Clarke, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota
Medical Schools Duluth campus, stands in a laboratory
that he hopes will benefit from a gift of $10 million to the
school. The gift comes from an anonymous Minnesota donor who
recently learned of his own Native American roots and will
be used to establish a Native American Center of Excellence
at the school. (Clint Austin / Forum News Service)
DULUTH, MN The largest gift in the history of the University
of Minnesota Medical Schools Duluth campus will be used to
establish a Native American Center of Excellence, school officials
The cash gift of $10 million, to be paid over five years, comes
from an anonymous donor from Minnesota who recently learned of his
own Native American roots, said Dr. Paula Termuhlen, dean of the
schools Duluth campus. It comes with virtually no strings
The idea of creating this center of excellence around
all things Native American as it pertains to health and science
is something that were really excited about being able to
use these funds for, Termuhlen said as she sat alongside staff
and faculty members.
The center will serve as an umbrella for an already existing
emphasis on recruiting and training Native American medical students,
Termuhlen said. In any given year, Native Americans comprise about
10 percent of the universitys medical school class. That makes
Minnesotas medical school second only to the University of
Oklahoma in the number of Native American medical students.
Moreover, the six faculty members at the schools Duluth campus
who are Native American comprise about a quarter of all Native Americans
on medical school faculties in the entire country, Termuhlen said.
Only about 1 percent of the nations doctors are Native
American, she added.
Among the faculty members is Benjamin Clarke, an associate professor
and biomedical researcher who is enrolled in the Grand Portage Band
of Lake Superior Chippewa. The gift is particularly significant
in that it comes at a time when federal research dollars are shrinking,
Im kind of stammering about how to use it, because
Im looking at a bleak future and now Im hearing about,
theres actually a safety net, he said. Its
a wonderful idea.
Which isnt to say that Clarke doesnt have plenty
of ideas for how to use the money.
One of the projects Clarke already is heading is a study of
Lyme disease. He sends out student researchers, dressed in protective
gear, to use a cloth material to collect ticks during the appropriate
season and places. So far, theyve found that 10 to 15 percent
of deer ticks in northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin carry
the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, he said.
Money from the gift potentially could be used to expand the
number of students in the program or acquire more-sophisticated
equipment, Clarke said.
Melissa Walls, an associate professor in biobehavioral health
and population sciences, envisions, among other things, a collaborative
study on the health benefits of sweat lodges, which have spiritual
significance in Native American culture.
When you have pollutants in your food supply, for example
mercury in fish, how are you going to get rid of that? asked
Walls, whose tribal affiliation is with the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa
and Couchiching First Nation. You can sweat it out. So what
if we did some collaboration with tribal communities?
a culturally specific healing method.
Neil Henderson, a professor in the same department, was en route
to Washington on Wednesday in search of funding from federal sources.
Over the phone from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport,
he said the virtually unrestricted private gift could provide funding
for parts of a study that federal grants dont.
The kinds of research his team does requires being physically
present on site for days if not weeks, said Henderson, an enrolled
member of the Choctaw Nation who came to Duluth from Oklahoma a
year ago. Federal sources, such as the National Institutes of Health,
dont provide funding for that aspect of a study.
Part of my wish list is to have some capability for staying
on site, he said. And that might look like either a
(or) a significant RV of some kind.
Heather Heart, director of development for the medical school,
said the gift developed over the summer after the prospective donor
contacted the school. He spent a day with faculty and staff and
basically listened to us share our story, she said. I
think the more he learned the more he liked.
The process of determining how the money will be spent is just
beginning, Termuhlen said, and will involve faculty and staff, community
members and the donor, even though he has given the school free
rein in the moneys use. One goal for her, she said, is further
strengthening her faculty.
The idea that we could endow professorships that would
allow us to have leaders in programs that will continue in perpetuity
is really exciting, she said. And thats really
how you get it done. You bring in bright people, and you figure
out ways to keep them.
The previous largest gift to the Duluth campus of the medical
school was $1.6 million, anonymously awarded in October 2012.
The Duluth campus, established in 1972 with a focus on rural
and Native American communities, educates medical students for the
first two years of their degree programs at the University of Minnesota.