While her desire to advance her nursing career wasn't in question, the dollars had to make sense for Cathey Biehle to attain a bachelor's degree.
Thanks to the generosity of the M.G. and Lillie A. Johnson Foundation, the mother of three from Hallettsville will have all of her tuition and fees paid while she pursues a University of Houston-Victoria Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.
Biehle and new RN to BSN students Jennifer Kidneigh, of Shiner, and Donescia Hypolite, of Ganado, recently were chosen as Johnson Scholars. It's the first time the UHV School of Nursing has selected three Johnson Scholars at one time.
"It's an honor," Biehle said. "In nursing, it's important to advance our knowledge. I wasn't sure how I was going to be able to financially do it. Now, I don't have to worry about that as much. This takes off some of that burden, so that I won't have to work full time while attending school full time."
UHV offers an accelerated, 12-month RN to BSN program that includes classroom instruction and clinical work every Tuesday and Web-enhanced instruction. Students will begin the program June 3 in Victoria.
In 2008, UHV received a $205,000 grant from the Johnson Foundation to fund scholarships and purchase training equipment. The foundation gave an additional $100,000 in 2009 to remove financial barriers for more nursing students. Johnson Scholars have all their tuition and fees paid. There usually is money left over to cover some textbook costs. Students not chosen as scholars may be eligible to receive $300 to $1,200 Johnson Scholarships.
Johnson Scholars are not chosen every school year. They only are picked when an applying student meets the criteria. The last scholar was Master of Science in Nursing student Angelica Ybarra. She graduated in May 2013 and is now the director of clinical advocacy in the Division of Public Health and Medical Education at the Texas Medical Association in Austin.
The scholarship criteria include leadership skills, strong academic record, dedication to the nursing profession and service to the community. Preference is given to students who are underrepresented in nursing. Students must be full-time RN to BSN or MSN students who take classes in Victoria.
"The three students chosen this time had remarkably high grade-point averages from their respective community colleges," said Kathryn Tart, founding dean of the UHV School of Nursing. "This is the caliber of students we are looking for to become Johnson Scholars. We know the quality of the RN to BSN program attracts such outstanding students."
Kidneigh earned a licensed vocational nursing degree 12 years ago. After she and her husband moved back to Texas from Casper, Wyo., she obtained her associate degree in nursing from Victoria College.
"I thought returning to school after a decade would be a struggle, but it wasn't too bad," Kidneigh said. "I'd like to complete my BSN and then MSN, with a goal of working in hospital administration."
Biehle, who earned an ADN from Blinn College in 2012, and Hypolite are interested in careers as nurse practitioners.
"I hope to be able to provide support to our local communities because I think rural health care is important," Biehle said. "To be able to one day practice independently to help underinsured and noninsured patients will be a great reward."
All three nursing students liked UHV's hybrid program, which includes face-to-face classroom and Web-enhanced instruction.
"I wanted a program that still offered the in-class experience," Kidneigh said. "I know some students prefer online classes, but I like that one-on-one classroom experience."
Like Kidneigh, Hypolite liked the ease of transitioning from VC to UHV. She served in a leadership role in the Victoria College Student Nurses Association, where she participated in a number of community service projects, such as helping the Golden Crescent Habitat for Humanity and the Food Bank of the Golden Crescent.
"It was very rewarding and taught me how to integrate my service time with my school time," Hypolite said. "I also coach Little League in El Campo. It's important to devote time to the community."
All three students thanked the Johnson Foundation for making the scholarships possible.
"The foundation is amazing for providing financial support to future nurses," said Kidneigh, who was the first person in her family to graduate from college. "A lot of people want to go into this honorable career, but they might not be able to afford to do so. It's great that the Johnson Foundation is providing access to higher education for those students."
Tart said past Johnson Scholars already are making a difference.
"One of our first scholars is now a nursing faculty member at a community college, while another is in our Family Nurse Practitioner program," Tart said. "The Johnson Foundation has made these funds available to attract outstanding students to Victoria and provide support for the community in health care education. We appreciate their support in this endeavor."
For more information about applying to the UHV School of Nursing RN to BSN program starting in June or the MSN program starting in August, visit uhv.edu/nursing or call 877-970-4848, ext. 4370, to speak with an adviser.