‘Beyond my wildest dreams’: WMU President John M. Dunn humbled by new scholarship fund at WMed

"."As the gravity of the moment set in – the realization that a $2.2 million endowed scholarship fund bearing his name at WMed will benefit Western Michigan University students – President John M. Dunn whispered one word quietly to himself.

“Wow,” he said. “Wow.”

The unveiling of the new scholarship, which President Dunn said later caught him completely by surprise, came Saturday evening, May 20, at the medical school’s 2nd Annual Imagine Gala. Ken V. Miller, chair emeritus and current member of the WMU Board of Trustees, made the announcement to a large crowd that gathered for the event at the medical school’s W.E. Upjohn M.D. Campus in downtown Kalamazoo.

The scholarship fund will award $100,000 in tuition yearly for eligible WMU graduates who are admitted to the medical school’s MD degree program. The fund is endowed with $2.2 million in financial contributions from key community leaders, members of the WMU Board of Trustees, Borgess Health and Bronson Healthcare.

“I was just blown away,” President Dunn said Saturday following the announcement. “I was seriously stunned and probably a little bit numb. I’m very proud and pleased to know that our name has connection with a scholarship of that magnitude.”

Prior to the announcement Saturday, the crowd at the Imagine Gala heard remarks from WMed’s founding dean, Dr. Hal B. Jenson, as well as Trustee Miller and William D. Johnston, also a member of the WMU Board of Trustees. Each spoke of how it was President Dunn’s vision, tenacity and commitment that helped transform the medical school from an idea to reality.

At his first Academic Convocation and State of the University address at WMU in 2007, President Dunn sparked community interest in the creation of a medical school that would build upon the community’s rich history of excellence in education, health care, research and life science exploration. He championed the endeavor and garnered broad support for the venture from WMU, Kalamazoo’s two hospitals – Borgess Health and Bronson Healthcare – donors and the community.

In 2011, the medical school became a reality. Today, President Dunn serves as the founding Chair of the Board of the medical school and will continue in that role until his retirement on July 31, 2017.

Trustee Johnston, who led the crowd at the gala in a toast to President Dunn, said the scholarship fund at the medical school, in so many ways, was a suitable way to honor a man whose tenure at WMU has been marked by an enduring commitment to students and their success.

“Student-centered to John is like breathing,” Trustee Johnston said. “It’s not different, it’s always that way. He wakes up that way every day and his ability really to look at aspirations starts with students.

“His presidency, I think, has been really transformational in a lot of ways so it’s really good then to be able to say in honor of that we’re going to honor him through a program that’s going to be beneficial for students, which is what he would really like.”

President Dunn and his wife, Linda, were the hosts for this year’s gala, an event that raises money for WMed’s student pipeline programs. The pipeline programs are designed to champion the biomedical science and healthcare career aspirations of underrepresented and disadvantaged youth in Southwest Michigan, including elementary and high school students.


More than 200 people were in attendance at the 2nd Annual Gala. In addition to President Dunn, Dr. Jenson and trustees Johnston and Miller, the guest list included Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Ronda Stryker and William U. Parfet, the former chairman and CEO of MPI Research, and his wife, Barbara, among many others.

Trustee Miller, who chaired the search committee in 2007 that eventually chose President Dunn as WMU’s eighth president, said he was honored to be the one who, at Saturday’s gala, got the opportunity to unveil the new scholarship fund.

“It’s really about what John has accomplished,” Trustee Miller said. “It is far and above anything that I expected when I thought he was the guy we wanted to come to Western.”

On Saturday, Trustee Miller recounted how the initial goal for the endowed scholarship fund bearing President Dunn’s name was $1.2 million. Very quickly, he said, that goal was exceeded and nearly doubled. That accomplishment, he said, is a testament to President Dunn and his legacy.

“There are any competing number of needs, quality needs in this community, and any community for a charitable dollar,” Trustee Miller said. “To be able to double the expectation, I think, is a phenomenal statement of the individual and John deserves it.

“His name is directly tied to a vehicle that will result in an individual being able to advance their degree through our university and our medical school,” Trustee Miller added. “That is the sum total of John Dunn … I have tremendous pride in this university and this community and I owe it all to John Dunn, I really do.”

As the crowd at Saturday’s gala enjoyed dinner, drinks, food and nighttime music courtesy of the Simone Vitale Band, President Dunn, for just a few minutes, reflected on his 10 years at the helm of WMU and all that has been accomplished at the medical school in that time.

He said he was humbled by news of the scholarship fund and thankful for the community philanthropy and collaboration between WMU, Borgess Health and Bronson Healthcare that served as the vehicle for his vision of a medical school in Kalamazoo coming to fruition.

“The accolades tonight were appreciated but all good things happen because there’s a lot of people at various stages and points along the way who stepped forward and made things happen in very significant ways and it would not have happened without them,” President Dunn said. “Tonight, to look at some of the students that are here, that we’ve attracted to this university, to this medical school, they could go anywhere. These kids are bright, they’re focused, they’re our future.

“To think in some way I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of that, to help create that, it’s beyond sort of my wildest dreams or expectations, or thoughts.”

In addition to the scholarship fund, President Dunn also was honored Saturday with a glass panel at the medical school, which includes his likeness and recounts his first Convocation and State of the University address that gave root to WMed.

The glass panel, which is located just outside of the auditorium at the Upjohn Campus, is the third such panel to be installed in the building. The two other panels at the Upjohn Campus honor Drs. Homer Stryker and W.E. Upjohn.

“These are giants,” President Dunn said of Drs. Stryker and Upjohn. “I got the opportunity to be a part of something very significant and substantial and important … and to think that someday I can walk in here 10 years from now and there’s still a picture on the wall that brings back all the great memories, that’s pretty special.”