Editor's Note: This story accompanies the Science Journal feature article Better Health Care, One Student at a Time.
As Penn State’s Premedical-Medical (PMM) program welcomes its 59th cohort in the fall of 2022, those incoming students will benefit from the program’s first-ever dedicated scholarship—established by a student and an alumnus who teamed up during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic to rally the program’s alumni together in an unprecedented show of support for its current students.
The effort began in early 2020 with Avinash Saraiya—now a first-year medical student at the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University—who was, at the time, a second-year undergraduate in the PMM program and its president as well as a member of the Penn State Presidential Leadership Academy (PLA), a program established to develop undergraduate students’ critical-thinking skills and educate them to understand issues broadly.
It was at a PLA meeting, Saraiya said, that he pitched his idea for a creating a need-based scholarship for students in the PMM program to President Eric Barron.
“Students entering the program are facing loans from undergraduate as well as medical school education,” he explained, “and a vast majority of them are from out of state—so the financial burden is significant.”
Barron liked the idea, Saraiya said, and connected him with Rich Bundy, the University’s vice president for development and alumni relations, who in turn connected him with Brenda Lucas in Eberly’s development and alumni relations office.
Lucas knew an alumnus of the program, Dr. Mahesh Krishnan, whom she thought might be interested in helping to get the initiative off the ground, so she met with him to share the idea and connect him with Saraiya and Premedical-Medical program director Ron Markle.
Krishnan was so inspired by the prospect that he and his wife, Rachna, committed seed funding as a matching incentive, and he then began reaching out to solicit gifts from his fellow alumni—many of whom, he discovered, had benefitted from need-based scholarships during their time at Penn State.
“I was humbled by the number of people in my class who I didn’t know had received financial aid,” he said. “From a health equity perspective, there are a lot of people who ought to be able to go to these types of programs and have some offset of expense to do so.”
Also working with them was Saraiya’s friend Bryan Culler, then a third-year finance major in the Smeal College of Business and a student trustee on the University’s Board of Trustees.
“Penn State fundraising is something I’m passionate about,” Culler said. “Penn State’s a family tradition for me. I’m a second-generation Penn Stater, I think the seventh in my immediate family to attend, so it’s a place that means a lot to me. And this program, I think, has a lot of merit and brings us students who really have an opportunity to change lives and shape the world.”
In the span of roughly a year, the group managed to raise enough funds from the program’s alumni to match the Krishnans’ commitment and reach their goal of a total $50,000 endowment, the first award from which will be given this fall to an incoming first-year PMM student in need.
With that endowment, Saraiya explained, the scholarship will exist in perpetuity.
“That’s the wonderful thing,” he said. “The impact is there forever. And of course this is where I will give back to Penn State—to this scholarship.”
The PMM Alumni Scholarship can still benefit from your contribution. To make a positive difference in the life of a future physician, please contact Kim Neely (firstname.lastname@example.org or 814-863-1247) in the Office of Development and Alumni Relations.
Penn State’s Premedical-Medical program is a special accelerated program in cooperation with the Sidney Kimmel Medical College (SKMC) at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia whereby exceptional students have the opportunity to earn both the B.S. and M.D. degrees in seven years. The first three years of the program are completed at University Park and the next four at SKMC Jefferson.