Scholarships for underrepresented students a top priority at Penn Nursing
Since the day Alexie Maria Smith, GRN’19, first set foot in an operating room, she knew she wanted to be a nurse anesthetist. But like many students, she feared that the cost of graduate school would prevent her from fulfilling her dream.
“To enter the field of anesthesiology, I knew that I would need a graduate degree,” she says. “I also recognized that graduate studies at a nursing school like Penn’s was out of my financial reach.” Now, thanks to a scholarship named for an extraordinary alumna, Smith is working towards a DNP in Penn Nursing’s Nurse Anesthesia Program.
“I knew that I wanted to go to Penn so that I could hone my skills in the Simulation Center, be mentored by the expert faculty and work in Philadelphia’s great hospitals,” says Smith. “Without my scholarship, I wouldn’t have been able to take this important step in my career.”
Scholarships, especially for students from underrepresented backgrounds, is one of Penn Nursing’s top priorities in the Campaign. Financial support for students is crucial to achieving Penn Nursing’s goal of ensuring that the best and brightest scholars have access to their programs, and that the School can continue to grow its pool of students in a way that reflects the diversity of the real world.
Smith is one of the inaugural recipients of the Tillman-Ortiz Memorial Nursing Endowed Scholarship, named for Penn Nursing graduate Col. Sophia A. Tillman-Ortiz, GNu’97, who earned a Master of Science in Nursing from Penn in 1997. Tillman had a 28-year career with the U.S. Army and was deployed to some of the world’s most tumultuous regions including Nicaragua, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iraq and the Republic of Korea.
She served as head nurse for military intensive care units and later took on a role at the Pentagon as Chief of Health Promotion Policy. After her untimely death, her family teamed up with the Friends of Penn Nursing to establish a fitting tribute—an endowed scholarship to support a minority student pursuing a graduate degree at Penn Nursing.
The Tillman-Ortiz Scholarship is an important reflection of Penn Nursing’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. “Here at Penn, we are preparing researchers, care providers and community leaders who are equipped to provide the highest level of care to our ever-increasing diverse population,” says Lisa M. Lewis, PhD, RN, FAAN, Associate Professor of Nursing and Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusivity.
Penn Nursing hopes Campaign funds will establish a pipeline of diverse nursing leaders. “I’m so grateful for this opportunity,” says Smith, “and I plan to honor the legacy of Col. Tillman-Ortiz by serving those communities most in need of care.”