For Your Health
For Your Health

News from the University of North Dakota School of Medicine & Health Sciences

From the Dean: Forever UND

Continuing the philanthropy theme from last week’s column, I’m currently at the winter meeting of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation (AAF) Board of Directors, along with the senior leadership teams from UND and the Foundation. We’ve been meeting since yesterday morning and the meeting is scheduled to finish late this afternoon. The major theme of the meeting is the recently announced fundraising campaign of the UNDAAF that has a goal (as you may know) of raising $500 million – as in half a billion, with a B! That’s a somewhat audacious goal, but one that should be achievable in view of the incredible loyalty, generosity, and support of the many alumni and friends of UND. In fact, when the UNDAAF announced the public phase of its Forever UND campaign last fall, it indicated that more than $368 million had already been committed to the campaign.

Such fundraising is important to the SMHS and promises to be even more important in the future. The School currently receives almost $2 million annually thanks to our generous donors, and we use these funds for a variety of purposes in accordance with the donors’ wishes. Our highest priority is for student scholarships, and thanks in significant part to the substantial increase in donor support that has occurred especially over the past decade, we’ve been able to increase our student scholarship support and consequently reduce our students’ debt load.

Our second major priority is to support endowed faculty positions that help us attract and retain the very best people. As I’ve discussed before, the supply chain for human capital – people – is one of the most pressing challenges we face, both at the staff and faculty level. Having endowed positions that we can offer faculty members gives us a competitive advantage as we vie with other organizations nationally for those individuals.

If you’d like to see more details about this topic (as well as see how the SMHS is doing across the spectrum of our activities), please review the slides I used during the annual “State of the School” address I gave this past Monday. An interesting sidelight to the meeting, but one that we’ve seen repeatedly since the start of the pandemic, is that a large fraction of the attendance at the meeting was virtual, utilizing an online audio/video link. We had over 100 people online during my presentation, which is more than the number of attendees physically present in the Charles H. Fee Auditorium in the SMHS building in Grand Forks!

Finally, kudos to Associate Professor of Biomedical Sciences Junguk Hur, Director of the SMHS Computational Data Analysis Core, and Professor and Associate Dean for National Security Ryan Adams from the College of Engineering & Mines, and their colleagues, for submitting a major grant application recently. The grant, titled “The Center for Advanced Artificial Intelligence Applications in Biomedical Sciences,” is poised to address many of the issues I’ve discussed in past columns related to the enormous possibilities for AI to positively impact health and healthcare delivery (mindful as well of the potential pitfalls). Preparing such a major grant application requires a concerted and coordinated effort, which is why congratulations are in order to the entire team. We won’t hear about the funding decisions regarding the grant for a while, but getting it submitted on time certainly was the first order of the day! Drs. Hur and Ryan were able to submit this grant application to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) only because of a change in NIH policy that became effective on January 1, 2024. The background is that this grant application is made through the NIH’s Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (CoBRE) program, and until this year a given organization such as UND could only have three operational CoBRE grants. It turns out that thanks to the outstanding efforts of other researchers at the SMHS, we already have three such grants. But with the recent change in policy, we now can hold four – so the recent submission of this potentially additional CoBRE grant is quite timely.

Again, time will tell if the grant gets funded, but as former UND President Charles Kupchella was fond of saying, “Your chance of getting a grant funded goes up immeasurably when you submit the grant!” Best wishes to Drs. Hur and Ryan and everyone else involved in the application.

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