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From left, Dr. Lester Pretlow, dean of the College of Allied Health Sciences, Leanne MacKinnon and Provost Neil MacKinnon.

Provost and wife will match gifts to create first endowed scholarship for occupational therapy students

Dr. Neil MacKinnon, Augusta University’s provost, and his wife Leanne may be relatively new to the university, but they have already jumped headfirst into fundraising for the institution.

The MacKinnons are working to establish Augusta University’s first endowed scholarship for occupational therapy (OT) students. To get others excited about OT and the endowment, they have pledged to match every dollar donated up to $25,000.

“As provost, I felt like I needed to step up and be a role model if we’re expecting others to invest in AU,” said Neil. “With Leanne’s background in OT and the fact that there’s not a single OT scholarship, it really pulled at our heartstrings.”

Leanne was trained as an occupational therapist at the University of Florida and worked as an OT when the MacKinnons lived in Nova Scotia, Canada. She practiced in a wide variety of care settings, both inpatient and outpatient, and served as a preceptor to students. Neil began his role as provost and executive vice president of academic affairs at Augusta University in January 2021. Together, they see the value in supporting students and giving back to the university community.

Neil got the idea to create the scholarship endowment after he met with each dean individually to talk about development and fundraising for their respective colleges. As a result of those meetings, he discovered that there are no scholarships dedicated to OT students. Naturally, he went home and told his wife. Leanne, given her personal experience working in OT, was more than happy to help.

“I’ve worked in pretty much every area except pediatrics,” said Leanne, referring to her years in OT. “It’s such a great career and has been such a highlight in my life. We just thought it was perfect. Perfect timing and the perfect place to create the endowed scholarship.”

Children's dance class
Steps of Grace students

Leanne has great enthusiasm about all the innovative programs within the College of Allied Health Sciences Department of Occupational Therapy, especially the Steps of Grace ballet program. The program also caught the attention of one of their daughters, who is completing her senior year high school project work there. Steps of Grace is a dance program designed for children with special needs. The program was founded in 2011 by Mallory Rosche, a professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy, who also serves as the program director.

Steps of Grace is remarkable because on top of being fun, dance also addresses skills that children with certain conditions struggle with, such as balance, strength, bilateral coordination and social skills.

“Even our kids are interested in occupational therapy,” Leanne continued. “Just from meeting with Pam Kearney and Stephanie Johnson from the OT department, we learned so much about the school and what they’re doing. It’s very exciting.”

Before becoming the provost at Augusta University, Neil was the dean of the College of Pharmacy at University of Cincinnati in Ohio. The “dollar match challenge” was a fundraising technique they had success with to get alumni there engaged, so he wanted to do the same at Augusta University.

“The OT program here has a long history and legacy,” said Neil. “Our intent was that this dollar match challenge will really engage a lot of alums out there, so it’s not just Leanne and me contributing.” The MacKinnons’ pledge to match the donation amounts will double the amount of funding and will result in a larger scholarship for OT.

To make a contribution, visit the Neil & Leanne MacKinnon Occupational Therapy Scholarship Endowment fund page, or contact Philanthropy & Alumni Engagement.

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Written by
Valerie Emerick
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Written by Valerie Emerick

Jagwire is your source for news and stories from Augusta University. Daily updates highlight the many ways students, faculty, staff, researchers and clinicians "bring their A games" in classrooms and clinics on four campuses in Augusta and locations across the state of Georgia.

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