KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Visionary Western Michigan University graduates have donated to the WMU Foundation $550 million, the largest gift for a public institution of higher education in U.S. history.
Forward thinking in design, scope and size, this historic philanthropic contribution will be known as the Empowering Futures Gift. The donors, alumni who have chosen not to be named, earmarked their record-breaking contribution to WMU and Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine (WMed).
"We call it the Empowering Futures Gift because at its core is our donors' belief that inclusive education empowers people and communities to create a bright future for all," says WMU President Edward Montgomery.
"That is why a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is at the center of our donors' wishes, and their gift echoes the University's purpose: 'So that all may learn.' Like Western, our donors are committed to a future that truly provides opportunity for everyone to advance. In order to empower our future, we must break down the barriers created by historic inequities. This gift is an important step in leveling the playing field and putting quality education in reach for students from historically underrepresented populations. It will empower a new generation of students, doctors and athletes from every corner of our community so they can reach the full measure of their potential.”
The donors have committed $200 million for WMU, $300 million for WMed and $50 million for Bronco Athletics. The gift will fund scholarships, advance medical education and research, support faculty expertise, increase athletic competitiveness and make possible numerous student-centered initiatives.
"This is a striking vote of confidence in the direction of Western, an expression of excitement for our medical school's next decade, a major commitment to our athletics program and belief in the promise of our community," says Montgomery, who serves as chair of the WMed Board of Directors.
"Not only is the $550 million in aggregate a staggering sum, it’s the biggest sum ever given for a public institution in U.S. history," says Montgomery. "But for WMU, each of the component gifts is the largest on record ever received by probably a factor of three. The size and impact of this gift will generate opportunities not just for this year, not just for next year but will catalyze opportunities that will change the condition and transform lives for generations to come."
Transforming lives, transforming community
"As Michigan's leading higher education institution for helping graduates improve their lives through social mobility, Western takes pride in being an opportunity university and understands it's not how you start in life but what you make of it," Montgomery adds.
"Thousands of first-generation college students have chosen Western for its high-quality education. They earn degrees that helped them change the trajectory of their lives and that of their families. Empowering Futures will pave the way for transforming even more lives, putting higher education and experiential learning affordably within reach for many who might not otherwise attain their dreams.”
"The donors believe that education is one of the anchor elements that strengthen a community—our community," Montgomery says. "This investment in higher education is crucial to opening the doors of opportunities for students who might not otherwise be given the chance, not only lifting them but by extension also their families and the communities in which they will live and serve."
The Kalamazoo community's long history of creating opportunity through investments in education and innovation is well known. Kalamazoo's medical school, WMed, epitomizes these attributes. The Empowering Futures Gift is an incredible boost to the medical school's mission going forward.
"Transformational gifts can change the trajectory of an institution exponentially," says Dr. Paula M. Termuhlen, who recently joined WMed as its new dean.
"A gift like this provides the resources to make a significant impact on some of the most challenging health problems. But beyond that, it positions us to not just be peers but to become a leader among medical schools in the country, particularly in the areas this gift has been designed to serve."
Promoting diversity, equity and inclusion is a core principle of the Empowering Futures Gift and also for the medical school, Termuhlen says.
"We need to create a workforce that reflects the populations we serve,” she adds. “That means building diversity, equity and inclusion into our medical school, not just with our students but with our faculty, residents and staff. This will not just transform WMed but can also help to transform Kalamazoo. We hope this incredible gift will inspire others to join us in this work."
Empowering Futures: Student support at a glance
Montgomery describes the gift as "student centered, transformational and responsive to the needs of students today," providing immediate help in the following ways:
Western Michigan University
- Educational Access and Retention: A significant expansion of need-based financial assistance with tuition, room and board and degree-completion support
- Purpose and Passion: Paid experiential learning for students who rely on jobs to fund their education, as well as new support staff to guide students in their pursuit of a meaningful career
- Well-being: New professional and technical support to improve mental health and help students develop healthy lifestyles
- Transformational Excellence: Hiring new faculty to enhance the diversity of the faculty and advance interdisciplinary education and research
Western Michigan University Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine
- Scholarships that will reduce financial barriers for future doctors while recruiting classes that are reflective of our diverse community
- Greatly expand the portion of students who receive full scholarships, eventually reaching 50%
- Fostering innovation, collaboration and discovery in basic science, clinical science and community-based research
- New programming and services to support a diverse and inclusive medical school community
- Enhance support for student-athletes' academic performance and well-being, and achieve inclusive excellence by expanding diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives
- Enhance recruiting and overall competitiveness in a championship environment
- Create collaborative opportunities to strengthen pipelines through broad community engagement that connects youth with WMU
"This incredibly generous gift and the array of support it enables is about how we assist any student who has the skills and the ability combined with the grit and determination to come to college to complete their education and reach their promise," Montgomery says.
For the same reasons, a sizable portion of the donation is dedicated to Bronco Athletics.
"Intercollegiate Athletics makes college possible and enriches the university experience for hundreds of students each year," says Kathy Beauregard, WMU Athletic Director. "At Western, they have built pride and community both within the University and in the greater Kalamazoo area. The Empowering Futures Gift will help bolster our efforts to support student-athletes who come to Western from all over the world to excel in their chosen sport and perform well in the classroom."
"Our Broncos are absolutely going to get an opportunity of a lifetime to come and play the sport they love, be mentored by coaches that are some of the best in the country and grow through the many opportunities available at Western—in our classrooms, through internships and, ultimately, their careers after they graduate," says Beauregard. "The opportunity to be part of this inclusive, championship environment that values academic and competitive excellence will benefit them for a lifetime. They'll always be Broncos, and as members of our Bronco family, they will be empowering the world."
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