Sweere family gives back to advance health studies

Rob Karwath | January 29, 2018

The Sweere Scholars program is one of the most generous scholarship programs at Northwestern and nationwide in financing higher education for students pursuing chiropractic and related fields.

John Ward wanted something more.

He had practiced as a chiropractor in the Twin Cities and Australia, but he wanted to apply his skills to another purpose—keeping workers safe at their jobs and preventing injuries.

A fellowship grant from Northwestern Health Sciences University, where he had graduated with his doctor of chiropractic degree, helped him pursue a master’s degree in risk management at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Now Ward travels the country pursuing his passion as an environmental health and safety adviser for U.S. Compliance Corp.

It wouldn’t have been possible without the financial assistance from Northwestern’s Sweere Scholars program. The unique program was established by a family with legendary Northwestern ties to give back to the next generation of doctors, scientists and scholars working to improve health through chiropractic.

“I was at a point in my career where I could have kept practicing full time,” Ward said. “But this allowed me to establish a new purpose and direction—to not switch professions but to get into both professions and fill a giant hole in the occupational health world.”

He added: “There’s so much that we as chiropractors can do for occupational health in general. Today we still have people who are destroying their bodies at work. We can be on the leading edge of the preventative side. I’m able to do that because this program helped me find a deeper purpose.”

That’s the goal of the Sweere Scholars program. It was established in 2005 with a $1 million gift from the estate of Harry Sweere, founder of Ergotron Inc., a pioneer in the development ergonomically sound work stations and computer mounting devices. Twin Cities-based Ergotron helped companies around the world understand that they could protect their employees’ health by improving the equipment they used every day at work.

Sweere always gave credit to his brother, Joseph, a chiropractor and longtime professor at Northwestern, for the chiropractic lessons that were fundamental to the start and success of Ergotron. Harry Sweere and his wife, Janice, wanted to give back with the gift that established the Sweere Scholars program upon their deaths.

“Harry wanted to help keep workers safe on the job by preventing injuries,” Joseph Sweere said. “Out of gratitude and wanting to express his thanks for the healing of chiropractic, he and Janice wanted to leave this gift to Northwestern.”

The endowment allows investment returns from the initial gift to fund $1,000 annual scholarships for current Northwestern students pursuing doctor of chiropractic degrees. So far, more than 150 scholarships worth $1,000 each have been given. Consistently high-achieving students are eligible for second- and third-year gifts. The program also takes special note of students with financial challenges or who are single parents.

The Sweere Scholars program also funds fellowship awards of $10,000 a year to help students like Ward pursue additional graduate degrees leading to careers in occupational health, ergonomics or clinical biomechanics. When fellowship recipients are doing well in their first year of master’s or doctorate training, they may apply for and receive an additional $10,000 to assist them in completing their studies.

Finally, the program has a visiting scholars component that provides funds to bring guest speakers to Northwestern’s campus to share their studies and research with students, faculty and staff.

The Sweere Scholars program is one of the most generous scholarship programs at Northwestern and nationwide in financing higher education for students pursuing chiropractic and related fields.

“This program recognizes our high-achieving students for their hard work,” Joseph Sweere said. “Our profession is in great need of researchers who can document clinical outcomes. Research is one of the goals. Another is to return people to academia. We want to nurture all of these students as they pursue dedicated lives in these fields.”

The Sweere Scholars gift helped Ward achieve a dream. 

“It gave me purpose,” he said. “There is so much potential we have, impact we can have, in our communities. This program made it possible.”

Ryan Donahue, of Sioux City, Iowa, and a Sweere Scholar pursuing his doctor of chiropractic degree, said: “The Sweere family giving back to students means a lot. It’s been very helpful—and humbling. Not having to worry so much about finances has allowed me to focus on my studies.”

After graduating from Northwestern, Sweere Scholar Michelle Speranza is practicing in her hometown of Calgary, Alberta.

“Programs like this are a big benefit, especially for international students,” she said, noting that work options off campus are not possible. “By taking off some of the financial edge, it allowed me to focus more on my studies and to be part of some other programs, such as mentoring.”

Haley Bertsch, a Northwestern student from Andover, Minn., decided to pursue chiropractic after growing up in a family dedicated to the profession. Her father, two uncles and brother-in-law are all chiropractors.

“Coming from a family that is very tight-knit and involved in chiropractic, I appreciate so much what Harry and Janice have done, coming alongside Dr. Joe and knowing his passion in chiropractic,” she said. “It’s a special thing that Harry and Joe shared—a close-knit bond so strong that Harry and Janice wanted to support Dr. Joe’s love for Northwestern and its students.”

Dr. Sweere with several of the previous recipients of program support.

Dr. Sweere pictured here with several of the previous recipients of program support.
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