Erin Kobetz, Ph.D., M.P.H., Vice Provost for Research and Scholarship at the University of Miami and associate director for Population Sciences and Cancer Disparity at Sylvester, was recently presented with the John K. and Judy H. Schulte Senior Endowed Chair in Cancer Research.
From his humble start as a University of Miami student to the pinnacle of his public relations career, John K. Schulte was a steadfast supporter of his alma mater.
After witnessing the medical expertise and compassionate care delivered to dear friends and family during their illnesses, Schulte and his wife, Judy, focused their philanthropic support on the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. While the couple gave generously during their lifetime, they arranged to have much of their estate given to Sylvester in support of research and education after their passing. John passed away in 2018 and Judy in 2016.
Their legacy will now live on in perpetuity through their bequest to Sylvester, including the John K. and Judy H. Schulte Senior Endowed Chair in Cancer Research, which was recently presented to Erin Kobetz, vice provost for research and scholarship, professor, and Sylvester’s associate director for population sciences and cancer disparity.
The Schulte’s endowment will allow Kobetz to continue her research, which has already dramatically reduced cancer disparities in Miami’s underserved communities and led to Sylvester being named the first World Health Organization (WHO) collaborating Center for Cervical Cancer Elimination.
“An important part of the legacy of the Schultes is the enabling of our very best to do their very best,” said Stephen D. Nimer, director of the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. “This endowed chair reflects a steadfast belief in the potential, the talents, and the accomplishments of Dr. Kobetz.”
Nimer, the Oscar de la Renta Endowed Chair in Cancer Research and professor of medicine, biochemistry, and molecular biology at the Miller School, credited Kobetz for making lifesaving inroads in educating and screening women for cervical cancer in Miami’s Little Haiti, as well as in reducing the burden of cancer for first responders through her work as founding director of Sylvester’s Firefighter Cancer Initiative.
Kobetz’s numerous accomplishments were touted throughout the endowed chair presentation, which took place at the Coral Gables Country Club on Dec. 1 and was attended by family, friends, colleagues, and University dignitaries, both virtually and in person. The celebration also recognized the enormous generosity of the Schultes.
“It’s extraordinary philanthropic leaders like John and Judy Schulte, whose dedication has led us to the highest echelons of excellence in our pursuit of a winning strategy against cancer, and that pursuit can only be fueled by visionary research like that of Dr. Kobetz,” said President Julio Frenk.
Calling an endowed chair the highest academic honor that a university can bestow on a faculty member, Dr. Henri R. Ford, dean and chief academic officer of the Miller School, spoke of the enormous potential it provides. “Endowed chairs allow exemplary scholars, such as Dr. Kobetz, to continue their groundbreaking research in perpetuity and allowing them to discover new treatments and cures to fight cancer and other illnesses.”
Kobetz has lofty plans for the endowment. “I intend to use the Schulte’s investment to catalyze important, locally relevant research that focuses on South Florida’s unique, multicultural diversity and cancer burdens,” she said.
“I can also see some of the funds from this chair being used to help accelerate targets that the World Health Organization has nominated for a cervical cancer-free tomorrow including vaccination, screening, and treatment,” added Kobetz, who is also professor of medicine and public health sciences at the Miller School and professor of marine biology and ecology at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.
Roy E. Weiss, chief medical officer, ambulatory services for UHealth and chair of the Department of Medicine at the Miller School, had the privilege of introducing Kobetz and presenting her with a medallion recognizing her as the inaugural recipient of the Schulte endowed chair.
“We are lucky to have her expertise at the table driving innovative collaborations and focusing on the bench to bedside research that is the foundation of Sylvester’s promise to the communities we serve,” said Weiss, who is also the Rabbi Morris I. Esformes Endowed Chair in Medicine and Endocrinology, and Kathleen and Stanley Glaser Distinguished Chair. “This chair is a generous and well-deserved commitment to Dr. Kobetz’s single-minded dedication to finding the cures and giving our patients new hope.”
In addition to serving as a beacon of hope for cancer patients, Jeffrey Duerk, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, said this endowed chair will usher in a new era in cancer breakthroughs for the only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in South Florida.
“This sustained research support into new and innovative treatments signals a significant milestone in Sylvester’s tireless work to save lives and find the cures to cancer. We are truly indebted to the Schulte family,” Duerk said.
Dr. W. Jarrard “Jerry’’ Goodwin, emeritus professor of otolaryngology at the Miller School, former director of Sylvester, and longtime friend of the Schultes, said the couple would be proud to see their assets go to support Sylvester research.
“John and Judy loved the Miller School of Medicine and they especially loved Sylvester. They wanted all of Miami—all of South Florida really—to know about Sylvester. They would be thrilled to see where it is today,” said Goodwin. He also shared that the Schultes would be honored to know their endowment is going to support Kobetz’s research. “John knew of Erin’s work and was very interested in it because he had represented the Tourism Board of Haiti,” he said.
Goodwin was a catalyst to Kobetz’s research and work within the Little Haiti community as he recruited Kobetz to Sylvester to develop a program to address cancer disparities in South Florida. Through a mapping exercise, she discovered a pocket of cervical cancer cases in a predominantly Haitian area.
“Haitian women globally have an increased rate of developing and dying from cervical cancer due to a lack of infrastructure to support women’s health and cancer prevention,” explained Kobetz. “This chair will allow me to continue collaborating with the WHO and other partners to make progress on articulated targets to eradicate cervical cancer.
“We would not be here tonight without the generosity of John and Judy Schulte, who were stalwart champions of Sylvester and our mission,” said Kobetz. “I’m honored to be able to carry forth their legacy by doing important research to move the dial to advance health equity for South Florida and beyond.”