$2.3 million gift to UAB establishes student scholarships to help improve health care in Wiregrass area

Heersink family establishes three endowed scholarships for health professions, optometry and pre-optometry students.  

Stream Heersinks Marnix E. Heersink, M.D., and his wife, Mary Heersink are walking the grounds of their home in Dothan, AL.
Photography: Andrea Mabry
Students from the Wiregrass area of southeast Alabama will benefit from a generous recent gift of $2.3 million to the University of Alabama at Birmingham from longtime supporters Marnix E. Heersink, M.D., and Mary Heersink. The gift will establish three endowed scholarships supporting health professions, optometry and pre-optometry students.

The Dothan-based Heersink family anticipate the gift will have a boomerang effect — incentivizing UAB-educated health care professionals to return to the Wiregrass area for internships, thereby increasing health care options for residents in the medically underserved corner of the state.

“Mary and I have had the privilege of living in the wonderful southeastern Alabama community of Dothan for 46 years,” Heersink said. “During that time, we have realized and understood that the future of health care and our area depends on training, motivating and empowering students to return to the Wiregrass to serve our area. Our goal is to provide a means, and a pathway for local students to continue their education at the next level, and then have an opportunity to become health professionals, including optometry.”

The University of Alabama System Board of Trustees approved the creation of the three endowed scholarships at its April 12 meeting, and the scholarships are available to be awarded immediately to students.

The Heersinks are longtime supporters of UAB with recent pledges of $100 million to support and name health care initiatives, including the UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine, the Marnix E. Heersink Institute of Biomedical Innovation and the Mary Heersink Institute for Global Health. They also have funded several scholarships in the School of Optometry, and Mary Heersink is a member of the Heersink School of Medicine Board of Visitors.  

“This gift is another example of Marnix and Mary Heersink’s generosity and dedication to UAB,” said Tom Brannan, vice president for Advancement and Strategic Initiatives. “These generous scholarships will both support current and future students and provide expanded health care services to the Wiregrass area in the long term. Their interest in supporting the health of Alabamians aligns with UAB’s mission, and we are deeply grateful for the partnership.”

Enhancing health profession careers in the Wiregrass area

Part of the Heersinks’ recent pledge is a $1.04 million gift to the School of Health Professions — the largest single scholarship gift in the school’s history — to establish the Heersink Family Foundation Endowed Scholarship in Health Professions.  

“The Heersink family is dedicated to better health care and health for all, and that is evident in their continued generosity and support to the future providers here at UAB and to the future clients our students will serve in the Wiregrass region,” said Andrew J. Butler, Ph.D., dean of the UAB School of Health Professions. “Their legacy of putting others first will carry on within everyone who earns their scholarship, and we are truly grateful the Heersink family chose our school and our students to help extend their mission of changing lives.” 

Learn more about investing in UAB’s growth here.

This gift will be used to assist students from southeast Alabama enrolled in the School of Health Professions, with preference given to students who accept internships in the southeastern Alabama region. 

Creating pathways for optometry in rural areas

An additional gift of $936,000 has created the Heersink Scholars Pathways to Optometry Endowed Scholarship in the UAB School of Optometry. This scholarship will provide half tuition for two UAB Optometry students annually, in perpetuity. Priority will be given to students who matriculate from the Pathways Programs at Wallace Community College- Dothan, Troy University, and/or the UAB College of Arts and Sciences.

“The Heersink family’s philanthropic efforts have transformed many areas at UAB, and the UAB School of Optometry is proud to be a recipient of their benevolence,” said Kelly K. Nichols, O.D., Ph.D., dean of the UAB School of Optometry. “Our educational commitment is to provide students with the highest-quality education. For generations to come, their gift helps ensure that deserving students have access to excellent training and are prepared to provide compassionate, evidence-based patient care.”

A gift of $316,000 has also established the Heersink Wiregrass Pathway to Optometry Endowed Scholarship, to benefit students from southeast Alabama enrolled in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences who have declared the UAB Pre-Optometry route.

“I am incredibly grateful to the Heersink family for establishing the Heersink Wiregrass Pathway to Optometry Endowed Scholarship,” said Kecia M. Thomas, Ph.D., dean of the UAB College of Arts and Sciences. “This gift will provide students with substantial financial relief as they begin their educational journey toward fulfilling their dream of pursuing a career in optometry. This gift will also enable the college to continue its legacy of attracting and retaining talented STEM students.”