Record-setting $175 million donation will propel UMass Medical School in Worcester on level with elite global institutions
For more than 30 minutes, some of the state’s most powerful men attempted to put into words the importance behind a $175 million investment to the UMass Medical School in Worcester.
Then Chioma Okwara walked to the podium as a living example.
Okwara, an immigrant born in Kenya, is now a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School as well as a trustee on the board at UMass. It all became possible after she graduated from UMass Medical School.
Okwara immigrated to Lowell before enrolling at Middlesex Community College. When she relayed to a peer that she wanted to become a doctor, she was initially laughed at.
But after her 9-year-old brother died when he was unable to access medical care for injuries suffered in a car crash in Kenya, she pursued her dream regardless of the odds.
“I share my story today not to tell of my achievements, but to highlight the transformational power of public high education. Without UMass, I’m not sure who I would be today,” Okwara said.
With a “history-making” $175-million gift from the Morningside Foundation, which officials announced on Tuesday, UMass plans to help others like Okwara realize their dream.
“[Okwara] is exactly the success story that this gift will ensure is repeated over and over again, UMass President Martin Meehan said.
Okwara and Meehan joined Gov. Charlie Baker, medical school Chancellor Michael Collins, Chairman and CEO of Morningside Group Gerald Chan and Chairman of UMass Trustees Robert Manning for the announcement on Tuesday in Boston.
The donation from The Morningside Foundation more than doubles the medical school’s endowment.
As part of the donation from the Chan family of investors, the school in Worcester will be renamed the UMass Chan Medical School.
Its three graduate schools will be renamed the T.H. Chan School of Medicine, the Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing, and the Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.
“Our medical school is stronger than ever, and yet in decades to come, the generosity of the Morningside Foundation and the Chan family will propel UMass Medical School to new heights and allow our medical school to compete with the most elite institutions in the world,” Collins said.
The name of T. H. Chan, the late patriarch of the Chan family, will now appear on the name of the medical school. Chan was deeply committed to supporting higher education, his son Gerald said.
The Graduate School of Nursing will be named for the family’s matriarch, Tan Chingfen, who was a nurse and is still active today at 101. The family said she administered vaccines to neighborhood children in the 1950s.
Renaming the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences to include “Morningside” reflects the name of the Chan family’s investment group and foundation.
“The present gift from the Morningside Foundation is intended to draw attention to the urgent need for supporting our state universities at a time when resources available to them lag far behind the resources available to the elite private universities,” Gerald Chan said. “We as a society must renew our support for the public universities now.”
Chan said the gift was inspired by his father who helped those who were less fortunate earn an education.
“I grew up watching him change the trajectory of many young lives by supporting their education,” Chan said.
The donation to UMass comes seven years after the Chan family donated $350 million to the Harvard School of Public Health. The investment was the largest in the university’s 378-year history. The school was renamed the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
“At that time I was asked by many, why public health? The Harvard gift shone a spotlight on public health and the discipline’s importance to society,” Chan said. “…Six years later, the COVID-19 pandemic would prove that gift most prescient. Today, everybody understands why public health.”
All of the $175 million is unrestricted, which Collins referred to as a dream come true.
He said the university will use the money to recruit and retain world-class employees, continue groundbreaking research, offer financial support to qualified students and expand its mission of public service.
“A strong and vibrant medical school that educates doctors, nurses, leaders and scientists stand to benefit countless people, be they in Worcester, in Boston or the far corners of our world,” Collins said.
Meehan began the announcement with a smile and said it was a pretty good week for UMass.
On Sept. 1 the university announced a $50 million donation from Robert and Donna Manning. At the time, the total was a record for the school.
On Tuesday, Chan and Morningside more than tripled it.
“Today is a very important day for UMass,” Baker said. “But I’ll tell you something, it’s just the beginning of what will be the next act of an incredibly important medical institution, not just here in the Commonwealth, not just around the country, but across the world.”