Nursing grad student creates scholarship to increase diversity in the field

Jasmine Ellington is pictured with College of Nursing Dean Linda Streit after winning the leadership award during graduation in May 2019.
Jasmine Garrett Ellington is pictured with former College of Nursing Dean Dr. Linda Streit after winning the leadership award during graduation in May 2019. Photo courtesy Jasmine Ellington

A new scholarship for Mercer University’s College of Nursing aims to increase racial and ethnic diversity among nursing students as well as in the nursing profession. 

The Diversity in Nursing Scholarship was initiated by Jasmine Garrett, who graduated from Mercer with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in 2019 and is now in Mercer’s doctoral program for the adult-gerontology acute care specialty. She created the scholarship in honor of 26-year-old Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was fatally shot by police officers during a raid of her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment on March 13. 

Garrett worked as an emergency medical technician (EMT) while she was in nursing school and said she felt connected to Taylor, an EMT who aspired to become a registered nurse. 

“After hearing of Breonna Taylor’s death and everything that unfolded, it motivated me. I wanted to find a way to make a difference. I wanted to find a way to give back. I wanted to (create) something positive out of this tragic event,” said Garrett, who won the Alumni Association Nursing Leadership Award during the College of Nursing’s Pinning and Hooding Ceremony in 2019.

Dr. Ansley Booker, director of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives at Mercer, said it’s important to say the names of people who have lost their lives to violence. This scholarship is another way to honor Taylor’s legacy as an essential worker who was on the frontlines during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Garrett is pictured working at WellStar Kennestone Emergency Department in the midst of the first COVID-19 rush in the spring.

Working with the Office of University Advancement, an online Give Campus campaign was created to raise an initial $5,000 for the scholarship, and Garrett contributed the first $1,000 herself. College of Nursing Dean Dr. Linda Streit is matching contributions by faculty and staff up to $1,000. The campaign ends Oct. 16.

As of Oct. 5, more than $8,300 had already been raised for the scholarship. The number of scholarships and amount awarded to students will depend on how much money is raised, so additional funding means more assistance for future nurses. The goal is to raise $25,000 over five years so the scholarship can become endowed, Garrett said. The earlier the scholarship campaign reaches its goal, the sooner awards can be made to students.

Garrett embraced many opportunities when she was a student in Mercer’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program and was a mentor and leader among her peers, Dr. Streit said.

“She really wanted to make a difference. I’ve been dean for 10 years here. I’ve never had a student call me a year after graduation and say they want to start a scholarship fund. I was deeply moved. You always instill within others the importance in seizing opportunities to make a difference to those who are following in your footsteps,” Dr. Streit said. “I was excited about Jasmine wanting to pay it forward. I got even more excited when I learned she wanted to focus on diversity.”

Dr. Streit said the scholarship is right in line with the College of Nursing’s diversity initiatives, which include programs being spearheaded through a four-year Health Resources and Services Administration Nursing Workforce Diversity grant. The college has taken some very deliberate measures as a nursing community to support and promote diversity, equity and inclusion, and this scholarship is an opportunity to take the next step. Dr. Streit said her contribution was a way to show her support to Garrett and the scholarship while also challenging others to follow their own heart.

After the Give Campus campaign ends Oct. 16, contributions still can be made to the scholarship online through Mercer’s online giving portal. Select “other gift” under the “fund for gift” drop-down menu, and type “Diversity in Nursing Scholarship” for “fund name.”

“This scholarship is an opportunity to give back and to help fellow classmates,” said Dr. Booker, who provided some guidance to Garrett on the scholarship. “We talk about what you can do for social injustice … to speak, to act, to do. This fell into the category of ‘What can I do?’ It helps advocate for current students. It’s another opportunity to provide additional support while also being an advocate and bringing social justice to the forefront for discussion.”

Garrett hopes the scholarship will help reduce financial hardships for minority students who wish to enter the field of nursing. In addition, it could allow students to better focus on being the learner by eliminating elements like financial burden and need for employment that can take away from their educational experience, Dr. Streit said.

“My long-term goal of this scholarship fund is to be able to improve the recruitment and retention of African American nursing students and also to improve the diversity of nursing students,” Garrett said. “Just being able to improve that and move that needle a little, I’d consider that a success.”

In 2017, 80.8% percent of registered nurses in the U.S. were white, and 19.2% were from minority backgrounds, with 6.2% of the workforce being African American, 7.5% Asian and 5.3% Hispanic, according to the most recent survey from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing

While the United States is becoming increasingly diverse, great disparities still exist when it comes to quality health care, Dr. Booker said. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, “Though nursing has made great strides in recruiting and graduating nurses that mirror the patient population, more must be done before adequate representation becomes a reality.”

“If we diversify our team and team members, then we bring to the table those who have other scopes and lenses that are different than our own,” Dr. Streit said. “By doing that, we have an outcome that is more positive. It’s important that our team become more diversified, so we can actually reach higher levels. To be content with the status quo would never be enough. We’ve got to be able to provide more comprehensive care to understand our population to the broadest ability.”


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