College of Medicine Class of 1980 Rallies around Scholarship

By Andrew Vogler

“Looking into scholarship participation among classes, I saw that most College of Medicine classes had scholarships,” said Granger, president and CEO of The 5Ps, LLC, a health care and technology consulting company, and a board-certified hematologist and oncologist. “Sure, there were many members of our class who had given individual gifts, but the class of 1980 did not have a formal, bespoke scholarship. I saw this as an opportunity to not only connect with my classmates but also to start a conversation about giving back to UAMS.”

Granger, a distinguished UAMS alumnus and member of the Board of Advisors, and his wife Brenda, an accomplished educator and educational leader, are no strangers to philanthropic endeavors. In 2018, they established a scholarship in the College of Medicine to honor the life and legacy of Edith Irby Jones, M.D, the first African American student at UAMS and the first to graduate from an all-white medical school in the South. The Grangers have also made donations to fund scholarships for students at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, the University of Central Arkansas at Conway and Philander Smith College in Little Rock as well as many other educational and civic institutions across the country.

For Elder Granger, developing a scholarship for the class of 1980 was a “no-brainer” and a way to involve his classmates in philanthropic activities that benefit UAMS students. He soon contacted Jim Sheppard, M.D., for help reaching out to their classmates.

“Looking at the high cost of medical school, I saw this as another opportunity to give back to UAMS in a very meaningful way, and, in my initial conversations with Jim, we felt that this was the right thing to do,” said Granger. “Also, we love our alma mater, and I know that classmates also take pride in UAMS and would want to support this effort.”

Sheppard, a retired physician and one of the founders of South Arkansas Medical Associates in El Dorado, is considered by many as the unofficial leader of their class. He tries to stay informed about the whereabouts and activities of his classmates, and he understood the potential for donations from them. He and Granger agreed on $1,980 as the entry-level donation for the scholarship.

“We thought setting a threshold donation of $1,980 was not only a nice symbolic gesture but also a good bar of entry for our classmates to become involved,” said Sheppard. He added that a gift at this level “allows them to join the conversation and creates a starting point for many to further evaluate their potential for additional donations to the fund.”

A virtual assembly was organized in August, with the late Susan S. Smyth, M.D., Ph.D., then-executive vice chancellor of UAMS and dean of the College of Medicine, additional members of the class of 1980, and gift officers with the Division of Institutional Advancement in attendance. In the meeting, Smyth provided an overview of Vision 2029, the strategic plan formulated by UAMS to make Arkansas the healthiest state in the region, and she also talked about the goals of the college, including making it tuition-free.

Steven Collier, M.D., CEO of ARcare, attended the meeting, and the information that he received convinced him of the need for more action. “It was time for our class to support UAMS and help keep medical talent in the state,” he said.

Soon after the meeting, the Class of 1980 Endowed Scholarship Fund was officially established, and Granger and Sheppard started contacting their classmates.

Susan Runge, M.D., a retired physician living in Michigan, was one of the first to hear from them about contributing to the fund.

“When Elder and Jim got the ball rolling, it was easy to become involved,” she said. “Over the years, I’ve wanted to do something for UAMS, and, when this came up, I felt like it was the perfect opportunity to contribute to the university.”

Growing up in Little Rock, Runge always appreciated the education that she received in Arkansas. She graduated from UAMS and then worked at Johns Hopkins University, New England Medical Center in Boston, and the University of North Carolina. For her, it only made sense to give back to an institution that had provided so much.

“I was thrilled when I was accepted to the 1980 class and have always felt that I received an excellent medical education. I served as a faculty member at several different institutions over the years and knew that my training [at UAMS] prepared me well,” Runge observed. “It is a privilege to now join my classmates and contribute to the future of UAMS and help financially support young medical students through the Class of 1980 Scholarship.”

In the months following the meeting, Granger, Collier and Runge as well as Alice Landrum, M.D., and John Brizzolara, M.D., pledged to contribute $25,000 gifts over the next five years, putting the scholarship fund on pace to exceed $125,000 by 2027. While so much progress in so short a time is encouraging, Granger believes that the class of 1980 is capable of much more.

“Our goal is to grow this endowment to $1.5 million and award a full scholarship annually,” said Granger. “Once that happens, it is done for life, and we can look back on it with a sense of pride, creating the momentum so that other classes can look at us to see what is possible.”