Meet your Scholar program brings a personal touch to giving

A student speaks with a donor

A new effort from School of Dentistry Development is connecting dentistry students with their scholarship donors, building partnerships across generations of gophers.

Instituted in 2021, the Meet Your Scholar program provides an opportunity for benefactors to meet their student scholarship recipients. In February and March 2022, the first seven pairings of the program met one-on-one over Zoom to share insights and get to know one another.

Headshot of Norman Bjornnes
Norman Bjornnes

Though Norman Bjornnes graduated from the Carlson School of Management rather than dentistry, he and his family have valued education their whole lives. His father and brother both graduated from the School of Dentistry, and his family members have collectively earned six degrees from the University of Minnesota. “Our University degrees provided the launching pads for long and rewarding careers,” he said.

Bjornnes and his family members have five scholarships for University of Minnesota students throughout schools, and hope to add more in the future. Having enjoyed experiences meeting his Carlson recipients in the past, Bjornnes was excited to have the opportunity to do the same with his dental student.

That’s how Bjornnes got to meet Michael Abebe, MDT ’24. Abebe came to the School of Dentistry to study dental therapy, where he knew he could “make a direct change in someone’s life” and knew the School of Dentistry, with its challenging courses, great faculty and focus on diversity and equity was the right place to do it. 

“Oral health is connected to our overall health and wellbeing,” he said, “so I believe dentistry should be important to everyone.”

Headshot of Michael Abebe
Michael Abebe, MDT '24

Abebe is grateful for his scholarship from Bjornnes, which helped him pay for expenses and “made my experience as a student more convenient and less stressful.” He was excited to meet Bjornnes, because he knew the opportunity would motivate him. “It inspired me to work hard and graduate after seeing the person behind my scholarship,” he explained.

Bjornnes called meeting Abebe “a special treat.” He continued, “to listen to how he developed his interests that are driving his health care education journey was particularly inspiring.” Abebe hopes to work in a public clinic or hospital serving underserved populations after he graduates.

For Abebe, the experience was enlightening and motivating, just as he had hoped. “My scholarship donor also knew a lot about dentistry, and inspired me to volunteer internationally,” he said. “I had originally been inspired to volunteer abroad, but hearing it from another person made it clear how important it really was.” Abebe appreciated the opportunity to learn from Bjornnes’s wisdom and gain inspiration from him.

For both Abebe and Bjornnes, the experience was meaningful and touching. While Abebe shared his hopes and dreams for the future, Bjornnes recalled his late father and his brother’s journeys as dentists, telling Abebe how proud he is of him. 

“The Meet Your Scholar program brings the humanity of the scholarships up close and personal,” Bjornnes said. “It’s energizing. It’s inspiring to know that our oral health future is in good hands with these scholars.”