VALLEJO — Touro University California may have found its biggest cheerleader in Shelley Berkley, the school’s new CEO and senior provost of the western division.
The former Nevada congresswoman took on the new job in January. She loves to talk Touro, a graduate college that has a campus in Vallejo. Berkley will lead the California and Nevada campuses of the New York-based Touro College and University System.
“This is the best-kept secret in the area,” Berkley said of the campus located on Mare Island. She doesn’t intend for it to stay that way. Her goal is to make it a household name.
That foundation has been laid as students offer a free weekly community clinic that serves the area’s most disadvantaged. The work is done in conjunction with Solano County and under the supervision of a physician.
“A couple of months ago, I didn’t know it existed,” she said.
She’s looking forward to the summer biotech academy on campus that welcomes teens from the area to give them a taste of life in the medical field.
“Seventy percent of health care costs are driven by smoking, obesity and lack of exercise,” she said. “Healthier lifestyle habits cut those costs by billions in the future.”
Her students will play a role in the delivery of affordable health care to millions of Americans.
“There will be an emphasis, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, on family doctors,” she said. “That’s what we graduate here.”
She’s purchased a home in Vallejo and will split her time there with her home in Nevada. With two campuses to oversee, Berkley said the challenge is to divide her time equally.
Berkley has yet to find a typical day on the job. One recent morning, she arrived on campus early, toured the research area, did interviews, discussed budget issues and put the finishing touches on an accreditation report.
She’s also gathering support for one of her concerns, the lack of primary care doctors. In Nevada, Berkley is working with universities and hospitals to create more opportunities for graduate medical education.
“I hope to do the same in California,” she said.
Berkley was the first member of her family to attend, and graduate from, college. Her grandparents came to the United States with the dream of making a better life.
Her father dropped out of school in ninth grade to help support the family during the Depression. Her mother graduated high school.
“There was no question I was going to college,” she said.
Her story is the best selling point she can make to students, she said. Getting an education opens doors. It’s something no one can take away from you, Berkley said.
Her children and stepchildren also went on to college.
“Education has changed the direction of my family,” she said.
Touro University California is a Jewish nonprofit, independent graduate institution of higher learning founded in 1997 on three Judaic values: social justice, the pursuit of knowledge and service to humanity. The university, home to 1,400 students, has professional programs in osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, physician assistant studies, public health and education.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.