In a world of "apps," upgrades and social media, even educational institutions have to keep up and stay connected. With a new $6.24 million gift from the Huffington Foundation, Baylor College of Medicine is doing just that through its Innovative Education Technology Roadmap initiative.

"Right now, education is fragmented. What you see is a system that performs one function and another system that performs another," said Dr. Alex Izaguirre, vice president and chief technology officer at BCM, who is leading the efforts to implement the technology. "While those are functions that are required to support education, the concept of education should be simplified for students, educators and those involved in supporting education."

Customizable software

The first step in the roadmap is developing a customizable software that allows the management of courseware, an evaluation system, assessment tools, registration and more. Also referred to as the Academic Management Platform (AMP), this software will eventually allow BCM students to connect with other students at medical institutions across the world.

In the first year of the initiative, Izaguirre and his team hope to establish the base system and provide collaborative tools. They also plan to further develop the AMP environment by integrating it into the BCM website, which will allow students to work with one another internally and eventually with other students and institutions outside of BCM. All of this collaborative data will also be available through mobile devices.

The Huffington Foundation has had a longstanding history of support for Baylor College of Medicine. Roy M. and Phyllis Gough Huffington established the Huffington Center on Aging at BCM in 1988. The center is now one of the premier centers on aging in the world. Roy Huffington served as a BCM trustee from 1986 to 1999, and the foundation established the Huffington Foundation Endowed Chair in Aging for the Center director in 2010.

Period of growth and refocus

Huffington’s daughter, Terry Huffington, and her husband, Dr. Ralph Dittman, a graduate of BCM’s class of 1973, are continuing the legacy of supporting BCM through the foundation’s latest gift.

"We wanted to support Baylor during this period of growth and refocus, and this was an area that looked as if it could really help the college," said Terry Huffington, a BCM trustee emerita who served from 1999 to 2008. "Strengthening information technology would, relatively quickly, enhance the quality of medical education by improving accessibility to information and increasing efficiency of delivery. It would further advance the quality of students’ education by expanding opportunities for collaboration among students from different medical institutions."

Dittman’s experiences as a student at BCM and his continued career in the field of medicine play an important part in his support for students at the College.

New dimension to education

"This initiative will add a whole dimension to education that hasn’t been there before," he said.

The timeline for the entire initiative is three to four years.

"Baylor College of Medicine is an important institution within the U.S. with a tremendous potential to increase our knowledge of medicine and patient care. Its commitment to provide top quality education, research and patient care inspires us to support its work that benefits our community and beyond," said Huffington.

"One of the most critical items to the success of our country is education, and we should never undervalue that. The gift that the Huffington Foundation is providing us not only demonstrates a strong commitment to Texas and Baylor College of Medicine, but our approach to this will allow their gift to support education throughout the world. This is something that will go well beyond Baylor College of Medicine," said Izaguirre.