Dec. 9, 2004

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Contact: John Scarffe, KU Endowment Association, (785) 832-7336.

Gift to help launch new KU social welfare degree program in Kansas City, Kan.

LAWRENCE -- Former Kansas legislator Jessie Branson and her husband, retired Lawrence pediatrician Vernon Branson, have given more than $20,000 for a University of Kansas program they hope will encourage more people to consider a career in social work.

The alumni couple's gift to the Kansas University Endowment Association will fund scholarships for students in the Kansas City Kansas Community College 2+2 Bachelor's in Social Work Program, a program of the KU School of Social Welfare that will be based in Kansas City, Kan.

To be launched in January, the program will help students who have earned an associate's degree at an accredited community college complete a bachelor's degree in social work from KU, even though the classes will be held at the Kansas City Kansas Community College, 7250 State Ave. Students enrolled in the program will take junior- and senior-level courses taught by faculty members of the KU School of Social Welfare and will complete an internship at a local human services agency.

“ A bachelor's degree in social work opens the door to a professional career that is in high demand,” said Ann Weick, social welfare dean. “Offering a KU degree on the KCKCC campus will provide maximum access to KU's School of Social Welfare in a community setting that is familiar to students. Jessie and Vernon Branson's support for the program is vital because it will help students afford a four-year degree.”

Jessie Branson, a Democrat who represented the 44th district in Lawrence from 1981 to 1991, said she became interested in the program because it expanded opportunities for the people of Kansas City.

“ I was attracted to the 2+2 program because it gives people from underserved neighborhoods who may not have access to KU in Lawrence the chance to make social work their career,” said Branson, a member of the school's board of advisers for 20 years. “I admire the program because the school is reaching out to the community college.”

She said she first learned of the need for social workers when she was a KU nursing student in the 1940s, when her public health rotation took her to neighborhoods in Kansas City, Kan.

“Back then, some people still had houses with dirt floors,” said Branson, nursing '42. “I became very aware of the poverty there and the social conditions. It gave me an understanding of the needs of people who are poor.”

She said in addition to her experiences as a nurse, serving as a legislator and being a parent have shown her the value of social workers. As a legislator, she served for 10 years (seven of those years as ranking member) on the state House Public Health and Welfare Committee. She traveled the state to see how funds were spent to help low-income neighborhoods, especially in Wichita and Kansas City.

Because she is the mother of a child with a developmental disability, Jessie Branson said her experiences as a parent further cemented her relationship with social workers.

“ Now he's with Cottonwood Inc. in Lawrence,” she said. “It's so valuable to be able to work with his case worker. Social workers are the connection between us, our son and the organization.

“ That's why we want to encourage others to give for this program,” she added. “We need more trained social workers to be advocates for troubled families, children, the poor and people with disabilities. Social workers do so much in schools, hospitals and in the public setting.”

Now retired, Jessie Branson met Vernon Branson, medicine '42, when he was in medical school and she was studying nursing. After graduation, they moved to Santa Barbara, where Vernon Branson completed an internship at Cottage Hospital. Following his service as a U.S. Navy physician in the South Pacific during World War II, the Bransons returned to Kansas and KU where Vernon completed a residency in pathology and pediatric medicine in 1949. He opened a pediatric practice in Lawrence where he worked until his retirement in 1995.

The Bransons' gift counts toward the goal of KU First: Invest in Excellence, the largest fund-raising campaign in KU history. KU Endowment is conducting KU First on behalf of KU through 2004 to raise in excess of $600 million for scholarships, fellowships, professorships, capital projects and program support. KU Endowment serves as the independent, nonprofit fund-raising and fund-management organization for KU.

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