From the Dean

It is with sadness that we note the passing of Dr. Richard Olafson, a neurosurgeon and former dean of the SMHS Southeast (Fargo) campus. I got to know Dick well over the years after he retired, and I always found him to be a gentle, kind, and thoughtful man. He died on July 27 at the age of 85. Not only did Dick earn his undergraduate degree at UND—he got his BS Med degree here as well in 1957. After his MD training and a neurosurgery residency out of state he returned to UND in 1965, serving the state and UND, first as a clinical instructor and then as campus dean, until he retired in 1998. You can read more about Dick’s life here, but note that UND awarded him an honorary doctorate in 2001. He will be missed.

On a happier note, it is with great pride and pleasure that the School announces the awarding of a $10 million federal grant to principle investigator Dr. Roxanne Vaughan and her colleagues. This five-year award is a renewal of an initial CoBRE grant from the National Institutes of Health to study epigenetics, the field of medical research that investigates how gene expression may be changed without a change in the gene itself. This grant is intended to achieve two major goals—first, to gain further knowledge about how epigenetic principles can help improve human health, but also to help train the next generation of medical researchers. Congratulations to Dr. Vaughan and her collaborators and colleagues.

This past Wednesday I attended a meeting in my role as interim president that may prove to have great relevance to the School. I, along with UND’s interim vice president for research John Mihelich, represented UND at the first-ever Research Committee meeting organized by the State Board of Higher Education (SBHE). Chaired by SBHE member (and former Altru Health System President) Dr. Casey Ryan, the committee has been formed to look at ways to further grow the research enterprise within North Dakota, and logically focuses on the two research universities (although the nine other non-research intensive institutions within the system also are represented). One of the ways in which the Committee may provide substantive help to our research efforts will be by further explaining the importance of research to the people of North Dakota. As you may know, there was some real interest during this past legislative session in further supporting research with state-sponsored funding, and a bill providing additional funding for research passed in the Senate (although it didn’t make it through the House). But just the fact that there was discussion and debate regarding research-related issues was important, and bodes well for the next session.

We have a special treat coming up next week as we welcome students from the freshman medical school class of 2023 to campus. A week from today on Friday, August 9, we will host a very special guest speaker at the White Coat ceremony that caps the students’ first week. We will welcome to campus the just-installed new president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), Dr. David Skorton. David will be giving the featured address at the ceremony. I have known David for decades during his stints as vice president for research and then president at the University of Iowa, president at Cornell University, and most recently as secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. As you might surmise, Dr. Skorton has wide-ranging experiences and interests in a wide spectrum of activities related to higher education. The White Coat ceremony promises to be a very special event; we already have received about 570 RSVPs from family and friends of the incoming medical students! And soon, we will be welcoming even more students to our other health sciences programs. The building is about to come alive after its summer snooze!

Joshua Wynne, MD, MBA, MPH
Interim President and Vice President for Health Affairs, UND
Dean, UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences