University Welcomes First Edwards Scholar

Cyrus C. Taylor, PhD, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; Pamela B. Davis, MD, PhD, Dean of the School of Medicine; Brian A. McDonald, Executive Director of the Joan C. Edwards Charitable Foundation; Nichelle Ruffin, 2012 Edwards Scholar; Thomas M. McDonald, Distribution Director, Joan C. Edwards Charitable Foundation; and Robert L. Haynie, MD, PhD, Associate Dean for Student Affairs and Dean, Frederick Robbins Society, School of Medicine

Nichelle Ruffin, a senior at the Cleveland School of Science and Medicine (CSSM), is Case Western Reserve University’s first recipient of a scholarship through the Joan C. Edwards Charitable Foundation’s Health Professions Pipeline Program. The award covers tuition, room, board and other expenses of attendance during the course of her undergraduate career, as well as four years of tuition at the School of Medicine.

“The harder I worked at my studies,” Ruffin explained at Wednesday evening’s award ceremony at the School of Medicine, “the luckier I got with my opportunities.”

Thomas M. McDonald, distribution director for the foundation, presented Ruffin with a crystal trophy to commemorate the occasion. First, however, he told the audience about the woman whose vision made the program possible. A longtime resident of West Virginia, Joan C. Edwards devoted the last decades of her life to avid philanthropy. She became the single largest donor to Marshall University, where her generosity enabled the creation of the university’s Joan C. Edwards Performing Arts Center, its Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine, and the Edwards Comprehensive Cancer Center, among other initiatives. Her increasing interest in health care ultimately led her to encourage the development of a program that helped address the dearth of doctors in many urban areas.

After conducting extensive research, foundation executive director Brian A. McDonald concluded that a truly successful medical education model had to start before college. In the Cleveland School of Science and Medicine, he found a place that emphasized academic excellence and already had robust partnerships with Case Western Reserve. Robert Haynie, MD, PhD, dean of one of the medical school’s student societies, served on CSSM’s board and supported tutoring and advising initiatives by Case Western Reserve students.

“When a chance came to deepen and broaden what they had begun,” School of Medicine Dean Pamela B. Davis, MD, PhD, told the audience Wednesday, “Bob, [Associate Dean for Admissions] Lina Mehta and so many others said, ‘Yes, bring it on… this is exactly what we want to do.’”

Under Brian McDonald’s leadership, the collaboration between the university and the school has grown to include summer laboratory opportunities for students at the medical school and University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute, an ACT testing preparation course provided on the medical school campus, and faculty talks about such subjects as blood pressure and interventional cardiology; CSSM students also have the opportunity to learn about patient interviews and have sections of their own high school courses that include content designed to support their future success in undergraduate courses key to medical school success.

As the program evolved, Brian McDonald also worked closely with leaders of the College of Arts and Sciences to explore ways to provide additional support to incoming college students. In 2011, with support from the Office of the President, Associate Dean Stephen Haynesworth, PhD, worked with Arthur Evenchik, assistant to the dean for special projects, to launch the Emerging Scholars program. The initiative provides a dozen accepted students from Greater Cleveland a summer opportunity to take college courses, receive mentoring and advice about college activities like choosing a major and time management. Then, once the students begin their first year on campus, the mentoring and support continues.

“This is the program I wish I would have had when I was in college,” said Haynesworth, who graduated from Shaw High School and Allegheny College before earning his doctorate here. Then he turned to Ruffin, who will participate in this summer’s Emerging Scholars program, to remind her that the work soon would begin. “I look forward to our first meeting next Wednesday.”