Inspired by one alum’s educational journey, classmates band together to support students of today and tomorrow
Bradley Poff DVM’87 couldn’t be more excited. After approaching UW School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM) administration in early January about creating a class gift, now, just a few short months later, the effort is a success, having established the SVM Charter Class of 1987 Scholarship Fund.
Nearly 34 years had passed since Poff and his peers’ graduation when he emailed his fellow alumni this winter with an idea for a class scholarship. For many, it had been decades since they had heard from their classmate. To Brad’s surprise and delight, an avalanche of messages, curiosity and banter followed, with several “I’m in!” responses.
Poff took the lead in spearheading the effort and worked with the school’s Office for Advancement on process details. Sped along by the enthusiastic response, he shared with peers information on the scholarship, fundraising goals and a donation link within a few weeks.
Yet, even though the scholarship fundraising came together quickly, the impetus was years in the making. Since retiring, Poff has had time to proverbially count his blessings. His recollections on his unusual and immensely satisfying career — beginning with his earliest years as a biology grad at UW-Eau Claire, through to the founding days of his medical device company — gave him insight into some of the persistent obstacles to education. His experiences also fueled his desire to rally his classmates to help SVM applicants and students — now and for years to come.
Tenacity and the Support of Caring People
Poff attributes his acceptance to and graduation from the UW School of Veterinary Medicine to a string of small yet significant chance moments and the help of caring people along the way. Such as the casual conversation that led to his first post-college job at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. After a neighborhood friend was accepted into medical school, he offered Poff his old job at the hospital. Soon, Poff was hired as an orderly and operating room technician, scrubbing in to assist in soft tissue and orthopedic surgery. His outlook was forever changed.
Fast forward a few years and one child later, Poff applied to serve as a project supervisor with the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center in Madison. He had no related experience when applying, but with a can-do attitude and eagerness to learn, he got the job and was on his way to learning about pathology and experimental surgery.
Two years into that position and now with a second child on the way, Poff was asked a life-changing question by Hideo Uno, then a senior scientist and division head at the Primate Research Center. “What did you want to do when you started school?” Uno asked Poff. “You can’t keep doing this forever.”
Poff recalls answering that he always wanted to be a veterinarian. To that, Uno suggested that he contact Sue Hyland, as he had heard that she and others were working to establish a veterinary school in Wisconsin.
When Bradley Poff reached out to Class of 1987 peers in January, he hoped to inspire a collective effort toward a student scholarship campaign.
“We made an impact as a group when we entered the new School of Veterinary Medicine in 1983 and we could come full circle if we could, again, make an impact as a class, for many years to come,” he wrote in his email to classmates.
Immediately, responses poured in. On their first day of fundraising, alumni contributed $11,000. Within days, the class reached and then exceeded the goal amount needed to endow the scholarship fund. So far, they’ve raised more than $38,000 and the class is hopeful their effort might inspire other groups of alumni to establish their own class scholarship funds.
Below are just some of the responses Class of ’87 alumni shared.
- I’m in!
- Great idea!
- Let’s do it!
- A terrific success which will continue to build.
- I will say, my first initial thought was “no.” This changed pretty quickly to “yes” when I started seeing names and memories and good thoughts from the people in our class. I had forgotten how close we all were.
- This is just fabulous. Count me in and let’s RUN with it.
- If other classes make similar scholarships available, then we can attain our goal of reducing student debt.
- Grateful for this effort at bringing our class together for a very worthy project.
- The real unexpected joy of this scholarship effort has been reconnecting with so many classmates that I simply haven’t stayed in touch with over the years!
- I really like the initiative for this scholarship idea and am behind everyone’s efforts 100%.
Poff’s tenacity with coursework led to his acceptance into the newly established UW School of Veterinary Medicine. While hugely gratifying, hurdles still existed.
At age 28 and with a young family, Poff needed to work during his four years as a veterinary medical student to earn an income and qualify for health insurance. So, he wrote to all the SVM department chairs, asking if he could work in their labs concurrent with attendance. In response, endocrinologist Mark Brownfield offered him a research position.
Another chance moment came during Poff’s third year as a DVM student. While attending a Student American Veterinary Medical Association convention in Minnesota, he signed up for an off-site tour of 3M’s surgical research facility. His assigned tour guide was a 3M researcher studying cruciate injuries. Seeing that the researcher had a lecture at the conference the following day, Poff attended and struck up a conversation afterward. This led to an externship during his senior year and then a full-time position with 3M conducting surgical research and physician training. This memory figures largely into why Poff is now so passionate about funding student support and educational travel.
As a DVM student, Poff often thought, “How in the world am I ever going to pay for this?” He took solace in UW School of Veterinary Medicine founding Dean Barney Easterday’s reassuring words, “You’re going to get through the program, both financially and academically, I’m sure.”
“Dean Easterday, Sue Hyland and the core founders group really had the forethought to think of the students,” Poff recalls. Through scholarships and employment, Poff graduated with $32,000 in debt. “A good return on investment I think!”
To date, 32 alumni have donated a combined $38,400 to endow the School of Veterinary Medicine Charter Class of 1987 Scholarship Fund, which will provide student support in perpetuity. Poff sees the effort as an opportunity to recognize striving students and the school’s legacy of caring.
Donations to the scholarship fund can be made at supportuw.org/giveto/SVM87.