School of Nursing receives record $3.25 million grant

Largest-ever grant for the University’s nursing program awarded for disadvantaged students

Miguel Arcayena

Contributing Writer

Students in the School of Nursing and Health Professions at a free blood pressure screening. Anthony Aguirre/SLE FLICKR

As the University continues to face calls for economic justice amid students dealing with the financial hardships of the coronavirus pandemic, the School of Nursing and Health Professions (SONHP) was recently granted $3.25 million from the federal government to support scholarships for disadvantaged and underrepresented students. 

The five-year grant was obtained through the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) for its Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students (SDS) program. The SDS program’s primary focus is to promote diversity in the nursing profession and to increase support in underserved communities after graduation. This is the second time USF has received an HRSA award in the past year. In 2019, the nursing program secured a four-year $2.4 million grant, also intended for better healthcare education towards rural and underserved communities.  

The grant notably comes amidst a global pandemic that has impacted college students financially and logistically. It also comes during a reckoning moment of systemic injustice in the U.S. Since the summer, USF students have actively lobbied the University’s administration to enact changes such as alleviating recent tuition hikes and promoting racial equity among the student body. 

In a press release, the SONHP’s Dean Margaret Baker said, “This grant, along with other SONHP initiatives, aligns with our commitment to address the lack of ethnic, racial, and cultural diversity in nursing practice, research, education, and policy.”

Starting this academic year, 25 students will receive awards from the grant. The individuals selected will get a $26,000 per year scholarship. According to a University press release, the grant allows the SONHP to “nurture [the students’] long-term career potential, empower them to become registered nurses, and prepare them to work in medically underserved communities.” Additionally, it will also prepare students to “offer culturally and linguistically competent professional nursing services and foster job placements in medically underserved communities.”

To qualify for the scholarship, applicants will need to have a 2.9 GPA and maintain it throughout their academic careers. Similar to other federal grants, this award is a yearly process and students will have to reapply every academic year. 

Professor Angela Banks led the effort to secure the record-setting grant. Courtesy of @usfca Instagram. Instagram @usfca.

The grant was organized by Dr. Angela Banks, a nursing professor and former chair of the undergraduate nursing department at USF. Banks became interested in directly helping nursing students financially three years ago. “One of the major concerns I’ve heard from students is that they needed to work part-time or a full-time job for living expenses, paying tuition, and to do that on top of the rigorous program, makes it even more challenging,” Banks said  

Banks led a similar grant three years ago, but she faced a hurdle in the form of a federal government funding shortage. “It was such an overwhelming experience because I did it all by myself, so I decided to write smaller grants instead,” Banks said. The smaller grants are supported by the state of California and provide students with anywhere from $3,000 to $9,000. Banks continues to apply for them despite the award of the federal grant.

After three years of assembling smaller awards, Banks decided to apply for the federal grant again. This time, funding and support from the federal government were sufficient. Banks said, “It was such a wonderful experience to be able to say to students that after all the hard work that I’ve been doing, it finally paid off.” 

One of the students who will be awarded the scholarship is sophomore Naomi Burks. “It allows me to continue my nursing education at USF by lifting a financial burden off my family and me,” she said. Burks added that outside of the financial help, the other significant support in the scholarship is mentorship. “I know that it would be really, really helpful to me, just to have that guidance through the program and even beyond after I graduate,” she said. 

According to Banks, her main focus for this grant is to recruit Black and brown students. She also said the scholarship opportunity extends to “individuals that are Vietnamese, Cambodian, Mong [Hmong], etc., that are underrepresented in nursing are also under the umbrella of this grant.”

When asked how grants like these affect the program, senior nursing student and Nursing Student Association e-board member Quynh Lee said, “Not only does it boost the nursing program, but by having me and other students that are minorities get this extra money, we can use our education and make an impact down the line that can transform the nursing community.” 

Dr. Banks hopes these grants can become an inspiration for the University and other faculty at this opportune moment. “We can lighten the burdens for our students, provide them with financial assistance, and more resources because they would no longer have to worry about the pressures [of financial insecurity], especially now,” Banks said. “This allows them to study and be successful in their courses.”

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