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Alumni offer aid with a $90,000 endowment towards scholarships for students in UMass’ nursing doctoral program

When the University of Massachusetts reunited the Class of 1959 in the courtyard of Skinner Hall last June, an announcement was made, endowing $90,000 in scholarships for students in the University’s nursing doctoral program.

The 50th class reunion gift from the UMass alumni will be distributed amongst the nursing PhD students who qualify for financial assistance, in addition to being used for enticing new recruits to campus.

In May 2006, UMass became the first school in the state to offer the advanced degree in nursing upon approval from the school’s Board of Trustees. The Class of 1959 Nursing Scholarship Endowment will pay for the students’books, health insurance and their cost of living.

“Every 50th reunion class creates a class gift,” said Sarah Sligo, senior associate director of Annual Giving and recruitment specialist for the UMass Alumni Association. “They are always thinking of something to give back and encourage students to give back in the future.”

Sligo was instrumental in developing the reunion committee for the class of 1959. She recollected how one of the committee members was particularly interested in the study of aging and how it reflects in the current state of the healthcare system. 

“One of the biggest problems for healthcare is that there is such a severe nursing shortage,” Sligo said. “We do not have enough professors to teach the students.”

She added that, due to the current economic crisis, the staggering costs of higher education have often prompted students to enter the work force immediately after receiving an undergraduate degree rather than pursuing graduate studies. 

Without a PhD, most nursing graduates will find tough times ahead because they lack the necessary credentials to pursue a career in the field or in healthcare education. For example, members of the UMass faculty must have a PhD in nursing in order to teach at the university.  For nursing students hoping to receive their PhD from UMass, the program’s length is four years with a total cost of $80,000.

With the announcement of the gift from the Class of 1959, Sligo said the school is working towards endowing students with the special skills they will need to obtain the careers best suited for them through continued education in graduate programs.

According to Andrew Clendinneng, director of development for the School of Nursing, only 47 percent of nursing professors actually have doctoral degrees. One of the reasons behind this limited number of highly trained nurses is the lack of adequate financial aid for students. 

“This is a really important time for nursing,” he said. “We need more nurses in the field to care for our grandparents, our parents and eventually us.”

For Clendinneng, who works with alumni to cultivate gifts for the school, attending the first information session for the reunion committee was an opportunity to present his case for support on behalf of the nursing school.

Hoping for others to follow the class of 1959’s example, Clendinneng optimistically concluded his sentiments on the gift as a beginning for some much-needed changes in the healthcare system and in education.

“It was transforming because the nursing shortage is so critical, so this type of step forward in making change is really exciting,” he said.

“When the gift was announced it was really exciting because instead of dedicating a bench or a tree this class gift is quite different,” he added. “They recognized a nursing shortage and wanted to help create educators of tomorrow.”

Jennifer Heshion can be reached at jheshion@student.umass.edu

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