Medical Scholarships Encourage Rural Students to Pursue Medical School

TULSA – Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences (OSU- CHS) today announced $2.8 million in combined gifts for medical school scholarships to benefit rural Oklahoma high school students participating in FFA and 4-H. OSU-CHS was the beneficiary of two significant gifts, $1 million from the Joseph E. Robert, Jr. Charitable Trust, and $1.8 million from the Estate of Audrey M. Hendershot.

“OSU-CHS is committed to combating the growing physician shortage in rural Oklahoma by creating and growing a strong pipeline of new doctors eager to bring their skills back to their hometowns upon completion of their medical education,” said Kayse Shrum, D.O., OSU-CHS president, OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine dean.  “Our Blue Coat to White Coat program, in cooperation with FFA chapters all over the state, encourages some of Oklahoma’s brightest rural students to pursue a career in medicine.  The success of the Blue Coat to White Coat program has inspired us to forge a new partnership with the state’s 4-H programs.”

Neither Mr. Robert, a financier and philanthropist from Washington D.C., nor Mrs. Hendershot, a widow in Shawnee, Oklahoma, were OSU alumni. However, OSU alumni played a critical role in making these gifts to OSU-CHS possible.

The $1 million gift from the Robert Trust was initiated by a fortuitous a connection that OSU alumnus Ross McKnight made with David Fensterheim, the trustee of the Robert Trust and the executor of the Robert Estate. According to David, “Joe was a self-made man who grew up with very limited means.  Once he amassed some wealth, however, he began immediately to devote his time and resources to helping those, particularly children, less fortunate than him.”  The Trust’s gift will be used to endow a medical scholarship for FFA students who are interested in attending medical school at OSU Center for Health Sciences and who have a desire to provide care to underserved children in rural Oklahoma. 

Likewise, OSU alumnus Rick Hesser worked closely with Mrs. Hendershot to set up four scholarship funds to support future rural physicians. Proceeds from her estate will be used to set up a $1 million scholarship endowment for 4-H students who are interested in studying medicine at OSU and who are interested in practicing medicine in rural Oklahoma; $30,000 to establish an endowed scholarship fund for the 3+1 Program at OSU-CHS; and $770,000 in cash scholarships for 4-H and FFA students interested in attending Oklahoma State University to study medicine.

“We are grateful to Audrey and to Joe for their vision of a better and healthier tomorrow for the medically underserved. We are deeply indebted to David, Ross, and Rick for facilitating these extraordinary gifts. Because of these two historic gifts, FFA and 4-H students in Oklahoma can pursue their dream of becoming a doctor and making a difference in their community,” continued Dr. Shrum.

OSU Center for Health Sciences will begin awarding scholarships in the spring of 2019.

Joseph E. Robert Jr. died at age 59 from brain cancer.  He amassed his fortune in the real estate business focusing on distressed assets. His philanthropic passions centered on promoting children’s health and education.

Audrey M. Hendershot was an executive secretary for Shell Oil Company in Tulsa and later joined her husband John as a working partner in their business located in Stillwater and eventually Shawnee. Growing up with limited means on a farm near Keystone Lake, Mrs. Hendershot had no access to health care services. Improving access to healthcare for rural Oklahomans was a lifelong passion of hers.

FFA is an intracurricular student organization for those interested in agriculture and leadership. The mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.

4-H is America’s largest youth development organization – empowering nearly six million young people across the U.S. with the skills to lead for a lifetime.