members at Ruskin, the majority being professors, Taylor said.

Gannon has had its highest enrollment in 23 years with a population of 4,410 students. By creating this expansion to Gannon, the population will be able to grow without having to sacrifice the current student- to -teacher ratio.

“Gannon is a university that is on the move and continuing to grow,” Taylor said. “This new campus is going to help us continue to grow.”

The program is designed for a full-time course and students are not able to transfer into the program.

Students must also complete their bachelor’s degree and 40 hours minimum of volunteer experience in an OT setting.  It is also required that all prerequisite courses must be done within five years before entrance into the graduate program.

The tuition to the graduate programs at Ruskin is similar to Gannon’s current tuition. Estimated total program cost, according to Gannon admissions, is $126,442.

Taylor said there are more graduate programs in the healt care professions within 100 milkes of Erie than there are in Florida.

Bringing a health care doctoral program to Ruskin was a way to meet the growing population, Taylor said. The population living within 10 miles of the new campus has grown from 66,498 in 2000 to 139,804 in 2014, according to a study done by a local economic development group.

Savanna Steffan, a freshman occupational therapy major, said she thinks the Gannon expansion to Florida is a big opportunity for OT majors.

“I think it’s great that Gannon is now giving OTs an opportunity to be a part of an entry level doctorate,” Steffan said. “It’s really cool that graduate students are able to study in Florida.”

Getting a doctorate degree has been a dream of some students studying in the occupational therapy major and now that is a reality. Mary Stephens, a junior occupational therapy major, said she is very excited for this new program.

“I have always wanted to get my doctorate in OT,” Stephens said. “Now I have the opportunity to, while maintaining my connections with Gannon.”

Developing this new program in Florida is a historic moment for Gannon and a stepping stone to more developments to come. However, Erie will always remain the heart of Gannon, Taylor said.

Taylor said Gannon will continue to focus on delivering high-quality graduate programs while developing students into successful professionals in the health care sector.

“This is a huge event in the history of the university,” Taylor said.

This article by Becky Hilker originally appeared in The Gannon Knight on Nov. 5, 2014.