UAMS Reconnects with Graduates at 2024 Alumni Weekend

By Andrew Vogler

Hosted May 31-June 1, the weekend was an opportunity for alumni to reconnect with classmates, see the new construction and beautification projects on campus, and learn about recent institutional successes and UAMS’ direction towards the future.

The weekend’s festivities were kicked off at Dickey-Stephens Park in North Little Rock, to watch a baseball game between the Arkansas Travelers and the Amarillo Sod Poodles. Unfortunately, the game was rained out and rescheduled for the next afternoon. Though disappointing, guests were still able to dine and socialize at the ballpark.

King and Erck

John Erck, M.A., (right) poses with Steve King, M.D., who was due to throw out the first pitch of the game.Bryan Clifton

“Though the weather threw us a curveball, our alumni made the best of it, having a good time with each other while enjoying ballpark food,” said John Erck, vice chancellor for the Division of Institutional Advancement. “Everyone was in great spirits, and it was clear that alumni were excited about the weekend.”

Early Saturday morning, alumni began their day with a walk on the Outdoor Fitness Center walking track, located on the east side of campus. Later that morning, guests were able to see the new buildings and hear the latest updates throughout campus on a driving tour.

At noon, the annual College of Medicine Luncheon and Dean’s Distinguished Alumnus Award Ceremony was hosted in the UAMS Health The Orthopedic & Spine Hospital. Steven Webber, M.D., dean of the College of Medicine and UAMS executive vice chancellor, presided over the ceremony.

“The Dean’s Distinguished Alumnus Award was established in 1973 to recognize graduates who have demonstrated exceptional achievement and contributions to medicine,” said Webber. “Previous honorees have accomplished this through world-class patient care, groundbreaking research and exemplary health care administration or other forms of leadership. Some have their made in around Arkansas and others around the nations and the world.”

This year’s recipient of the award is Wesley Burks, M.D., a 1980 College of Medicine graduate who served in several leadership roles in the UAMS Department of Pediatrics from 1985 to 2003. He is internationally recognized for his research in food allergies. After UAMS, Burks worked at Duke University in Durham North Carolina, and the University of North Carolina (UNC) in Chapel Hill, where he currently serves as dean of the UNC School of Medicine and CEO of UNC Health.

Webber, Burks and Jacobs

Steven Webber, M.D., and Richard F. Jacobs, M.D., presented Wesley Burks, M.D., (center) with the award.Andrew Vogler

Richard F. Jacobs, M.D., UAMS professor emeritus, UAMS College of Medicine class of 1977, nominated Burks for the award and had the honor of expressing why his longtime friend was worthy of such acknowledgment.

“Dr. Burks’ accomplishments are beyond impressive and certainly warrants the Dean’s Distinguished Alumni Award,” said Jacobs “The most impressive part of all this success story is the person — Wesley is a very humble, soft-spoken and collegial person. Integrity, honesty, compassion and dedication are all hallmarks of who he continues to be as a person.”

Burks was on hand to receive the award and was able to address guests.

“I want to thank UAMS for allowing me to come back to Arkansas to see old friends and make some new friends,” said Burks. “The opportunities created by going to school here were things that I did not expect, and what I’m doing now is not even close to what I thought I would be doing, so UAMS opened doors beyond what I really could have imagined.”

The award, presented by Webber and Jacobs to Burks, is a handcrafted glass bowl created by Arkansas artist James Hayes.

During the luncheon, Webber also acknowledged the College of Medicine classes of 1977, 1979, 1980 and 1981, who hosted scholarship events that collectively raised over $500,000 for medical student scholarships.

“Scholarships are powerful tools in our continuing effort to attract the most promising medical students and future physicians to UAMS, and frankly, they are more important than ever as the competition for the best and brightest applicants has increased,” said Webber. “We are grateful to all of you for your help in increasing the number and size of the scholarships we can offer to prospective and current students.”

The remaining alumni attended a picnic at the Student Center, which included food from Wright’s Barbecue, a variety of games and a fun photobooth enjoyed by alumni and staff alike. Following both lunches, all alumni came together for an ice cream social at the Student Center.

Later in the day, guests enjoyed dinner at the William J. Clinton Presidential Library & Museum in downtown Little Rock to draw the weekend to a close. During the dinner, the establishment of the UAMS Alumni Association Scholarship Fund was announced to guests.

College of Medicine alumni

College of Medicine alumni enjoyed good company at the Alumni Weekend dinner.Andrew Vogler

“The education and training of future medical professionals to serve Arkansas has never been more critical, and speaking with all the deans at UAMS, scholarships remain the most critical need,” said Amanda May, executive director of alumni & annual giving for the Division of Institutional Advancement. “You all are hearing this first, tonight I am thrilled to announce that we are establishing the UAMS Alumni Association Scholarship Fund, which will support students in the five colleges and graduate school.”

Additional speakers included Jan Rooker, MNSc, clinical associate professor in the College of Nursing, and Maggie Woodruff, a fourth-year medical student from Wynne, Arkansas, who both spoke about the importance scholarships for UAMS students.

“Everyone who receives a scholarship is impacted in different ways — to fund research endeavors, to pay rent or simply to make a dent in their overall debt. For me, the generous donors who have funded UAMS scholarships have not only supported me and my career, but more importantly, they have indirectly supported the communities I’ve worked with,” said Woodruff. “I look forward to continuing to give back to my community in the years to come, and I cannot express just how grateful I am for the people behind the scholarships that have empowered me to do so.”