School announces major gift from Jamie and Cathy Kaukinen to fund fellowships for Canadian graduate students7 min read
Ann Arbor, Michigan, June 9, 2023 – A School of Dentistry alumnus who earned his graduate degree in prosthodontics in 1993 is making a major financial gift to support future generations of graduate students.
Dr. Jamie Kaukinen and his wife Cathy are committing $10 million to create the Kaukinen Family Fellowships to fund the tuition of graduate students from Canada who come to U-M for any of the dental specialty programs. It is one of the largest single financial commitments in school history.
Kaukinen, a native of Thunder Bay, Ontario, earned his DDS degree at the University of Toronto Faculty of Dentistry, then joined the U-M graduate prosthodontics program for his master’s degree from 1991-93. He credits the U-M faculty with providing world-class training and professional connections that significantly advanced his successful dentistry career in Victoria on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.
Last year, as the 30th anniversary of Jamie’s U-M graduate degree approached, the couple incorporated the financial gift to the dental school into their estate planning. They said their goal is to “create a lasting legacy that improves the lives of patients in Canada and the U.S. by receiving treatment from Canadian dentists who obtain state-of-the-art dental graduate specialty training at the University of Michigan funded by our fellowships.”
Interim Dean Jan Hu said the School of Dentistry is grateful for this remarkable and important gift. “The generosity and forward-thinking vision of Jamie and Cathy Kaukinen in establishing this fellowship program is extraordinary,” Hu said. “It strengthens the school’s longstanding commitment to excellence in the graduate programs. The fellowships will be a substantial incentive that draws exceptional dentists to Michigan to contribute to our world-class clinical training and research, just as Dr. Kaukinen did in the early 1990s. We greatly appreciate this initiative to pay it forward for future graduate students and for the advancement of oral healthcare in general.”
During his 22 years of practicing in Victoria, Kaukinen specialized in prosthodontics and implant dentistry, with an additional focus on maxillofacial prosthetics for cancer patients. Over time he purchased two other practices, creating one of the leading prosthodontic and dental implant clinics in western Canada with its own dental laboratory, imaging and surgical services. Cathy Kaukinen initially worked at the practice as a hygienist and later became practice manager.
In 2015, the Kaukinens sold the practice and turned their attention full-time to an outside business interest in industrial warehouse development in Canada. They now split their time between Victoria and Scottsdale, Arizona.
Kaukinen knows first-hand that Canadian students face an additional financial challenge when they wish to study in the U.S. because of the often-significant variance in the currency exchange rate between Canadian and U.S. dollars. It was an issue for Kaukinen in 1990 when he set his sights on graduate study at U-M. He is grateful that his financial burden was eased after he received a two-year Donald Matheson Springer Fellowship for University of Toronto graduates who enroll in graduate programs at U-M.
His interest in attending grad school at U-M was prompted by numerous ties between prominent dental faculty at Toronto and U-M, including noted prosthodontist George Zarb. Kaukinen remembers his admissions interview at U-M with the late Dr. Brien Lang, who was chair of what was then called the Department of Complete Denture Prosthesis. “He welcomed me with open arms. He said he would give me the best learning experience and the hardest two years of work I would ever have in my life.”
“It was an awesome time,” Kaukinen said. “The University of Michigan was a center of excellence for dental implants, and that was one of my early interests. Dr. Lang was my mentor and took extra interest in my career. I was able to work with him on the weekends to treat his faculty patients, and he helped me establish my thesis.” His thesis, “The influence of occlusal design on simulated masticatory forces,” won a grant through the Tylman Research Program supported by the American Academy of Fixed Prosthodontics. The research was later published in the Journal of Prosthetic Dentistry.
Other faculty members also were generous in sharing their expertise in both traditional and cutting-edge prosthodontic treatments and techniques, including faculty members Michael Razzoog and Peter Yaman. Kaukinen said one of the strengths of the Michigan pros program was that faculty let students explore interdisciplinary paths. For example, periodontics professor Robert O’Neal introduced Kaukinen to implant training and another perio faculty member, Hom-Lay Wang, offered surgical training. Kaukinen also was part of treatment teams for cancer patients at Michigan Medicine. His master’s thesis provided interprofessional opportunities when he collaborated with researchers at the U-M College of Engineering.
“Those connections with faculty and various interdisciplinary areas early on in my career were a stepping stone for me getting into a number of specialty organizations,” Kaukinen said. “It was a great advantage when you are a young dental specialist getting exposure to these different groups. Having new mentors to help early in my career was very formative for me.”
The close ties to the U-M dental school continued once Kaukinen was practicing on his own. In 1998, he was invited by Lang to participate in a Procera CAD/CAM conference in Ann Arbor. Again in 2007, Kaukinen was invited to Lang’s Nobel Guide Implant Surgery conference at U-M. “Being invited back to world meetings held in Ann Arbor showed me that the University of Michigan wanted to maintain its relationships with its students,” Kaukinen said. “The relationship was important enough for the university to stay in contact with me and it became reciprocal.”
The Kaukinens have returned to Michigan over the years to visit relatives of Cathy and attend football games. Last year, they returned for the Michigan State game and arranged for a tour of the newly renovated School of Dentistry. They were impressed by the many new features and the commitment of administrators to raise funds for the project. “That crystallized our plans to leave money to the university and to establish our fellowship program,” Jamie Kaukinen said. “We thought if we can help future Canadian students come to Michigan, it’s good for not only those students but it will also help the dental school get top-quality students. It seemed like a win-win situation for everyone.”
Kaukinen wants other grad students to be able to emulate his experience of gaining outstanding training at Michigan, then using that expertise for the benefit of countless patients over many years of dental practice. “Michigan is the world leader in dental education,” he said. “Having that available to Canadian students is a benefit to everyone. Some of the students will go back to Canada, some will stay in the States, some will go elsewhere. Overall, patients are the ones who will ultimately benefit.”
The University of Michigan School of Dentistry is one of the nation’s leading dental schools engaged in oral healthcare education, research, patient care and community service. General dental care clinics and specialty clinics providing advanced treatment enable the school to offer dental services and programs to patients throughout Michigan. Classroom and clinic instruction prepare future dentists, dental specialists and dental hygienists for practice in private offices, hospitals, academia and public agencies. Research seeks to discover and apply new knowledge that can help patients worldwide. For more information about the School of Dentistry, visit us on the Web at: www.dent.umich.edu. Contact: Lynn Monson, associate director of communications, at email@example.com, or (734) 615-1971.