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Honors Day

Scholarship takes many forms

For students in the medical school, Honors Day is a chance to celebrate scholarship — both in terms of academic accomplishments, as well as in the form of financial assistance.

Nicole Kielar’s parents (pictured far left) were on hand for Honors Day to meet first-year student Kevin Lee (third from left) who is the recipient of the scholarship that celebrates their daughter’s memory. Also pictured are some of Nicole’s friends and faculty: Biochemistry Professor Dr. Bob Diegelmann, second-year student Natalie Ayres, Dr. Penny Reynolds, a faculty member in Emergency Medicine, and Dr. Wayne Barbee, associate director of research in the Emergency Medicine Department.

The annual event, held in early May, traditionally recognizes those students whose outstanding performance has marked them with the distinction of having earned the highest grade in a course or clerkship or as the top student in their class. The day also serves as the chance to celebrate the dozens of privately endowed scholarships that have been established to benefit our students.

This year’s ceremony was particularly special as a unique, one-time scholarship was presented in honor of Nicole Kielar, a young woman who was to have been a member of the class of 2009. Kielar worked diligently toward her dream of becoming a physician, earning a master’s degree in physiology from the School of Medicine in 2004 and gaining exposure to the medical field through her service as a flight paramedic. Tragically, she perished in a helicopter crash over the Potomac River returning from a medevac hospital transfer on Jan. 11, 2005.

To honor her memory, the Nicole Kielar Scholarship was established through funds raised by her peers as well as by faculty in the Physiology Department. This past May, at Honors Day, first-year student Kevin Lee learned that he had been selected as the recipient of the scholarship. The medical school’s scholarship committee chose Lee for the honor, noting that his own service and perspectives emulate the character and values that Kielar possessed.

Today, the School of Medicine has about 56 named scholarships. With rising tuitions and average debt approaching $100,000, establishing additional privately endowed scholarships is a priority need in the medical school.

More than 80 percent of the class of 2006 graduated with more than $100,000 in debt, raising concerns that some students’ specialty choice could be influenced, not by affinity, but instead by the need to pay off their loans. Scholarship recipients have expressed that alleviating this burden of debt — even in part — gives them a sense of freedom to choose the practice area that they feel most drawn to.

For more information about establishing a scholarship, contact Associate Dean for Development Tom Holland at tehollan@vcu.edu, (804) 828-3800, or toll-free at 800-332-8813.