DETROIT — Wayne State University has received a $5 million gift from Mort and Brigitte Harris to create scholarships for the School of Medicine and provide resources and ongoing support for the university’s community outreach adult literacy program.
With each initiative receiving $2.5 million, the gift will create the Mort and Brigitte Harris Endowed Scholarship Fund (Harris Scholars) in the School of Medicine and the Mort and Brigitte Harris Office for Adult Literacy Endowment Fund in the Irvin D. Reid Honors College.
“The friendship and support Mort and Brigitte Harris have provided to Wayne State University is reflective of their commitment to scholarship, research and community,” Wayne State University President Allan Gilmour said. “This is simply the latest in a wonderful history of giving, and it is difficult to find an area or issue that concerns them that remains unaided by their generosity.”
The Mort and Brigitte Harris Endowed Scholarship Fund in the School of Medicine will create the Harris Scholars program and address the high costs of tuition and related expenses that make it difficult for talented students to attend medical school by providing them with full scholarships. The scholarships also will have an important impact on the health care industry in Michigan, as Wayne State is a leading contributor to the physician workforce in the state. Forty percent of practicing physicians in Michigan have completed all or part of their training at Wayne State. In 2012, 60 percent of Wayne State medical students matched into residencies in Michigan, and historical trends show that WSU medical graduates who complete a residency in Michigan are more likely to remain in the state.
“Economic realities often propel students to set aside their dreams of attending medical school,” said Valerie M. Parisi, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine. “That’s why the Mort and Brigitte Harris Endowed Scholarship Fund is so important; it provides scholarships so that the best and brightest students, and students with financial need, won’t have to worry about costs. The long-term impact is not just more doctors with less debt but literally thousands of patients receiving care from highly skilled, compassionate and motivated physicians.”
The Mort and Brigitte Harris Office for Adult Literacy Endowment Fund will address the challenge of adult illiteracy. Although the rate of adult illiteracy in Detroit is significant, the issue extends both regionally and nationally, and the total number of functionally illiterate adults increases by about 2.25 million people every year. Wayne State established the Office for Adult Literacy, housed within the Irvin D. Reid Honors College, with a research and teaching mission to determine best-practice models to combat adult illiteracy and improve an individual’s ability to live a productive life and contribute to society.
“For many years, a person could have a career and a good middle class life without literacy playing a big role,” Jerry Herron, dean of the Honors College, said. “Those kinds of jobs now are increasingly fewer, and the gift from Mr. and Mrs. Harris positions Wayne State to become a national leader in finding pathways to bring an end to adult illiteracy.”
Mort and Brigitte Harris’ gift will provide resources for expanded staff and training as well as ongoing support for the office’s operations. In gratitude and recognition for the generous gift, the office will be named the Mort and Brigitte Harris Office for Adult Literacy.
“Wayne State has always been a place in the community where people were given opportunity; opportunity to learn, to work and to make something of themselves,” Mort Harris said. “I am happy to be able to support the mission of the university in ways that will improve the lives of so many.”
Morton E. Harris began taking engineering classes at what was then Wayne University in 1939 and is among the university’s most distinguished supporters. He became a highly decorated pilot in the U.S. Air Force during World War II and earned the nickname the “Berlin Kid” in recognition of his 33 successful missions over Germany. After the war, Harris embarked on a successful business career in Detroit. He owned several companies, including American Axle and Manufacturing, which he co-founded with three others, and invested in real estate. He also headed the Mercier Corp., a manufacturer of metallurgical products, and served as director of Michigan National Bank.
At Wayne State, Harris established the Edith Harris Memorial Scholarship in the School of Social Work in memory of his first wife, who passed away in 1968. He joined the Anthony Wayne Society, the university’s highest donor recognition group, as an inaugural member. He also is a charter member of the Wayne State University Foundation Board.
Harris has continued to support scholarships and the Edith Harris Memorial Lecture Series in the School of Social Work, the College of Engineering, the Damon J. Keith Collection at the Law School and numerous other university initiatives. In 2003, his generous gift resulted in the Mort Harris Recreation and Fitness Center, located in the heart of Wayne State’s campus.
In May 2011, Wayne State University presented Harris with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in recognition of his contributions to society.
Harris has supported numerous community organizations, including Henry Ford Health System, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan, Focus: HOPE, Detroit Institute of Arts and Detroit Public Television.