Skyline of Berlin, Germany

$1.7 million estate gift establishes scholarship for KU students studying in Germany

Dean T. Collins, M.D., and Elisabeth Collins, M.D.
Dean T. Collins, M.D., and Elisabeth Collins, M.D.

A $1.7 million estate gift from two late Topeka psychiatrists has established a study abroad scholarship for University of Kansas students to study in Germany. The Drs. Dean T. and Elisabeth Collins Scholarship will annually provide full support for KU students to study longer-term — a semester or a year — at an institution of higher education in Germany. 

Susan Gronbeck-Tedesco, associate vice provost of international programs, said this was an incredibly important and far-sighted gift for students at the University of Kansas. “It will serve KU students in perpetuity,” she said. “The focus on longer-term study abroad will afford students a singular opportunity to develop their foreign language skills and cultural understanding in Germany while making progress toward their KU degree.”

The Collinses lived in Topeka, where both were psychiatrists. Elisabeth was a staff psychiatrist at Topeka State Hospital and other institutions, and later had a private practice. Dean was senior staff psychiatrist at the Menninger Clinic, and he continued in private practice after the clinic moved out of Topeka. Elisabeth died in 2011, Dean in 2004.

The two had vastly different backgrounds. Elisabeth grew up in Germany, Dean in Dwight, Kan., south of Junction City. Elisabeth studied medicine in Freiburg, Danzig, and Prague and finished medical school in Hamburg. She began an internship in East Berlin, where she married her first husband. In 1953, they fled East Germany and moved to Tuebingen, West Germany, where she began a residency in adult and child psychiatry at the University of Tuebingen. Her husband died a few years later. 

It was at Tuebingen that Elisabeth was supervising physician of KU School of Medicine alumnus Dean Collins, an Alexander von Humboldt Scholar in psychiatry. Collins had earned a bachelor’s degree from KU in 1950 and graduated from KU School of Medicine in 1955. After completing an internship at Gorgas Hospital in the Panama Canal Zone, he had been a Fulbright Scholar in biochemistry at the Pasteur Institute. 

After Dean returned to the United States, the two corresponded by mail and fell in love. In 1959, they married and settled in Topeka. 

Topeka attorney Hurst Coffman was their long-time friend. “Dean and Elisabeth were classically educated and both continued throughout their lifetimes to read and learn more about a wide variety of subjects in the arts and sciences,” said Coffman. “They loved books and had thousands of volumes in their home. The walls in every room were lined with bookshelves.”

Also, the couple shared a lifelong passion for music and opera, and distance was no barrier to attending performances. “I would say they had been to all the major opera houses in the world several times,” said Coffman. 

Coffman said the Collins’ extensive collection of recordings and books about opera have been donated to the KU School of Music.

Because of their love of music, Coffman said the scholarship would focus on KU students studying music and particularly opera. However, it is open to other majors as well.

“Elisabeth and Dean felt that this scholarship would benefit so many students in the years to come,” said Coffman. “Spending a length of time in Germany would give a student the opportunity to experience and absorb the culture and the language, which would be beneficial throughout life.”

The gift is part of Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas, the university’s comprehensive fundraising campaign. KU Endowment is the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.

Michelle Keller

Assistant Vice President, Communications and Donor Relations 785-832-7336

Michelle Strickland

Media Relations 785-832-7363