My parents were born in 1911. They faced challenges that haven’t changed much for students today: the ability to afford education, being a woman, being a minority — Janet Yagoda Shagam
Janet Yagoda Shagam (PhD ’86) understands too well the sacrifices students, professors and health care professionals make for their vocations.
She is the daughter of parents who had to overcome significant challenges to their career goals. Her in-laws coped with similar challenges.
But it wasn’t enough for Yagoda Shagam just to acknowledge their hard work and sacrifice. She wanted to give back as well.
A former University of New Mexico professional writing program lecturer with a background in biology and microbiology, Yagoda Shagam is also an artist whose work has been shown throughout Europe, Israel, China and Japan. After high school, she briefly attended the Boston Museum School before switching to science.
After arriving in Albuquerque to earn her PhD in biology/microbiology, she began taking classes at UNM’s world-renowned Tamarind Institute.
“I’ve always been fascinated by lithography,” she said. “Lithography is very physical and requires a fair amount of chemistry, which makes it appealing to me. Tamarind was my first hands-on experience with that. They have a fine education program to train lithographers, and they set the standard on a global scale.”
Later, she began making gifts to support the Institute’s two-year master printmaker program and has supported the school financially for several years.
Art is intrinsic to Yagoda Shagam’s professional and personal life.
“People find it strange that I function quite well as a writer, researcher and artist,” she said. “What they don’t realize is art, science and writing are all creative and problem-solving ways of thinking. Both writing and art require intense focus but different kinds of physicality. To feel balanced, I have to do both.”
In 2020, Yagoda Shagam decided to give back to UNM in a new way, via a gift to UNM’s La Tierra Sagrada Society (LTSS, the scholarship fund for UNM School of Medicine students. All gifts go solely toward providing need-based medical school scholarships and growing the LTSS endowment. She renewed her gift in 2021 and 2022.
Yagoda Shagam’s gifts to LTSS are an homage to Edward Fancovic, MD, who is her primary care physician, Interim Dean for Undergraduate Medical Education and a professor in the Department of Internal Medicine.
She chose to honor Dr. Fancovic because of his dedication to education and health care.
“Dr. Fancovic has been very helpful to our family in many ways,” she said. “And he’s giving a lot of his time to medical-school education. I’m sure the students are getting the very best from him.”
Her respect for the clinicians at UNM Hospital also influenced her decision. “I like what UNMH does for the community. The faculty there is amazing,” she said. “They are still learners.”
Gifts like Yagoda Shagam’s help make it possible for students who otherwise may not be able to afford medical school to achieve their goals. Many students face additional obstacles. Her parents and her father-in-law certainly did.
“My parents were born in 1911,” Yagoda Shagam said. “They faced challenges that haven’t changed much for students today: the ability to afford education, being a woman, being a minority.”
Her mother wanted to be a pathologist. Growing up in a small Connecticut town, she had few options after high school. So, she moved to New York City and attended Hunter College at night while working during the day. However, after two years, the demands of marriage and family took priority over higher education.
When Yagoda Shagam’s father tried to get into graduate school, he was told the school already “had too many Hebrews.” Her father-in-law graduated from medical school, served in the medical corps during World War II, and tried to find an ophthalmology residency after his military service. He was told the same thing her father heard. However, both her father and father-in-law persevered and eventually reached their goals.
In 2022, Yagoda Shagam made a new gift to UNM’s Special Needs Dentistry program in recognition of the fact that “many people in New Mexico cannot afford dental care. Should they have health insurance, most policies don’t give sufficient benefits.” She also wants to help improve access to care, particularly outside of the large metropolitan areas. “There are few dentists and dental hygienists in rural parts of the state.”
Janet Yagoda Shagam’s history of generosity to UNM Health Sciences and the Tamarind Institute is an inspiring example of the difference ordinary people can make to the lives of students and patients via donations of any amount. For her, knowing she can make a difference in the life of even one student is worth it.
“I want to give UNM’s students as much opportunity as I can so they can give back to their homes,” she said.