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Donors invest in scholarships, enhance equity in health care through University matching program

Penn State College of Medicine donors committed a total of $737,000 to establish 15 new scholarships and strengthen two already-existing funds to support students whose gender, race, ethnic, cultural and/or national background contribute to the diversity of the student body.

Donors made their gifts in response to Penn State’s recently concluded Educational Equity Scholarship Matching Program, which President Eric Barron announced on June 29, 2020 as part of the University’s commitment to create a more inclusive and equitable institution. The match doubled the contributions from College of Medicine alumni, faculty and staff, corporate and foundation partners and community leaders for a total of $1.47 million in new endowed funds.

Many students graduate with an average medical school loan debt of more than $200,000, not including undergraduate loans. Although this is a burden for students from every background, it can be especially hard on those who come from groups historically underrepresented in higher education and medicine.

“Scholarship support is critical to our ability to make medical education accessible to all qualified students,” said Dr. Kevin Black, interim dean of Penn State College of Medicine. “It not only helps us support a diverse group of students who are already part of our learning community, but it also strengthens our ability to recruit other members of communities that are underrepresented in medicine and build an inclusive culture that contributes to equity in healthcare and scientific discovery for the diverse populations we serve.”

Black added, “We are grateful to all the donors who have recognized the vital connection between scholarship support and better health care for all.”

The faces of students participating in a virtual meeting appear on a screen in a grid of five columns and five rows, with a small image of the presenter’s screen to the left of the students’ faces.

Incoming medical students listen to welcome remarks by Dr. Dwight Davis, associate dean for MD student admissions at Penn State College of Medicine, during a virtual orientation on Wednesday, July 15, 2020.

The John Crain Kunkel Foundation made the largest single commitment to establish a new educational equity scholarship. “The late Congressman John Kunkel dedicated his life to serving the people of Pennsylvania and improving their quality of life,” said Deb Kunkel Facini, president of the John Crain Kunkel Foundation and one of Kunkel’s grandchildren. “We are proud to continue his legacy and the Kunkel Foundation’s support of Penn State through the John Crain Kunkel Educational Equity Scholarship at the College of Medicine.”

In addition to the Kunkel Foundation, The Hershey Company honored its ongoing partnership with Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) by establishing an educational-equity scholarship named for CMN. Community leaders, including some Penn State Health Board members, created four of the 15 new scholarships.

“Throughout my life and career, I’ve been blessed to have the opportunity to succeed because people believed in my potential,” said Dennis Brenckle, chair of the Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center Board of Directors, who established the Denny and Patti Brenckle Educational Equity Scholarship in Medicine. “My wife, Patti, and I recognize that students from diverse backgrounds often face significant challenges in achieving success, and we want to help change that reality. I am grateful for my board colleagues who have also established scholarships. We hope the students know just how much we are rooting for their success.”

College of Medicine alumni contributed nearly $150,000 through the matching program, including a group that collectively established the Dr. Alphonse E. Leure-duPree Alumni Memorial Educational Equity Scholarship to recognize the positive influence the former associate dean for academic achievement and professor emeritus of neural and behavior sciences had as a mentor and educator. Leure-duPree died in 2014 after more than three decades with the College of Medicine.

Current and former faculty and staff of Penn State Health and the College of Medicine committed $250,000, including one scholarship created by members of the Black Faculty and Professional Staff Association. They named the fund in honor of the College of Medicine’s first four Black alumni, all from the Class of 1974: Dr. Theodore Densley, Dr. Owen Ellington, Dr. Janiece (McIntosh) Andrews and Dr. Lewis Mitchell

Educational-equity scholarships are particularly important to attract a greater diversity of students. According to Lynette Chappell-Williams, vice president and chief diversity officer at Penn State Health, students from demographic groups considered underrepresented in medicine comprise 23% of the average medical school class nationally. Penn State College of Medicine has seen a 3% decline in enrollment over the last five years, and just 10% of the incoming class of 2020 were from underrepresented demographic groups.

“Our research shows that cost is one of the top reasons students from these groups choose not to come here,” said Chappell-Williams. “Certainly, enhancing financial support for these students is critical, but it is only one part of our approach to building and sustaining a more diverse academic community.”

The College of Medicine has established recruitment partnerships with historically Black colleges and universities, and available scholarship support will aid these recruitment efforts. Additionally, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has created a mentorship program for students and trainees at all levels to engage with distinguished alumni and faculty leaders who can share their wisdom and experience, provide guidance and support students’ career or professional development.

“Scholarships alone can’t erase the systemic injustice that some students face,” noted Chappell-Williams. “Support networks, like those we’re establishing with leaders from historically Black colleges and universities and our own diverse community of alumni and faculty, are also important to ensure student success and provide the career opportunities they desire and deserve. We are grateful for all those who have leveraged the matching program as a catalyst for change that will yield more equity in access to education and the quality of healthcare for all.”

Although the matching program has ended, donors interested in supporting educational equity scholarships can visit to make a gift.

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