But spend just a few minutes with Gireesh and the sense one gets is of a man who feels anything but marginalized. Easygoing, talkative and gesturing freely, he gives the impression, rather, of someone empowered and connected – not only to the university where he has helped build a new school of pharmacy, but to the St. Louis community as a whole.
Gireesh arrived in the St. Louis area in 2004, lured here by the founding dean of the School of Pharmacy at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE), Phil Medon. For the eight preceding years, he had been teaching at the University of New Mexico Albuquerque, and before that he had been earning his Ph.D. in Pharmacy Administration at Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Ind. and Master’s degrees from the University of Toledo, in Ohio.
He arrived, therefore, with some limited experience of the Midwest. Nonetheless, he and his wife, also Indian-born, shared inevitable apprehensions about moving to a strange new city. They also had plenty of reason to wonder about the gamble Gireesh was taking with his new job.
SIUE has been growing on its beautiful, rolling 2,600 acre campus since 1965, and, had long ago taken an important place in the area’s extensive network of more than 20 colleges and universities. The university, known for the quality of its undergraduate education, has been consistently ranked among the top 15 in the category of regional Midwestern public universities by U.S. News & World Report.
But SIUE had no pharmacy school, and Gireesh was only one the second professional hired – Medon was the first. There were no faculty and no students.
Both men, however, saw a need. Illinois’ existing schools were both in Chicago, and servicing primarily northern Illinois; the St. Louis College of Pharmacy, one of the oldest and most distinguished pharmacy schools in the country, was serving primarily the Missouri portion of the St. Louis area. Central and southern Illinois were being left out. A new school at SIUE could do the trick, especially if it could tap into the St. Louis area’s resource-rich healthcare infrastructure on both sides of the Mississippi River.
Five years later, in 2009, the school awarded its first doctorate of pharmacy degrees to 80 students. And in the years since, the school, now led by Gireesh, has rapidly built a reputation for excellence.
In collaboration with St. Louis University’s medical and nursing schools, the school has opened a Center of Excellence in Pain Education – one of only 12 centers nationwide designated as such by the National Institutes of Health. With support from St. Louis-based Express Scripts, the school has opened a Drug Information and Wellness Center, the only one of its kind in the area. In 2011, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) made the school the first pharmacy institution in the country to receive an award for its practices in boosting student learning outcomes.
Perhaps best of all, the school’s original mission is being fulfilled. Most of the school’s graduates are practicing in central and southern Illinois. The need to elevate the practice of pharmacy in those areas is now being met.
A great deal of that achievement, Gireesh says, stems from collaborations with the other healthcare institutions in St. Louis and the Metro East. Besides St. Louis University and Express Scripts, the school has forged either organizational or personal connections with people at such places as Washington University School of Medicine, University of Missouri St. Louis, Places for People, and several hospitals in both Illinois and Missouri. These institutions have provided faculty, post-doctorate experiences for the school’s graduates, and other resources.
All of this has left Gireesh grateful for how quickly the school has been able to realize the potential he and Medon saw for tapping into the St. Louis area’s healthcare community.
“People here genuinely want to help,” he says. “It’s been wonderful.”
On the personal side too, Gireesh has felt nothing but welcomed. Edwardsville and the Metro East, he says, offer good restaurants, good golf courses, and opportunities like apple picking. “You can’t really do that in New York City,” he observes wryly.
Living in Edwardsville, he’s only “a song and half” (as measured on his car radio) from his office and from the theater and music he and his wife enjoy on campus. And Edwardsville also puts him only a half hour from the City of St. Louis, with its Cardinals, Rams, Indian restaurants, festivals and cultural events, not to mention big-name performances at places like the Scottrade Center and Fox that Gireesh and his wife have made sure not to miss -- Tony Bennett and Madonna, to name just two.
In Albuquerque, he says, he and his wife loved learning about Native American and Hispanic culture.
“But there’s more to choose from here,” he says. “It’s more diverse. I feel that we have a full, wholesome life. It’s been a wonderful move for us.”