By Wendy Sarubbi | May 13, 2013 12:35 pm

In a gift designed to thank the community for its generosity, the UCF College of Medicine’s charter class announced Monday that students have established a $300,000 endowment that will fund student scholarships into perpetuity.

Thanks to more than $6.5 million community donations, Orlando’s charter class of medical students received full four-year scholarships, making UCF the first medical school in U.S. history to offer full scholarships for an entire class. The students said they wanted to thank their scholarship donors — business leaders, healthcare institutions and philanthropic individuals and organizations — by establishing a scholarship of their own. “You took a burden of risk from us and put it on yourselves,” an emotional charter class president Will Kang said in announcing the gift at a dinner where students gathered with donors to say thank you.

Upon hearing the announcement, donors leapt to their feet and cheered. “I’m very proud of them,” said Michael Minton, shareholder and former president of Dean Mead, who co-chaired the community scholarship drive. Scholarship donor Alan Ginsburg called the gift “proof that this class appreciates the opportunity provided to them. It’s further evidence that this is an amazing group of young men and women.” Andrea Eliscu, who donated a scholarship in honor of her late husband, a physician, said. “My first reaction was, ‘Oh my God, wow, awesome. Then I thought about how the scholarship in memory of my husband is a gift that keeps on going. Now I’m content.”

Endowments provide financial support indefinitely because the donation is invested, and the returns used to fund scholarships. The students’ gift involves donations for the next 10 years that will provide a $50,000 scholarship over four years to a deserving student. Following the student announcement, Ginsburg publicly asked scholarship donors to re-up their gifts for another year, and several raised their hands and said they would do so.

Medical school debt is a growing concern as the average student leaves medical school $170,000 in debt. Critics say such high debt can influence students into entering highly lucrative specialties – rather than primary care, where there is a national shortage of physicians. In thanking donors, UCF President John C. Hitt said that through their “courage, boldness, and desire to advance the greater good, your community has a medical college” and a bustling Medical City. “Because of your giving, life in Central Florida is better and our future is brighter than ever before.”

The students’ decision to establish the scholarship came immediately following their last medical school class, explained Dr. Deborah German, vice president for medical affairs and founding dean of the College of Medicine, who initiated the scholarship drive in gratitude for her own full scholarship to Harvard Medical School.

Thirty-six students from the charter class will graduate Friday at the Venue on the main UCF campus. From there, they will begin residency training programs at top hospitals across the country. Rasesh Thakkar, senior managing director of the Tavistock Group and another co-founder of the scholarship drive, told students they had taken a risk enrolling in a brand-new medical school in 2009 that had not yet received full accreditation. “You put your faith in us,” he said. “Now we’re putting our faith in you…to make the world a better place.”

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