February 7, 2019

Dr. Jane Thomas's legacy commemorated through gift to renovate the Student Affairs suite

On the third floor of the Richard J. Mazurek, M.D., Medical Education Commons, past an open-air landing and down a freshly-decorated hallway, students find many of the support services they will need throughout their time in medical school.

The Student Affairs suite, within the Hershel Sandberg, M.D., Student Activities Center, offers a variety of services to prepare, sustain and encourage students through their medical education. Led by Margit Chadwell '90, M.D. '94, associate dean of Student Affairs and Career Development, the office accommodates medical students with the aim of providing comprehensive guidance to ensure students successfully graduate and reach their career goals.

"Our mission is to make sure that all students have the tools they need to become active members of the medical community and to support them on their educational journey," Dr. Chadwell said.

Dr. Chadwell and her talented staff see more than one-eighth of the student body per month. But the Office of Student Affairs is not a new resource. Under an inspiring legacy of counseling and student-centered mentorship, Student Affairs has seen many students pass through its doors — doors that have moved and grown wider over the years. And now, thanks to the support of Rebecca Thomas and her husband, Peter Melbye, the doors to the Student Affairs suite will change once again.

In memory of Thomas's mother, Jane Thomas, Ph.D. '76, Thomas and Melbye generously supported the cost of the new renovations to the suite. The changes to the space — which will include new, semi-private waiting areas, a lounge and an overall facelift — will cultivate an inclusive and welcoming environment, one that reflects the persona and vision of current and past School of Medicine leadership.

"Dr. Thomas was a remarkable woman and she brought a wonderful perspective to the School of Medicine leadership team during her time at the institution," said Robert R. Frank, M.D., interim dean at the School of Medicine from 2004 to 2006. "She was assistant dean for Student Affairs for many years, and she created a space for students to feel like they could come and find assistance, whether for academic or personal reasons. Even after she retired as assistant dean, Dr. Thomas sat on the Board of Visitors. Dr. Thomas was also instrumental in dealing with the school's lapse on diversity issues. It was always such a pleasure to see her around campus."

Dr. Thomas, who received her doctorate degree in counseling from Wayne State in 1976, joined the Office of Student Affairs in 1974.

"When my mother started, I think there was just one other counselor. They were in a small office space in Scott Hall. They did expand later, as the team grew, and they moved around Scott Hall a few times," Rebecca said.

In 1992, Dr. Thomas was appointed assistant dean, a role in which she thrived. She was later appointed assistant dean for Special Projects and served as a coordinator for the 2015 Liaison Committee on Medical Education review. During that period, Dr. Thomas focused her time and energy on helping school leadership ensure diversity and inclusion in medical education.

Now, two years after her death, both Rebecca and Peter wish to commemorate Dr. Thomas's legacy. Flying in occasionally from London to visit the School of Medicine, Rebecca has mentioned her enthusiasm and confidence in the direction and leadership of the Office of Student Affairs.

"I know my mom would be happy with the office now," she said. "My mother's driving force was to give support and create a diverse and accepting environment for students no matter their backgrounds. Dr. Chadwell's approach and ethos are in keeping with my mother's vision."

For Rebecca and Peter, supporting the School of Medicine seemed a natural step.

"Giving back in this way was an easy decision for us," Rebecca said. "Once I heard the proposed plans for the Student Affairs suite renovations, it seemed like the perfect thing to do. Mom knew that being a physician meant more than just the science, and I know Dr. Chadwell believes this as well. The Office of Student Affairs serves as a support system, and it also gives students a sense of responsibility to more than just the School of Medicine — it gives them a sense of responsibility to each other, to their patients and to the communities they serve."

The suite renovations will be complete in early spring. Students who travel the halls of the Mazurek Medical Education Commons and enter the Student Affairs suite to find counseling, mentorship and guidance will find a reminder of Dr. Thomas's contributions through a plaque dedicated in her honor. The signage will hang near the open door to Student Affairs, welcoming students into the space — a space that reflects everything Dr. Thomas's legacy represents.

To learn more about giving to the School of Medicine and the Office of Student Affairs, please contact Patty Paquin at ppaquin@med.wayne.edu or 313-577-0026.