Elizabeth Seaquist, M.D., fell in love with the lab almost 40 years ago. She got her first taste of research working for four summers in the University of Minnesota laboratory of William Krivit, M.D., then head of the Department of Pediatrics, on a paid fellowship from the American Heart Association.
“I couldn’t have done this if I hadn’t gotten paid, because my parents had no money,” says the Minneapolis native, now a thriving member of the University faculty. “I had to earn money.”
Those paid fellowships are so rare now, Seaquist says, which is why she feels privileged to return the favor to students today using philanthropic funding from the Pennock Family Land Grant Chair in Diabetes Research, which she has held since 2002. “People need to know their work is valuable,” she says.
The late George and Jevne Pennock created the chair in memory of their daughter, Molly Pennock Eininger Lindeman, who died from complications of diabetes in 1984.
An endowed chair, the pinnacle of faculty achievement, generates flexible annual income that the chair holder can use at his or her discretion. Chair holders often use the funding to explore new ideas, gather preliminary data that may one day attract greater support from the National Institutes of Health, respond quickly to unforeseen research opportunities, or train students and fellows.
Seaquist has used the money from the Pennock Chair for many of these purposes, from paying students who work in her lab to growing a program to a point that she could attract major federal grants.
“It has allowed me to do so many different things,” she says.
But she fears that, without more flexible funding through philanthropy, the future of academic medicine is in jeopardy. Many funding agencies direct their money to one specific project, which can leave investigators scrambling to fill in the gaps between grants and doesn’t allow scientists the freedom to pursue exciting new research tacks.
That’s what makes her endowed chair such an asset, Seaquist says — it provides a steady funding stream that isn’t linked to just one project.
“It’s there to let someone be creative and do the work of a faculty member, which is to discover new knowledge, teach students, and not have to worry every minute about how you’re going to fund your salary and fund your lab,” she says. “It’s been an enormous, enormous blessing to have the endowed funds I’ve had.”
By Nicole Endres