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FIU receives largest gift in university history


Medical school becomes Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine

MIAMI (June 12, 2009) - Long-time university benefactor Dr. Herbert Wertheim announced today a $20 million gift to the Florida International University College of Medicine, the largest cash donation in university history. The gift is eligible for the State of Florida’s Major Gifts Challenge Grant Program, making its total impact $40 million.

“FIU has been in my heart for more than 20 years and when I look around here and see the amazing accomplishments during that time, I can’t help but want to continue to contribute to this success story,” said Wertheim, chairman and CEO of Miami and London-based Brain Power Inc., which is the world’s largest manufacturer of optical instruments and chemicals. “FIU is our hometown university and as a son of this community I want to invest in those who are going to stay here and pour their talent and their energy back into this community.”

The college, which will welcome its first class of 43 students in August 2009, will be named the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, in recognition of the financial and visionary contributions made by Wertheim and the Dr. Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Family Foundation.

The FIU Board of Trustees also voted to recognize Dr. Wertheim as Founding Chairman of the College of Medicine and Trustee Emeritus of the University’s Board of Trustees. Dr. Wertheim served on that board from 2001 to 2006.

Wertheim, who made news years ago when he announced a $20 million pledge to the nascent FIU College of Medicine, has been working closely with President Modesto A. Maidique, College of Medicine Dean John Rock and university trustees over the past several months. Wertheim said that their extraordinary commitment to educate physicians and other healthcare professionals for our South Florida community was an important consideration for him and his family in deciding to move forward with the donation at this time.

“Dr. Wertheim worked with us over the last two decades toward founding this medical school. He was one of the early proponents of this college and a life-long supporter of our growth and success.” said FIU President Modesto A. Maidique. “Dr. Wertheim is a brilliant man with boundless energy and a good heart; I am proud to have our college of medicine bear his name.”

Maidique added that this gift, together with the $11 million additional funding the Florida State Legislature granted the College of Medicine this year, guarantees the future and continued success of the young program. Wertheim said he wants his donation to serve as an inspiration to others to give back to their community financially or through the investment of one’s time and talent: “It is not how much but how often that matters, giving of one’s self is a good thing.”

The gift will establish the Dr. Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Endowments for Medical Education and Research and the Dr. Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Medical Scholarship Endowment. Half of the endowment, which will be funded over the next three years, will be set aside to support scholarships for medical students and others pursuing advanced degrees in other scientific fields such as engineering. The rest of the money will eventually support a lecture series, healthcare conferences, research projects and eight endowed chairs in areas such as medical informatics, neurological aging studies, ophthalmology, optometry, wellness and dietary medicine, family and preventive medicine.

“Dr. Wertheim’s generous gift will make it possible for our young medical school to function at a high level from day one,” Dean Rock said. “We will be able to attract leading scientists that we otherwise could not afford to bring to FIU and we will be able to offer scholarships to some of our best students.”

Wertheim explained that he has been interested in the concepts of preventive medicine, inquisitive-based learning and entrepreneurship all his life. In the FIU College of Medicine he finds like minds, since the college has an innovative spirit and a focus on community health, including its unique preventive and family care initiative, Neighborhood HELPTM.

“We are going to be training doctors who know how to help people stay healthy and these doctors are very likely to practice in South Florida because they are from South Florida,” said Wertheim. (Eighty percent of the inaugural class is expected to be Florida residents.) “FIU is establishing the wellness philosophy that will prevail in the medical education of the future.”

Dr. Wertheim, who dropped out of high school at 16 and joined the U.S. Navy, overcame dyslexia and poverty as a South Florida youngster to become an engineer, optometrist, educator, inventor and entrepreneur with hundreds of patents, trademarks and copyrights to his name. He has made important discoveries in the areas of eye care and visual neural-physiology that have helped dyslexics and persons affected with retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration. His inventions have protected millions from serious eye diseases that include cataracts, corneal dystrophy and macular degeneration.

Dr. Wertheim, who practiced for many years at the University Eye and Medical Center in Coral Gables, was one of the first clinicians to expose the extreme dangers that ultraviolet radiation and blue light pose to eyes and eyesight. From his research he invented UV 400 Tint Protection to help stave off eye damage. Today, UV 400 is the world standard in both prescription eyewear and sunglasses.

The Wertheims are residents of Coral Gables but spend part of their time at their homes in London and California where their two daughters, Erica Wertheim Zohar and Vanessa Wertheim Brumer, live with their families.

Dr. Wertheim’s support of FIU dates back to 1988, when he joined the FIU Foundation Board of Directors. A few years later he became Chairman of the Board. In the early 1990s he spearheaded the planning process for the FIU medical school.

Over the years, the Wertheims and their Foundation have made many contributions to the university. In 1991, the Wertheims envisioned and donated to the construction of the Wertheim Conservatory and Lecture Hall, used to study tropical plants and photosynthesis under controlled conditions. In 1993, Wertheim established a visiting professorship in the College of Business Administration to bring to campus distinguished lecturers and experts in the field of entrepreneurship.

Two years later, the family’s generosity extended to the fledgling performing arts program and, in one of the largest gifts to the university at that time, provided the means to expand facilities and provide scholarships to recruit top students. The Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Performing Arts Center is currently a signature building used by students and members of the community alike. The Wertheims also funded the construction of the concert hall’s extraordinary pipe organ, named in memory of Wertheim’s late mother, Sydell Ida Wertheim. Wertheim’s previous gifts have leveraged approximately $18 million in academic support and facilities funding.

The Wertheims and their foundation have supported hundreds of other educational and healthcare initiatives in South Florida and around the globe in the past 30 years.

Media Contact: Maydel Santana-Bravo, 305-348-1555

– FIU –

About the FIU College of Medicine:
The College of Medicine was approved in 2006 by the Florida Board of Governors and the Florida Legislature. In 2008, it received preliminary accreditation by the Liaison Committee for Medical Education of the AAMC and will admit its first class in the fall of 2009. Among the innovative elements of the FIU College of Medicine is a program called NeighborhoodHELP, which will send medical students along with their counterparts in social work, nursing and public health, into the community from the onset of their academic programs. The FIU College of Medicine is expected to have a multi-billion-dollar economic impact on Miami-Dade County, bringing thousands of jobs to the area and eventually contributing millions to the state coffers every year. For more information visit http://medicine.fiu.edu/

About FIU:
Florida International University was founded in 1965 and is Miami’s only public research university. With a student body of more than 38,000, its 17 colleges and schools offer more than 200 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs in fields such as engineering, international relations and law. FIU has been classified by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching as a “High Research Activity University” and now qualifies as a “Very High Research University”. In 2006 FIU was authorized to establish a medical school, which will welcome its first class in August 2009. FIU’s College of Law received accreditation in the fastest time allowed by the American Bar Association.