Ron and Sandi Simon
Ron and Sandi Simon are supporting underserved students through the Simon Scholars PA Program.

Underserved Students Given Pathway to Career as Physician Assistant With Gift From the Ronald M. Simon Family Foundation Simon Scholar students will continue advancing the health care needs of Orange County with support from the Simon Family Foundation.

Simon Scholar students at Chapman University will continue advancing the health care needs of Orange County with support from the Simon Family Foundation.

A program supporting the health education of Simon Scholars and other students from underserved and lower socio-economic communities in Orange County will continue for at least another five years with a recent gift from the Ronald M. Simon Family Foundation. 

The gift is supporting the Simon Scholar Physician Assistant Program with funding for 10 full-tuition scholarships for each entering class. As part of the program, the students commit to working in Orange County for three years after graduation. 

“This generous gift will provide underserved students the opportunity to earn a first-class master’s in medical science and make real change in the community,” said Chapman President Daniele C. Struppa. “The Simon Scholar program perfectly exemplifies the Simon Family Foundation’s and Chapman University’s commitment to increasing access to a quality education and supporting the local community with world-class health care.”

PA Simon Scholars
Tiffany Bui, left, and Don Nguyen, were Simon Scholars at Chapman University.

Dedicated to Social Change

The Simon Family Foundation started the Simon Scholar PA program at Chapman in 2019 with a generous donation. The first cohort of Simon Scholars were admitted to the highly selective Physician Assistant program in 2021. 

The creation of the program is just one of the many examples of the commitment of the Simon Family Foundation and Ron and Sandi Simon to Chapman, and it builds on the Orange County philanthropists’ enduring dedication to education. The Simon Family Foundation endowed the Simon-Orange-Chapman STEM Scholarship (SOCSS) Program, which supports Orange High School students in pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering or math related fields through their studies at Chapman. In addition to the Simons’ commitment to helping underserved students, they also supported the state-of-the-art Sandi Simon Center for Dance in 2023.

“We are thrilled with the success of the Simon Scholar PA program in supporting talented, underprivileged students as they pursue careers in this important field,” said Ron Simon. “Through this program, we are showing our dedication to improving the lives of Chapman students and answering the health care needs of Orange County.”

The Simon Scholar program, which is run through the Simon Foundation, identifies disadvantaged students in high school who exemplify significant leadership potential to excel in meaningful careers. The Simon Scholar program has provided more than $100 million in financial support to high school, college and graduate students.

While the Simon Family Foundation works with various universities to create a pipeline from high school to college, Chapman is the first to extend the program to graduate students. This creates a talent pipeline from the high schools to universities and graduate-level programming.

Chapman is committed to the principles of social mobility, especially for underserved and first-generation students. The university is better positioned to fulfill that goal with the Simon Family Foundation’s gift, which elevates the impact of Inspire: The Campaign for Chapman University. The public phase of the campaign was launched in February 2023 with the goal of raising $500 million by 2028. So far, more than $380 million has been raised.

“Through this important gift from the Simon Family Foundation, we will be able to continue providing more opportunities for talented students to become leaders in their communities,” said Matt Parlow, executive vice president and chief advancement officer at Chapman. “Empowering these students with an elite education will enable them to answer the health care needs of Orange County. Chapman is committed to uplifting and serving our local community, and there is no better way to do that than by contributing to the health of those who live and work here.”

Simon Scholars 23-24
The ’23-’24 Simon Scholars with Ben Drutman (center), president of the Simon Family Foundation.

Creating Pathways and Promoting Diversity 

The Simon Scholar program at Chapman aims to create pathways for students facing social and economic adversity to earn a Master of Medical Science (MMS) degree in a burgeoning profession in the health care industry. Considering physician assistants in the region make on average about $138,000 annually, formerly underserved students will depart Chapman University’s Crean College of Health and Behavioral Sciences with little or no debt and a path to a meaningful career. 

Notably, the demand for physician assistants in Orange County has significantly increased over the last decade and is projected to continue growing on a national scale. Crean College Dean Janeen Hill said the county will need about 40% more physician assistants over the next decade to meet the health care needs of the community.

“It gives the students and their families the opportunity to change the financial profile of their family by allowing them to enter into a highly valued profession,” Hill said. “These students also give back to the community and help with the increased demand for physician assistants that we have in Orange County.”

Simon Scholar alumni are particularly well-suited to satisfying industry and societal needs by providing cutting-edge health care to community members. Orange County has several medically underserved communities that have limited or no access to quality health care. The Simon Scholar graduates help deliver needed services to these areas after graduation. 

The scholarships also contribute to diversity in the classroom and the health care industry. Students from underserved communities bring a critical perspective that has been lacking in health forums, Hill said. 

“What we are doing with this program is not just increasing the number of physician assistants, but we’re increasing the number of physician assistants that are practicing in medically underserved communities,” Hill said. “This will have a profound impact on the overall health of the county. Similarly, these students have very challenging backgrounds that inform perspectives that are very important for other students to be exposed to.” 

Benjamin Brazil

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