In the days leading up to Valentine’s Day 2018, the Wisconsin Medical Alumni Association (WMAA) staff hosted a gratitude-filled event, drawing medical students to write thank-you notes.

A group of students posing with thank-you notes
Clockwise from left: Chiadika Nwanze, Ellie Sato, Jayne-Norah Ntambi, Jenna Hatab, John Kopriva and Vimal Konduri share their gratitude.

Enthusiastic students gathered to share words of praise with the many donors who support the missions of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH) and WMAA. By having the Thank-a-Thon kick off the spring semester’s House Cup Competition — and adding a few energizing incentives, such as fruit and heart-shaped cookies — the turnout was “wildly successful for the second year in a row,” according to Karen Peterson, WMAA executive director.

Each note a student wrote earned one point for his or her “house,” one of five learning communities: Bamforth, Bardeen, Gundersen, Middleton or McPherson. Stefanie Christopher, a learning specialist in student services, worked with students in the InterHouse Council to coordinate events throughout the House Cup Competition from February through April.

Activities included a March Madness (basketball) bracket, Cycle for Sight fundraiser for McPherson Eye Research Institute, food drive and Money Wars, in which coin donations add points to a House’s total, paper bills count against the total, and teams can try to sabotage each other.

“The winning House gets to donate all of the money to its chosen charitable cause,” says Christopher. “We hope the activity builds camaraderie among students and helps them focus on giving back to the community.”

Adding another angle, Peterson says, “The Thank-a-Thon is one of many ways we help students realize how much donor support enhances their experiences in medical school. For instance, private contributions are the only way the WMAA can host luncheons for student interest groups, support monthly meetings of the Gold Humanism Honor Society, or provide funding for the Medical Student Association to hire guest speakers in fields of interest to student participants.”

Noting that, starting in fall orientation, WMAA staff point out to students the many alumni-funded features in the Health Sciences Learning Center, Peterson exclaims, “This building would not exist if not for the support of donors, including many alumni!”