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Traditional A Grand Affair gala celebrates KU School of Medicine students, faculty

The University of Kansas School of Medicine honored exceptional performance in the “biggest, baddest” gala this side of the pandemic.

Dr. David Becker in front of podium
David W. Becker, M.D., assistant professor of general, geriatric and hospital medicine and medical director of the Neis Clinical Skills Lab at KU Medical Center, received the Rainbow Award at 2022's A Grand Affair. The award is selected by the students of KU School of Medicine.

Unofficially, the awards gala for the University of Kansas School of Medicine known as A Grand Affair went by another name in 2022: “the Biggest, Baddest AGA in History.”

“I think that reflected how excited everyone was to attend an in-person A Grand Affair,” said Ethan Kallenberger, a 2nd-year student in KU School of Medicine and co-president of the Medical Student Assembly.

The saga of the gala

A Grand Affair is traditionally a formal gala with dinner and dancing where medical school students, residents and faculty gather to celebrate their accomplishments. For more than two decades, the Medical Student Assembly and the Office of Student Affairs at KU School of Medicine have organized A Grand Affair. But in 2021, concerns about the COVID-19 virus prompted them to reinvent the gala as a virtual ceremony.

Organizers hoped to return to an in-person event for 2022, but COVID again interfered. A rise in the COVID-19 variant Omicron in the Kansas City area led to a postponement, and the event date changed from Jan. 15 to March 19.

The bold fashion statement: no masks

Finally, with COVID cases on the decline, A Grand Affair went off as planned at the Grand Ballroom of the Kansas City Convention Center, Kansas City, Missouri. By holding the event in a social setting where masks were not required, guests could enjoy the event with faces uncovered. But they were required to supply to a third-party vaccine verification service either proof of their COVID-19 vaccination and booster or a negative COVID PCR test result taken with 72 hours of AGA. The verification service then provided them with a QR code that had to be displayed before they entered the festivities.

 “I think the biggest excitement of the evening was seeing everyone in person without masks,” said Stephanie Matthews, KU School of Medicine student and social chair for the Medical Student Assembly. “So many of my mentors I’ve only talked to online, and for the ones I’ve talked to in person, I haven’t seen their faces.”

Honoring faculty

Akinlolu Ojo, M.D., Ph.D., MBA, executive dean of KU School of Medicine, thanked organizers and attendees of A Grand Affair for their roles in making the evening a success. He then devoted his comments to the medical school faculty.

“Our faculty ― the teachers, the clinicians, the scientists ― are our longest-serving most valuable assets as they devote themselves semester after semester and year after year to serve as role models and mentors, sharing their wealth of knowledge and their values of humanism and professionalism with our medical students,” Ojo said.

The Ad Astra Award honors a physician who volunteers to host KU medical students and welcomes them into their community and their practice. They provide mentoring and hands-on experience for the students. This year’s honoree was Jon Sides, M.D., clinical assistant professor in the Department of Family & Community Health in Wichita.

The Sunflower Award is presented to an outstanding part-time physician educator and who has generously given time, experience and knowledge to KU medical students. Students selected Bradley Daily, M.D., clinical assistant professor in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine in Salina.

Rainbow Award

The Rainbow Award, the highest award presented to faculty on behalf of students in the KU School of Medicine, is traditionally presented at A Grand Affair to the professor that exemplifies professionalism in medicine and the willingness and capacity to mentor others. The 2022 winner was David W. Becker, M.D., assistant professor of general, geriatric and hospital medicine.

Becker graduated from KU School of Medicine in 2005 and completed his internal medicine residency at the medical center in 2008. In 2019, Becker became medical director of the Neis Clinical Skills Lab at KU Medical Center, writing standardized patient cases and teaching outlines while giving medical students and residents feedback on their performance.  

“Dr. Becker does an amazing job guiding us through the material and directing us back to the task at hand when we get off track,” one student wrote in a nominating letter. “He is kind, funny and extremely knowledgeable, but over everything else, he always, without fail, asks us how things are going ... We can voice any concerns or suggestions to him, and he listens.”

Becker said he was “humbled” to receive the recognition. “Being with learners is my main mission for my work at KU. Their brilliance, enthusiasm, thoughtfulness and drive are constant motivators to do my best just to try to keep up with them,” he said.

Additional 2022 Rainbow Award nominees were:

  • Christopher Crenner, M.D., Ph.D., professor of history and philosophy of medicine
  • Rachel DiTeresi, M.D., clinical assistant professor, obstetrics and gynecology
  • Melissa E. Huggins, M.D., clinical assistant professor, obstetrics and gynecology
  • Andrew P. Pirotte, M.D., assistant professor, emergency medicine and assistant dean of student affairs

A video of the nominees was part of the evening’s ceremony.

Busy weekend

The day before A Grand Affair, 4th year medical students (M4s) celebrated Match Day, another important milestone event for graduating medical students. On Match Day, graduating medical students learn where they will be completing their residency, the next phase of their medical education. Though both important, the two events aren’t usually in two days. Matthews said the back-to-back timing led to “a very big weekend, full of celebrations and events.”

“Personally, I think having AGA on the same weekend was a great way to send the M4s off with a bang!” she said.


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