Last spring, Al Bergesen, director of the University of Arizona School of Sociology, discovered that the school was the beneficiary of a $400,000 estate gift from Frederick A. and Margaret S. Conrad.
Unbeknownst to the UA, the couple had added the School of Sociology to their estate some 40 years ago.
When Frederick passed away in 1974 and his wife in 1985, the funds went to their daughter, Jean Ames. When she died in 2012, the money then transferred to the UA.
The couple established an endowment that will fund scholarships in perpetuity for deserving and promising sociology students seeking careers in health and welfare services.
With a larger aging population in the U.S., there is an increased demand for health care professionals, especially those versed in the social dimensions of health care.
Fortuitously, the school launched a new major in care, health and society, or CHS, which emphasizes skills needed across the helping professions, including medicine, nursing, counseling, ministry, community services and teaching. The major is part of a growing number of programs, such as criminal justice and eSociety, created by the UA College of Social and Behavioral Sciences to respond to student, employer and societal needs.
"The program is an extension of a broader movement toward interdisciplinary health studies," said Terrence Hill, associate professor of sociology and director of the major.
The major, which is a Bachelor of Science, examines the nature of care and suffering in society and already has enrolled nearly 300 students.
Students are prepared for careers in disciplines that include medicine, nursing and pharmacology. Coursework includes classes in chemistry, biology and nutrition, and it touches on topics such as philosophy, religion, ethics and advocacy. Students also are required to take a semester-long internship.
"The Conrad family was committed to supporting health and welfare services, so we are excited that the new Conrad Scholarship will continue that commitment by sponsoring CHS students," Hill said.
For the 2015-2016 academic year, six undergraduate students received the $2,000 Conrad Scholarship.
Martin Forstrom has set his sights on becoming a public defender, which he said is "one of the most essential social services in this country, especially considering our highest-in-history incarceration rate and the enormous number of people unfairly or even falsely imprisoned."
Margarita Verdugo, the first in her family to go to college, plans to obtain a graduate degree in social work. Growing up in poverty led Verdugo down her career path.
"I feel my own personal experience can help make me an advocate for individuals who suffer from poverty and drug abuse," Verdugo said.
Yamayra Castanos wants to become a clinical therapist and eventually earn her Ph.D. in social work.
"The care, health and society major helped me be more aware of our health care system, the needs of people and the process of what suffering really is," Castanos said.