Two women in a lab looking at a slide

The KEYS to the Future Endowment will support internships for promising Arizona high school students interested science and engineering fields. The interns perform hands-on scientific laboratory research, and receive training in bioscience techniques and science communication skills. Photo by Biomedical Communications Photographer

DATE: August 16th, 2016

UA Alumna Helen Wertheim Creates Unlimited Possibilities through University Endowments

As a successful businesswoman, Helen Wertheim knows that hard work fuels unlimited possibility.

Helen is vivacious, and exudes a positive, can-do attitude that inspires you with the belief that you can accomplish anything you put your mind to—as long as you’re willing to work for it.

Helen is also grateful. Grateful for the education she received at the University of Arizona (BA, psychology, ’84), and grateful for the skills she acquired here.

“The UA gave me the tools I needed to build a successful career,” said Helen. “And, from the time I graduated, the UA has kept me connected to what they’re doing. It’s truly a phenomenal organization.”

In 1979, Helen’s father, Bob Wertheim, created a financial service company called Charter Companies. In 1985, he started Charter Insurance to expand the services provided to those customers. Helen joined Charter Insurance Services in 1988, and seven years later bought the company from her father. She owned Charter—with 25 employees and offices in Albuquerque and Santa Fe—until she sold it in 2009.

Portrait of Helen WertheimHelen Wertheim

Since then, Helen has focused on philanthropy. She’s driven by the desire to make a positive impact on the lives of others.

Most recently, Helen made a significant donation to the UA in the form of a planned gift—establishing four remarkable endowments.

“One important reason I created these endowments is my love and gratitude for the UA,” said Helen. “I absolutely love that the UA encourages faculty from different areas to collaborate on research and discovery. I believe this sets the stage for innovative ways of learning, creating, and inspiring.“

Helen created the following UA endowments:

  • The Helen J. Wertheim Libraries Endowment
  • The Helen J. Wertheim BIO5 Institute Endowment
  • The KEYS to the Future Endowment (BIO5)
  • The Helen J. Wertheim Steele Children’s Research Center Endowment

“These endowments will provide a source of never-ending income to the programs Helen chose to support,” said Nancy Davis Booth, associate director of regional development for the UA Foundation. Nancy introduced Helen to the UA Steele Center and BIO5. “Moreover, these endowments will serve as a permanent tribute to Helen, will extend her values to future generations, and will encourage others to give. Helen is truly a visionary.”

The Helen J. Wertheim Libraries Endowment

“I chose the UA Libraries because the library is the intellectual hub of any university,” said Helen. A long-time supporter of the UA Libraries, Helen decided to increase her impact by creating the Helen J. Wertheim Libraries Endowment.

Rather than identifying a specific collection or service as the beneficiary of her gift, Helen left the decision of where to invest the income stream from the endowment to the discretion of the dean.

“I’m grateful for Helen’s vision and generosity,” said Karen Williams, dean of UA Libraries. “Her gift provides flexibility that will allow me and future deans to respond in real time to emerging needs.”

The Helen J. Wertheim BIO5 Institute Endowment

“I was impressed with the architecture of BIO5 the minute I saw it,” Helen recalled. “It was fascinating to look at—like it would inspire creativity in thinking.” When Helen met some of the researchers, she was even more impressed. “I met Dr. Fernando Martinez, who is trying to cure childhood asthma. The excitement, enthusiasm and passion he exuded for his work was absolutely palpable,” she said. “And the way he described discovering new answers to health and environmental challenges by collaborating with other areas at the university was nothing short of inspiring.”

The BIO5 endowment will enable the Institute’s director to designate funds in support of areas of research determined to be of greatest need.

The KEYS to the Future Endowment (BIO5)

During her tour, Helen also learned about BIO5’s KEYS to the Future Program. The seven-week internship program is a unique summer opportunity for motivated Arizona high school students with a strong interest in bioscience, engineering, environmental health, or biostatistics to work side-by-side with top faculty in University of Arizona research labs. The interns perform hands-on scientific laboratory research, and receive training in bioscience techniques and science communication skills.

“I thought the KEYS program was a wonderful recruitment tool for the UA, and an ideal opportunity to engage kids in science.” She was so inspired by this program that she created the Keys to the Future Endowment. This endowment will support internships for promising students who could not otherwise afford to participate in the program.

“Helen’s generosity will enable both BIO5 and KEYS to make strategic goals in moving important research and student engagement programs forward,” said Jennifer Barton, interim director of the BIO5 Institute. “The nature of her gift allows us to think long-term in building on our mission to support and train current and future scientists.”

The Helen J. Wertheim Steele Children’s Research Center Endowment

“I’ve always loved kids and have had a passion for helping them in many areas,” said Helen.

“Children embody pure innocence in the way they see the world through eyes of curiosity, awe and joy. Whenever I see a child struggling with a serious illness, it just breaks my heart. No child should have their childhood stolen because of a life-threatening illness or disability.”

Upon touring the UA Steele Children’s Research Center at the UA Health Sciences, Helen was moved by the varied research being conducted and decided to help those who are working to help sick children.

“Supporting the Steele Center was a way to do something meaningful and leave a legacy to help those who are most vulnerable of all—children,” she said.

The endowment will provide ongoing funds to support research areas of greatest need, as determined by the center director.

“We are so grateful for Helen’s gift,” said Fayez K. Ghishan, UA Department of Pediatrics head and professor and director of the Steele Center. “Pediatric diseases cannot be cured without research, and Helen’s generosity makes an enduring impact on children’s health by enabling us to move medicine forward through our research and discovery.”

“The University of Arizona instills the sense that you can accomplish just about anything—and their achievements in so many different fields reinforce this belief,” said Helen. “It is truly my great joy to give back to the UA for all it has given to me.”