Donor Impact: Jeffrey ’85 and Debra Medin
From his experiences as a UW-Parkside student and now a UW-Parkside Foundation Board member, Dr. Jeffrey Medin ’85 has seen first-hand the opportunities that open up for students with the support of donors and alumni. He and his wife, Debra Medin, are proud supporters of the Future Focus Fund.
JEFF’S STUDENT EXPERIENCE
What brought you to UW-Parkside as a student?
I only applied to two schools: Boston University and UW-Parkside. I needed to leave a much-less-than-optimal home situation in Minnesota and go away to university. I was accepted into BU for Biomedical Engineering but was unable to organize the finances necessary to attend there.
UW-Parkside offered a lot of opportunities for me. I was able to take advantage of tuition reciprocity between MN and WI and pay 'in-state' fees. I was also able to play varsity soccer and study in the pre-med program.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time as a student at UW-Parkside?
I have a lot of good memories from UW-Parkside. A number of them have to do with soccer and our first-ever National Tournament team. (Former Men’s Soccer Coach) Rick Kilps ’75 was in his first year of coaching at UW-Parkside in 1984 and assembled a rag-tag team with returning players, junior college transfers, and new recruits. I had already accepted a paid assistant soccer coach position at one of the local high schools, even though I still had a year of eligibility left. Rick talked me into coming back to play for UW-Parkside. Our team came together and started winning and then kept on winning; finishing with a 14-3-3 regular season record and a first-ever trip to the NAIA National Tournament in California. This team was one of three teams in any sport inducted into the UW-Parkside Hall-of-Fame in 2010, when teams were first made eligible. Some of us finished with individual post-season honors that year as well.
This whole soccer experience was really important for my development as a person. I was fairly bookish and really lacked confidence. Indeed, I had previously sat on the bench at UW-Parkside for four years (including a red-shirt year). So to have one terrific year, and even add some post-season individual awards, really helped change my perspective. Going forward, this was something I could always keep inside: I had encountered and overcome difficult situations. Tenacity counts for a lot. This is something I emphasize to my own students.
What do you value most about a UW-Parkside education?
I really value the opportunities I had at UW-Parkside. Like many UW-Parkside students past and present, I was the first person in my family to attend college. I had absolutely no money at all when I was a college student. In fact, if it wasn't for the comprehensive and sustained kindness of a very gracious family in Kenosha, I would not have been able to attend college at all. Instead, I was able to use that time at UW-Parkside as a launching pad. When I found out (back then) that I did not have to pay for credits over a certain number, I maximized my docket every semester. I was close to finishing a double major and a minor when I graduated with my Bachelor of Sciences in Biological Sciences. Even though I had decided by then that clinical medicine was not for me, this course load gave me a very broad background in a number of topics in science that have served me well throughout my career.
From UW-Parkside, I first went to work at Abbott Labs to pay off some debts (when I also met my wife Debra), then to the University of Kentucky for my PhD, and then on to the National Institutes of Health in Maryland for post-doctoral training. After that, I joined the faculty at the University of Illinois-Chicago and then later at the University of Toronto. At UofT I was involved in forming a (now) Nasdaq-traded Biotech company based in Boston. Finally, this launching pad led me back to the Medical College of Wisconsin, where I now serve as the Inaugural MACC Fund Endowed Chair of Pediatrics and Biochemistry. You could say that my journey has come full circle.
How have you been involved with UW-Parkside post-graduation?
I have been/continue to be involved with UW-Parkside in a number of ways beyond providing financial support. In 2011, I won the UW-Parkside Distinguished Alumni Award for Achievement and in 2014, I was honored to be asked to give the Fall Commencement Address. Since 2011, I have also hosted two UW-Parkside students each summer in my lab at the University of Toronto (and now at MCW) to give them a taste of translational biomedical research done at the highest level. Recently, I joined the UW-Parkside Foundation Board and also serve on the UW-Parkside College of Natural and Health Sciences Advisory Board.
As a Foundation Board member, you now see UW-Parkside now through a different lens. What have you learned, or what has surprised you most during your time as a Foundation Board member?
I have been very impressed with the commitment of all the Foundation Board members to UW-Parkside. From lawyers, and bankers, and corporate leaders, to the occasional scientist, this is a group that understands the value of an education at UW-Parkside and the niche the institution has in the community.
What motivates you to give back to UW-Parkside?
The leadership at UW-Parkside, especially Debbie Ford, have a real heart-felt vision for what UW-Parkside can be. At a time when post-high school education is changing rapidly and evolving down unforeseen pathways, it is reassuring that these leaders are fully committed to the cause and have the best interests of the UW-Parkside students and the local community at heart. This pace of evolution is also accelerated by this current global pandemic, which is leading to unique operational challenges and uncovering new financial needs on a daily basis.
Why do you and Debra support the Future Focus Fund?
I know what it is like to have no cash and have bill collectors calling all the time. I have lived that life. I also know what it is like to try and make your way forward and get a college degree when your home environment (either willfully or not) is conspiring to hold you down.
As a Foundation Board member, I can now also see behind the curtain. Universities need big corporate and estate gifts, but they also need flexibility and the ability to plug small holes that come up unexpectedly if they are to be truly effective. Deb and I support the Future Focus Fund because it has the elasticity to meet the needs of individual students on a one-on-one basis.
Why do you think it’s important for alumni to give back to their alma mater?
No matter how successful people have become, and Parkside has had some very successful alumni, we all started somewhere. We all started at UW-Parkside; we have that in common. We are all proof that starting at UW-Parkside can open doors well beyond our imagination. We need to give that same opportunity to the next generation. There are plenty of students that struggle with finances like I/we did. UW-Parkside certainly does not have a large endowment, but it does have a number of graduates that are in a position to be able to help the students and the institution in some manner.