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University of Iowa Foundation News Release

Jan. 19, 2006

Panama Native Creates Scholarship To Repay Iowans For UI Education

Fernando L. Tapia, M.D., a native of Panama whose University of Iowa undergraduate education in the 1940s was sponsored by a coalition of Des Moines civic groups, and his wife, Emma, have established a scholarship for UI medical students. The Tapias, of Scottsdale, Ariz., made the $100,000 gift commitment endowing the scholarship to the UI Foundation.

The Fernando and Emma Tapia Medical Scholarship is designated for students in the UI Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine who come from Iowa and demonstrate both academic merit and financial need. Fernando Tapia, a retired psychiatrist, explained that the couple made their gift out of deep gratitude toward Iowans and the UI.

"I once told my wife that if I won $50 million in the lottery, I would give half of it to the University of Iowa. Not having the millions, however, we've given a modest amount, and we plan to keep on giving," Tapia said. "I certainly would not be where I am today without the university's help."

When Fernando Tapia was attending an American-run high school in the Panama Canal Zone in the late 1930s, a teacher from Des Moines, Elinor Robson, took note of his academic potential. In response to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's "Good Neighbor Policy," which called on Americans to reach out to Latin American nations, Robson worked with six Des Moines-based civic groups to fully cover the costs of Tapia's undergraduate education. The civic groups involved in bringing Tapia to Iowa in 1941 were: the Advertising Club, Kiwanis, the Business and Professional Women's Club, the Elks and Moose lodges and the Conopus-Exchange Club.

After earning his B.A. degree in science education from the UI in 1943, Tapia went on to medical school at the UI, earning his M.D. degree in 1947. Emma Tapia, originally from Amana, Iowa, earned her nursing degree from the UI in 1946 and a B.S. degree in liberal arts and nursing in 1947.

Jean E. Robillard, M.D., dean of the UI Carver College of Medicine, said the Tapia Scholarship advances the college's core mission of serving Iowa residents.

"The Tapias' gift will enable talented young people from Iowa to gain their medical education here in their home state," Robillard said. "This is really a gift to all Iowans, not just to our college. We are extremely thankful for the Tapias' generosity."

After earning his medical degree, Fernando Tapia, who became a U.S. citizen in 1963, went on to perform public-health work in Panama before returning to the U.S. and receiving specialized training in psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis. He enjoyed a long academic career, teaching at Washington University, the University of Missouri and the University of Oklahoma, from which he left as a professor emeritus in 1987. He worked in private practice for two more years before retiring in 1989 and is now a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.

The Tapia gift was part of the UI's $1 billion comprehensive campaign, which concluded at the end of 2005 and was conducted under the guidance of the UI Foundation.  Named "Good. Better. Best. Iowa: The Campaign to Advance Our Great University," the seven-year effort raised private funds to help launch a variety of initiatives across the university, substantially increase the number of UI scholarships and endowed faculty positions, support new educational and research facilities, build the UI's endowment and fund outreach and service programs to benefit Iowans.

The UI acknowledges the UI Foundation as the preferred channel for private contributions that benefit all areas of the university. For more information about the "Good. Better. Best. Iowa" campaign, visit its web site at

STORY SOURCE: UI Foundation, P.O. Box 4550, Iowa City, Iowa 52244-4550

MEDIA CONTACT: Sheila Baldwin, Senior Director of Development, UI Carver College of Medicine, 319-335-3305, ext. 731,; Writer: Nic Arp

PHOTOS/GRAPHICS: Photos for this story are available for downloading at: