“No one can get anywhere without an education,” says Morton Friedman (PhD ’69). That’s why Mort and his wife Myra set up a scholarship for graduate study at three schools, including the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, where he earned his doctorate in anatomy.
We recently spoke with the Friedmans when Mitzi Dunagan, the first recipient of their family scholarship, graduated from the UTHSC. “We’re so happy to be a part of Mitzi’s success,” Myra said.
Mitzi, born to a maintenance electrician and housewife on a MiddleTennessee farm, used the scholarship funds to enroll in the Integrated Program in Biomedical Sciences in 2006 and to complete her studies in cell biology and biochemistry, uninterrupted, in 2012.
For her success, Dunagan credits her parents, UTHSC mentors such as Dr. Radhakrishna Rao, and the aid of scholarships, including the Friedmans’.
Though her family was poor, Mitzi’s parents believed in education. As a result of her mother’s persistence, Mitzi and one brother graduated with terminal degrees. Their success means even more because Mitzi’s grandfather and his brothers were honors students, but couldn’t go to college because of the Depression.
After a stellar college career, Dunagan taught middle school for eight years at a school north of Nashville, where she was honored as a Teacher of the Year.
An assistant principal noticed Dunagan’s affinity for science. He urged her to enter an NSF-sponsored 5-year summer program for teachers who wanted to remain in education.
“Working in a science lab whetted my appetite to do more. When I graduated, I asked my Vanderbilt mentor what it would take to get a PhD.”
He responded: Go back to undergraduate school and take the classes needed to fill the gaps in her knowledge. Then apply to a doctoral program.
She says, “By this time I was ready for a change.” Despite the extra time and effort, she knew that she had it in her. “After all, it takes a lot of energy to teach middle school.”
Days after graduation, Dunagan started teaching at a college in northeast Mississippi, with the goal of preparing undergraduates to apply to UTHSC.
Support of students like Mitzi is important to Mort Friedman, who recalls how much scholarship support meant to him.
The Friedmans also work in their local community, where they stay busier than they were before retirement. For example, the couple recently co-chaired fund-raising for the fiftieth anniversary of their temple, which raised nearly a million dollars.
The Friedmans initially wanted to fund graduate studies in anatomy, but decided it was more important to looking for the right person―someone who would want to give back as freely as they have.