Frank family pledges $10 million to support education of physician-scientists at the University of Chicago

Frank family pledges $10 million to support education of physician-scientists at the University of Chicago

August 14, 2000

The Frank family of Winnetka, Illinois--Mrs. Zollie (Elaine) Frank, her son Jim Frank and his wife, Karen, as well as Chuck Frank, Laurie Lieberman and Nancy Schechtman--have pledged $10 million to provide financial support for outstanding advanced students in the biological sciences at the University of Chicago. The funds will be used to provide scholarships for students in the University's MD/PhD joint-degree program, which enables exceptional students to acquire doctoral training in the sciences while becoming physicians.

"The Franks' generous commitment to scientific and medical education at the University will make an enormous difference to some of our most outstanding students, enabling promising young scholars to become experts in the basic sciences and to bring that advanced knowledge into the realm of patient care," said Glenn D. Steele, MD, dean of the Biological Sciences Division and the Pritzker School of Medicine at University of Chicago and vice president for medical affairs. "These multi-talented students are best positioned to make the scientific and clinical discoveries that will change the ways medicine is practiced."

The joint-degree program is designed for students preparing themselves for careers in academic medicine. It combines a thorough medical education with rigorous graduate training in a basic science, leading to both MD and PhD degrees. Currently, 15 students are selected yearly for this prestigious program, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health. Most students require eight years to complete both degrees.

"We wanted to make a gift that had a lasting impact," said Jim Frank. "The future of the United States lies in superior education. This is an opportunity to support a place that attracts really bright people who then multiply their impact by educating more bright people. The benefits accumulate over time. In today's Internet world, which expects very quick paybacks, this focus on the distant future is rare, but we find it gratifying to be able to support something with a longer-term perspective."

The Frank family has a long-standing connection to the University. Elaine Spiesberger Frank grew up in Hyde Park and graduated from the University of Chicago College of Commerce in 1938--the same year she married Zollie Frank, who became a prominent Chicago businessman. She served on the Visiting Committee for the School of Social Service Administration for more than 20 years and has been a member of the Women's Board of the University since 1981. She has also been involved in many civic religious and cultural activities, serving as the first female president of the Jewish Community Centers' central board, vice president of the Jewish Federation, and vice president of the Chicago Symphony.

Although James S. Frank earned degrees from Dartmouth and the Stanford Business School, he has been actively involved with the University of Chicago for nearly a decade. In 1992, he joined the Hospitals' Board of Trustees, for which he is chairman of major gifts. Since 1995, he has also been a member of the University's Board of Trustees, serving on the Biological Sciences and Health Care Committees, as a member of the Council for the Division of the Biological Sciences, and as a member of the Business School Visiting Committee. He was named an Honorary Fellow by the Biological Sciences Division in 1997 for his efforts as director of a successful $200 million campaign for biology and medicine.

The Frank family presence in the Chicago business community started in 1936 when Zollie Frank purchased a small Chrysler/Plymouth dealership on the North Side of Chicago. From selling fewer than 100 cars per year, Zollie Frank built "Z Frank Chevrolet" into one of the largest agencies in the country. The Frank Family holding company expanded its activities to include at various times over the intervening years, ownership of National Car Rental, Leaf Candy, Business Travel International (BTI, the nation's third largest travel management company) and Wheels, Inc., the nation's third largest fleet leasing and management company. The parent company, FCE, is included in the list of the 200 largest privately owned companies in the United States.

Jim Frank currently serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of Frank Enterprises. Elaine Frank, who served as president after her husband's death in 1984, remains active as chairman.

The Frank family has made several previous gifts to the University, which add up to more than two million dollars. Most recently, they helped to create a new department of human genetics and to establish the Hospitals' breast cancer treatment center.

"We felt that the University of Chicago was a place that was successful in getting scientists and doctors to work as a team in the search for better treatments and even cures," said Elaine Frank, "especially in the field of cancer. We hope that our support for students who bridge the gap between science and medicine can speed up the search for new cancer cures and help educate more people who can put that life-saving knowledge into practice."

The first two Frank Scholars will be MD/PhD students Andrew Hack and Scott Nagle.

Hack, 26, a 1995 University of Chicago graduate, attended two years of medical school, completed his PhD, in Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology in June, 2000, and will finish medical school in 2002. For his thesis, he worked with molecular cardiologist Elizabeth McNally, MD, PhD, on the basic biology of genetic diseases that affect cardiac muscle. In the process he helped develop a mouse model for muscular dystrophy that was a crucial stepping stone in the development of human gene-therapy trials.

"Learning the techniques of human genetics is a great taking-off point for where science is going now and for how medicine will be practiced in my career," said Hack.

Nagle, 31, came to Chicago in 1994. He completed two years of medical school, then spent four years working full-time on his PhD in medical physics, a joint program offered by the departments of Radiology and Radiation Therapy. For his thesis, Nagle worked with another MD, PhD--magnetic resonance imaging specialist David Levin--to develop methods of fast MRI scanning that can provide three-dimensional pictures of the carotid arteries. After completing his two remaining years of medical school, Nagle hopes to arrange a residency with more research opportunities, and then complete a two-year fellowship.

"I had considered doing straight physics," said Nagle, "but I need the connection to people that comes with medicine. This enables me to do both--to move back and forth between clinical care and basic research and, I hope, to bring a little something extra to each."