Florida International University

Booster’s $10 million gift to FIU buys his and hers health colleges



According to etiquette, a husband and wife celebrating their 44th wedding anniversary are supposed to mark the occasion with - yawn - groceries.

But Florida International University’s biggest booster had something slightly more significant in mind: his and hers health colleges.

On Wednesday, Herbert Wertheim and FIU officials announced a $10 million gift to the university’s college of nursing and health sciences in honor of his wife, Nicole. The donation comes just a few years after Wertheim committed $20 million to the university’s new school of medicine. It ensures the couple’s place side-by-side in FIU history with the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine and what will become the Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

“We feel like FIU is our second family,” said Herbert Wertheim, who along with his wife participated in the announcement via Skype from their room aboard The World, a residential cruise liner that on Wednesday was anchored off Greece. “Nicole and I just can’t wait to see the changes over the next five to 10 years.”

FIU President Mark Rosenberg said the donation will be huge for the university’s college, which has graduated some 2,400 students since 2008 and is currently educating almost 3,000. He said the donation was made to commemorate the couple’s anniversary, which took place back in May.

“This gift is a lasting legacy for thousands and thousands of students to come. And FIU is the only university in the country with colleges of nursing and medicine named for a husband and wife. How about that?” Rosenberg said. “But this is about so much more than just a naming.”

The uses for the $10 million gift are laid out in detail on a contract signed by Wertheim last week, according to Ora Strickland, the college dean. They include:

• Endowed professorships focused on pain management, prevention of disease, and mental health.

• Seed money for “innovative research and programs” for which funding would otherwise be difficult to secure.

• Scholarships for students completing clinical doctorates in physical therapy and nursing.

• Support for the preparation of advanced registered nurse practitioners, and encouragement for other practice disciplines, like speech and occupational therapy, to establish clinical doctoral programs.

“It’s a magnificent gift to health and healthcare because he’s encouraging us to blaze a trail in healthcare. There aren’t any doctoral programs in speech therapy and he’s encouraging us to establish that,” she said. “He’s really pushing us to be worlds ahead.”

Strickland said the contract calls for the donation to be paid out in several lump sums over five years. She said discussion began in March after she sent Wertheim her college’s five-year business plan during an email back-and-forth. He sent her a congratulatory email two days later and said he wanted to help fund the effort.

The donation is just the latest from Wertheim, an optometrist and entrepreneur who pledged $20 million to FIU’s medical school as a means to help the university secure approval from the state’s Board of Governors in 2006 and provide scholarships to encourage students to train as primary care physicians.

Now in his mid-70s, Wertheim worked his way out of poverty to enormous wealth by pioneering dyes for plastic sunglass lenses through his Miami-based company, Brain Power Inc., and by making savvy investments. He and his wife, who own a home in Coral Gables, have two daughters who are both involved with FIU.

Wertheim’s philanthropy at the university is apparent around the university’s main campus, which also bears the Wertheim Conservatory and Lecture Hall and The Herbert and Nicole Wertheim Performing Arts Center. FIU’s Board of Trustees must formally sign off on the new name of the nursing school.

“This means so much to me,” said Nicole Wertheim. “The whole world needs and deserves affordable care.”

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