The Texas Tech Health Sciences Center officially announced and appointed President Dr. Lori Rice-Spearman as the ninth president of TTUHSC through a livestreamed ceremony on June 5. Rice-Spearman was announced as the sole candidate and finalist for the presidency 21 days ago.
Chancellor Dr. Tedd Mitchell said Rice-Spearman is the first female president of TTUHSC, though that is not the only reason she was chosen.
“I've known Lori the entire time I've been out here. Over the past decade, she has risen through the ranks…she is the epitome of someone who's used to having different professional groups work with one another,” he said. “She was selected because she was clearly the top candidate to lead the university forward.”
Mark Griffin, a Tech Board of Regents member, was a member of the search committee who helped select the candidates for the position and said Rice-Spearman was entered into the pool later than the rest of the applicants, though she went through the same rigorous process as the other candidates.
What made Rice-Spearman stand out among the candidates was not only her resume of skills, service, scholarship and accomplishment, Griffin said, but her resume of action.
“As provost and then moving to the interim president’s job, we got to witness firsthand her leadership abilities through probably one of the most challenging, if not the most challenging, times this health science system has encountered with COVID-19,” he said. “Those who had come in contact, who had worked with Lori, who got to see her firsthand and her leadership, came away encouraged and inspired. So, we would not have done our job, quite frankly, had we not brought her into the mix, even at the eleventh hour.”
The biggest thing that sold Rice-Spearman to the committee was her commitment to the culture of the university, Griffin said. Rice-Spearman demonstrates the culture TTUHSC embraces, and he said they did not have to worry about the implementation and the encouragement of those values with her.
“I think she's the perfect fit,” Griffin said. “You know, there's a country western song, I think it's by Alabama. ‘She's close enough to perfect for me,’ and that’s Lori. As far as this position is concerned, as far as I'm concerned, as far as the board is concerned, we welcome Lori. We have high expectations for her.”
Rice-Spearman, a native of West Texas, said she grew up understanding the values, ethics and mission of Tech because she was raised in a small town with limited access to health care, so TTUHSC's mission is one that she is aligned to personally.
TTUHSC’s faculty, staff, students, alumni and donors Rice-Spearman has worked with over the past 33 years are what she said have helped build something special in the communities they serve.
“And that truly is the whole reason we exist, to serve the people of West Texas. We are created to support healthcare in 108 counties west of I-30, our service region is larger than most states and larger than some countries,” she said. “And those 108 counties are the good people of West Texas who possess that West Texas grit...One of my favorite sayings often shared in the region that Chancellor Mitchell has made quite famous is that ‘we are responsible for the food, fiber, and fuel for the nation.’ We need to make sure that we are taking care of the individuals and these industries and communities, so they, in turn, can take care of the world.”
Rice-Spearman said she grew up in TTUHSC, as she was in the first class of students in the clinical laboratory science department. She also completed her graduate education at Tech.
Mentors and professors played a large role in her education and development within the institution and now as its leader, Rice-Spearman said, so she hopes the university will continue to grow future leaders in healthcare and research who will serve within TTUHSC and across the nation.
“I genuinely believe that we hold the key to how healthcare will be delivered in the coming decade, specifically in the West Texas region, and in under-served populations. I also believe that these delivery models will be applicable across the nation and worldwide,” she said. “Our university is at a very exciting place in its history having just celebrated our 50th anniversary. When you look back at where we started and see what we've become, the future is very exciting.”
As TTUHSC has over 40 academic health programs, Rice-Spearman said they will continue to expand the delivery of healthcare by developing the use of telemedicine, teletherapy and telecounseling that will encompass all campuses and academic programs. They are also focusing on delivering innovative academic programming online, particularly in the areas of simulation and gross anatomy.
Rice-Spearman said TTUHSC is also looking forward to the opportunity to look at building an infrastructure that will support collaboration, allowing it to move forward and bring down barriers around collaboration and innovation.
“We are the largest in Texas, and I like to tell people when you're the largest in Texas, you're usually one of the largest in the nation,” Rice-Spearman said. “Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center is a National Academic leader in healthcare, and we are poised to make an even greater impact in Texas and around the world. It is my distinct honor to have the opportunity to serve as the ninth president of this great university.”