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October 15, 2018

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Campaign to fund scholarships for UNLV medical school raises twice its goal

$10 million donation from Engelstad Family Foundation to provide 100 scholarships

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COURTESY: Aaron Mayes

A recently announced $10 million donation from the Engelstad Family Foundation will provide 25 scholarships for the UNLV medical school’s first class of 60 students in fall 2017 as well as 25 scholarships for each of the school’s next three classes.

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Barbara Atkinson

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Len Jessup

The campaign to raise $6 million in scholarships for the first class of students at the proposed UNLV medical school was supposed to last the rest of the year.

It’s now the middle of June, and the campaign is finished. In a little over two months, the campaign raised more than twice its goal.

“It’s just unbelievable,” said medical school Dean Barbara Atkinson. “People just came forward.”

Atkinson and her team were just $600,000 shy of the goal in May, but a recently announced $10 million donation from the Engelstad Family Foundation sealed the deal. It will provide 25 scholarships for the school’s charter class of 60 students in fall 2017 as well as 25 scholarships for each of the school’s next three classes.

In total, the school has commitments for 135 scholarships at a cost of $13.5 million.

“In my 44 years in the profession, I have never seen a campaign that successful,” said Peter Smits, senior fellow at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. The nonprofit group helps universities build relationships with alumni and donors, among other things.

He said similar campaigns usually take universities two to five years on average to complete.

It’s a huge victory for the fledgling medical school, which has had to prove to lawmakers that it has enough community support to thrive in Southern Nevada.

“It’s just an enormous expression of faith in the university,” Smits said.

It also caps off a month of great news for the school. On June 11, Gov. Brian Sandoval signed legislation that would give the school $27 million in startup funding over the next two years.

“We have had a very good month,” said Atkinson.

At $100,000 per scholarship, the donation from the Engelstad family will fund four years worth of medical education for 100 students.

Up until now, most of the donations have been from private individuals giving smaller sums. The donation from the Engelstads is the first major donation in the school’s history, and comes from a family with a history of philanthropy at UNLV.

In 2009, the family gave $12 million to create the Engelstad Scholars program at UNLV, the largest endowment of its kind in the state, according to the university.

Kris Engelstad McGarry, trustee of the foundation, said the gift was motivated by a commitment to students and the state of health care in Southern Nevada.

“For people who have made their living here, to have to look elsewhere as soon as you are ill is really a tragedy that needs to be rectified,” she said. “We want to have quality doctors in Nevada, and it seems to us the way to start that is the medical school.”

The scholarships allow the school to choose the best students, which will make a big difference when an agency examines the school’s test scores in its fourth year to determine whether or not to grant it accreditation.

Engelstad Family Foundation scholarship announcement

UNLV President Neal Smatresk speaks Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2009 at the announcement of a new scholarship endowed by the Engelstad Family Foundation.   Launch slideshow »

“We want to ensure high quality in this medical school,” said UNLV President Len Jessup, who donated $100,000 of his own money to pay for a scholarship. “A fundamental part of that is the students.”

The school now must hire faculty and prepare to open admissions for the school’s first students early in 2016. The initial application for accreditation is due in a few weeks, Atkinson said.

The school must also raise the money for its first building, which will be located near UNLV’s dental school across from University Medical Center.

“There’s a lot going on,” Atkinson said. “People are really starting to talk about the school being ready to go.”

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