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PROFILES IN MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Endowed chairs devoted to helping foals, kids and future leaders


By Sarah Colwell

What is an endowed chair?

Endowed chairs and professorships are among the most prestigious honors a faculty member can receive.

These positions support faculty teaching, research and public service, helping to advance new knowledge for generations to come. They also help the university to attract and retain top faculty.

An endowed chair or professorship is created through the establishment of an endowment designated for this purpose. These endowment funds are invested, providing annual interest income in perpetuity to support the chair holder’s work.

Endowed chairs and professorships create a lasting and highly visible link between the donor and the university, associating the donor’s name with an area of UC Davis academic excellence into the future. Endowed chairs may be established with gifts of $1.5 million or more.

Donors who create an endowed chair or professorship ensure the pursuit of new knowledge in a major field of interest and create a lasting tie between the donor and the university.

To learn more about the impact of endowed chairs and professorships, please contact the Office of University Development at (530) 754-4438.

The foal’s brown, spindly legs wobble as it walks to greet UC Davis veterinarian Gary Magdesian.

The vet strokes the head of the young horse he saved from a potentially lethal infection common at birth.

“This is why I love my work,” said Magdesian, the first holder of the Roberta A. and Carla Henry Endowed Chair in Emergency Medicine and Critical Care. “This is who my endowed chair really helps.”

The work of Magdesian and many other holders of the more than 130 endowed chairs and professorships at UC Davis shows that holding one of these positions is both an honor for university faculty members and a philanthropic investment that benefits many.

In light of dwindling state support of the UC system, Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi has said that endowed chairs are vital if UC Davis is to continue to be a world-class educational institution.

“Endowed chairs and professorships are truly at the heart of academic achievement,” Katehi said at the 2011 Endowed Chairs and Professorships Dinner earlier this year. “They make possible significant advances in research, which translate into innovative approaches to some of the world’s most critical challenges.”

The endowed chair holders featured here demonstrate Katehi’s point: Magdesian is treating critically ill endurance horses and newborn foals, pediatrics professor Dennis Styne is improving the health of hundreds of Native American youth, and management professor Kim Elsbach is empowering future business leaders with valuable leadership training.

Care for the critically injured

Magdesian’s endowed chair – the Roberta A. and Carla Henry Endowed Chair in Emergency Medicine and Critical Care – was established just a year ago, but the new funding has already allowed him to advance his research and help many injured and ill horses.

“I can say that the many research projects made possible by the chair funding have influenced our treatment of very sick foals and equine athletes,” said Magdesian, chief of Neonatology and Critical Care at the William R. Pritchard Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital.

Support from the chair endowment has allowed Magdesian to attend the largest human critical-care medical conference to keep up with medical advances that he plans to use to treat his patients and share with residents and students.

Equine endurance races

Additionally, Magdesian has conducted research at one of the largest and most difficult 100-mile equine endurance races – one that occurs from Truckee to the Auburn area. Typically, 50 percent of the horses are disqualified due to lameness, exhaustion and metabolic diseases.

Magdesian, who developed the first veterinary school residency in the nation to emphasize large animal critical care, says he feels committed to using the Henry endowed chair to advance students, residents and the field of veterinary emergency and critical care medicine.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect and appreciation for far-thinking people like Roberta and Carla Henry,” Magdesian said about the sisters who established the endowed chair. “Their legacy will be to continue to improve the care of veterinary patients, and to advance the state of clinical practice for our beloved pets and animals.”

The Henry sisters were devoted animal lovers who gave to the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine because of its expertise in emergency and clinical care for all animals and its reputation as a leader in veterinary medicine and animal care.

A fitter future

Styne, chief of pediatric endocrinology at UC Davis Children's Hospital, has been studying the affects of healthy eating and exercise habits among young people for more than 20 years.

And for much of that time, the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation — a Native American tribe in Yolo County — has been supporting Styne’s work, including the creation of the Yocha Dehe Endowed Chair in Pediatric Endocrinology that Styne now holds.

Tribal leaders became interested in Styne’s work because of the prevalence of diabetes and obesity in Native American youth, said Marshall McKay, Tribal Chairman of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation. The death rate from diabetes in this group is three times greater than the general U.S. population, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“When the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation created the endowed chair in pediatric endocrinology at UC Davis,” McKay said, “we saw it as an important step toward preventing diabetes in the group that holds our future: our youth.”

Healthy lifestyle habits

With the help of the endowed chair funding, Styne expanded his Fit-Kid, Fit-Teen Program — a program that teaches young people healthy lifestyle habits for eating and exercise — and introduced it to Native Americans living on the Round Valley Indian Reservation northern Mendocino County, Calif. According to Styne, “They ran with it!”

“Not only has the community used it as it was introduced, but they have expanded upon it and modified it to meet the needs of their own culture,” Styne said. “The children have inspired the whole community to start moving in creative and innovative ways.”

Members of the Round Valley Indian Reservation community trained as lifeguards so the school’s pool could remain open in the summer. They also started a bike rodeo that provides the community with an unconventional way to exercise. And, they convinced the local food market to offer more healthful choices and created a family potluck program to help build healthy eating habits for entire families.

The Yocha Dehe endowed chair has allowed Styne to educate the community about Type 2 diabetes and teach community members how to conduct their own relevant health-related research. To expand the program’s outreach and ensure its longevity, Stein is also using the endowed chair funds for on-the-job training for postdoctoral researchers and new faculty members.

The endowed chair also helped Styne and others leverage more than $1.5 million in additional funding to support his health programs.

“Without the support of the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, we absolutely would not be able to do the things we have done,” Styne said. “Their foresight and generosity is paying off.”

Integrity in leadership

In another corner of the campus — at the Graduate School of Management — an endowed chair holder is building future leaders by teaching them about integrity in leadership using real life experiences.

Professor Kimberly Elsbach, who holds the Stephen G. Newberry Endowed Chair in Leadership, is using funding from her endowed chair to research and write case studies that focus on real life issues of diversity, integrity, and values-based leadership.

This teaching philosophy, which focuses on value-based leadership and real-world experiences, is what motivated Lam Research CEO Steve Newberry to give to UC Davis.

“I’m pleased to support the Graduate School of Management because I think the school is trying to do things with leadership curriculum that goes beyond the traditional thinking in management schools,” said Newberry, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and Harvard Business School. “UC Davis is focusing on value-based leadership and in my opinion strong and ethical values are critical to the success of any company.”

Elsbach’s case studies, which she has integrated into her curriculum, are very different from traditional case studies that are frequently used in business school classrooms, but they are desperately needed to adequately teach MBA students, according to Elsbach.

About doing the right thing

“A lot of leadership studied in case studies focus on turning a company around and making money, but lot of times that is not inspirational nor does it teach you about leadership in terms of doing the right thing,” said Elsbach, whose expertise is on perception leadership—specifically legitimacy, trustworthiness and creativity. “But managers at all levels of any corporation are more likely to encounter challenges centered around doing the right thing than solely turning a company around. And their responses to those challenges often have a very large impact on the success of their future careers.”

Because these case studies originate from real-life situations and do not have clear right answers, they initiate lively classroom discussions and “really resonate with the students,” Elsbach said.

Teaching integrity

In addition to enhancing the students’ educational experience, Elsbach thinks her case studies will help the GSM produce leaders who will demonstrate integrity in leadership in their future careers.

“The students who go through the Graduate School of Management not only represent the school, but they also touch the community and the state through all the jobs they get,” said Elsbach, who is the co-author of Organizational Behavior in Action, which is scheduled to be published in 2012 and will feature Elsbach’s case studies. “Hopefully through the Newberry chair we are producing better leaders who will have a positive impact on society.”

Elsbach thinks the GSM’s commitment to providing students with practical leadership skills training is part of the reason the graduate school recently rose in the rankings of U.S. business schools by U.S. News & World Report in 2011—up to 28th.

“The benefits of an endowed chair expand so much further than that the individual chair holder,” Elsbach said. “The philanthropic support of endowed chairs really does help society in general.”

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