Wednesday, September 6, 2023
  Around Campus, Community

By Karen Villarreal

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – SEPT. 6, 2023 – The UTRGV School of Podiatric Medicine recently received its first financial donation to advance student education and research in the field.

The gift of $250,000 was donated anonymously on behalf of Dr. Lawrence Harkless, who came out of retirement in 2019 to serve as interim dean of the school until 2022. 

UTRGV President Guy Bailey said Harkless worked tirelessly to help build the School of Podiatric Medicine from the ground up.  

“We are forever indebted to Dr. Harkless for his hard work and dedication in guiding the development of our School of Podiatric Medicine,” Bailey said. “And we especially appreciate this gift as it acknowledges the importance of the work the school already is doing to bring accessible healthcare to the Rio Grande Valley.” 

On Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, UTRGV SOPM commemorated Harkless with a plaque in the lobby of the Harlingen Clinical Education Building, naming Classroom 1.132 in his honor. 

At the ceremony, Harkless said he is grateful for the support the donation brings to the school. 

“I think God will bless the seeds that you plant with good fruit,” he said. “What kinds of seeds are we planting, and what fruit are we producing individually through our students?”  

He said that, over the course of his career, he often has referred to the “Learn, Serve, Lead” slogan of the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC’s) as a guiding tenet.

“I think everything should be purpose driven, and people will support you in that,” he said.  


The inaugural and current SOPM dean, Dr. Javier La Fontaine, who was appointed in 2022, said this type of donation allows UTRGV and the School of Podiatric Medicine to grow and become leaders in podiatric care in an area with a high rate of diabetes – and the foot and ankle complications that often come with it. 

“This is an opportunity to have the best, and latest, foot and ankle care available in this region,” La Fontaine said. 

The $250,000 gift will be used to advance the field of podiatric medicine by bringing in leading-edge technology to learn about human gait pathology and biomechanics, La Fontaine said.

“The generosity of the donor will assure growth in podiatric research and in podiatric biomechanics education,” he said. 


The donor shared a letter with the gift, and identified themselves as one of the many resident physicians Harkless has trained during his long career. The donor went on to recognize Harkless for all he has done for American podiatry and education. 

“Dr. Harkless should always be remembered as one of podiatry’s great leaders,” the donor said.  “He helped shape and guide our profession as it moved into – and continues to move into – new frontiers of medicine, surgery, and biomechanics of the human lower extremity.”

  • Harklesshas served in both public and private universities, including as founding dean emeritus and professor emeritus at WesternU College of Podiatric Medicine.
  • He was appointed chairman of the Texas Diabetes Council from 2001-2007 by then Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
  • In 2020, he was voted onto theNational Public Radio Foundation Board of Trustees.
  • He received the Presidential Excellence in Teaching Award in 1998.
  • And he was named Outstanding Educator 2001 by the American Diabetes Association.

In the anonymous donor’s letter, the donor thanked Harkless for being an excellent mentor, saying he was committed to improving their clinical and surgical skills while sharing character-shaping lessons outside the curriculum. 

“He taught me not only state-of-the-art medical academics, but more valuable tenets of how to live life well,” the donor said. “I left his tutelage fortified in my mission in life – that I carry with me still today.” 

The donor also said Harkless instilled in them a sense of service to their community and a better understanding of compassion for all.

“He showed me how to be a good person, and a good doctor,” the donor said. 


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.