From Unlikely EncountersFormer law school development director creates scholarship in physical therapist’s name

Karen McLeese spent more than 40 years giving to the University of Utah. The former development director for the S.J. Quinney College of Law devoted her career to cultivating relationships, stewarding donors, and soliciting money for student scholarships, faculty development, and an enormous capital campaign to build a new College of Law building. And if a long and meaningful career dedicated to the U wasn’t enough, Karen decided a few years ago that she had more to give.

In 2012 Karen was suffering from a torn rotator cuff and was briefed by her orthopedic surgeon that no surgery options were available. She was told she would need to undergo at least a year of uncomfortable but committed physical therapy. From the list of recommended therapists, Karen chose Elizabeth Kunzer, who received her doctor of physical therapy degree from the U in 2009. For almost two years Elizabeth worked with Karen to get her shoulder and her body well. Physical therapy is thought of as “the science of healing and the art of caring.” While Elizabeth was healing Karen’s shoulder, their care and respect for one another turned into a lasting friendship.

Elizabeth Kunzer, physical therapist, with Karen McLeese, who established the Kunzer Scholarship in Physical Therapy.

As they worked together, Karen learned of the lack of scholarships available in the physical therapy department. With more than 150 students enrolled, only around 19 percent are receiving any type of scholarship.

“I was surprised and a little shocked to learn how few scholarships were available in the PT department,” says Karen. “There should be a great number of donors for a department that trains people to rehabilitate others in critical need. Their debt burden is already significant by the time they reach the doctoral level in their professional education.”

Karen knew firsthand the impact of student scholarship and decided she could make a difference. Three years ago, she created an endowed scholarship for physical therapy in Elizabeth’s name. The Elizabeth E. Kunzer Endowed Scholarship Fund for Physical Therapy selects students in their second year who have demonstrated a commitment to learning and professional growth, and who also have participated in extracurricular and volunteer activities at the U as well as within the community as a whole. Three remarkable students have now received the Kunzer Scholarship.

When a donor establishes an endowed scholarship fund, the gift amount is retained in perpetuity and cannot be spent. This type of fund provides ongoing and sustainable assistance to students in financial need while also creating a permanent and powerful legacy.

“My hope for this department and for its students is for enhanced private support in gratitude for the rehabilitation we will, or have experienced because of an unfortunate life experience,” says Karen. “As a member of that unique club, we are obliged to give back.”