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Published in Economic Development
WMed Dean Dr. Paula Termuhlen WMed Dean Dr. Paula Termuhlen COURTESY PHOTO

$550 million gift to Western Michigan University a ‘catalyst’ for the community

BY Tuesday, June 08, 2021 05:04pm

KALAMAZOO — Representatives from Western Michigan University announced on Tuesday that the school has received the largest private gift ever bestowed on a public university.

With the Empowering Futures Gift, anonymous donors will provide $550 million to the Kalamazoo school over the course of 10 years. Administrators expect the first round of funds to be available for the next fiscal year.

School administrators announced the gift at a Tuesday press conference, outlining that $300 million would be provided to the Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine (WMed) while $200 million will go to the university for various initiatives, including need-based financial aid. The additional $50 million was awarded to the WMU athletics program.

“We looked at what are the key things we’re trying to achieve for our students,” WMU President Dr. Edward Montgomery told MiBiz. “We know that what they’re looking for are good careers, they want to live whole lives. How do we give them that experience? 

“So, this is about how do we take down the barriers and how do we facilitate their ability to achieve those goals? That’s what the campus is about and that’s what the donors invested in.”

While the gifted money will go to fund scholarships, advance medical education and research, support faculty expertise, increase athletic competitiveness and fuel numerous other initiatives, diversity, equity and inclusion stands as the primary focal point of the Empowering Futures Gift.

“Social justice and inclusive opportunities are still a challenge in this community, as it is across the country. (The gift) is a statement that you have to be intentional if you want to knock those barriers down,” Montgomery said. “This is one way of doing it.”

The transformational gift comes a little more than a month after Dr. Paula Termuhlen took over as dean of WMED.

Termuhlen said during today’s press conference that financial aid, innovative research labs and luring some of the brightest minds to its faculty are among her top priorities. The funds will also be used to renovate two floors at the medical school.

In alignment with the spirit of the gift, Termuhlen also stressed the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion.

“We truly need to create a workforce that reflects and understands the people we serve,” she said. “This means building diversity, equity, inclusion and justice into our institutions, and not just with our students, but also our faculty and staff.”

“The Empowering Futures Gift is going to help students and allow them to go to medical school and not have to worry about the financial pressure,” Termuhlen added. “We anticipate that we will be able to create enough scholarship dollars that every single one of our students will receive something.”

Though COVID-19 caused budget challenges for public universities, Montgomery said the gift is “really an opportunity to do new and different things.” 

“This is an opportunity to enhance our scholarship and enhance the way in which we support people from beginning students through their graduation,” he said. “To think about programming, to give wrap-around, holistic services. It’s not really about filling gaps. It’s about creating new opportunities.”

CHARITABLE COMMUNITY

The Empowering Futures Gift is among other transformational financial gifts that the Kalamazoo community has given to local educational institutions.

Aside from the Kalamazoo Promise, which covers college tuition for Kalamazoo Public Schools students, a $100 million donation from the Stryker family in 2011 helped launch WMed.

As a member of WMed’s board, Kalamazoo Community Foundation President and CEO Carrie Pickett-Erway said that the medical school leveraged the first gift to build an extensive infrastructure. The latest gift could usher in the next chapter.

“The original inception was made real by the hard work in the first phase — now it’s transforming it and launching it into the next stage,” Pickett-Erway said. “I’m really excited for the med school. … We’ve reached a level of excellence and now we can think even bigger.”

Carla Sones, interim president and CEO of economic development organization Southwest Michigan First, said that past gifts of this magnitude have ushered in positive change. She expects the same with the Empowering Futures Gift.

“Each time we have a gift, it starts another transformational movement around that gift that integrates all the wonderful assets of our community together,” Sones told MiBiz. “It’s a catalyst for future conversions, more investment and more efficiency. Those one-time gifts have just been a tremendous catalyst for our community.”

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