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Bemidji State student, veteran Nicole Donley receives $5,000 Sanford Health scholarship

Bemidji Pioneer - 11/16/2022

Nov. 16—BEMIDJI — Though she would have dressed a bit differently for the occasion had she known about it beforehand,

Bemidji State

junior Nicole Donley was still pleasantly surprised during her Monday morning nursing class when she received a $5,000 scholarship from

Sanford Health.

Along with other Sanford Health leadership and Bemidji State administration in attendance, Paul Weckman, head of military and veteran affairs at Sanford, presented Donley with a check and a challenge coin as part of Sanford's Military and Veteran Scholarship program.

"We like to recognize those who have served the country," Weckman said while presenting the scholarship to Donley, "our veterans and those in the guard and reserve, and one way we recognize them is offering them a scholarship for going above and beyond."

These scholarships were first administered in 2018 as part of Sanford's efforts to serve veterans and military personnel through patient care, employment opportunities and community outreach, their website states.

As a result of their efforts,

Sanford was recently named as the top nonprofit employer on the 2022 Best for Vets employer list

by Military Times, a news source focused on military issues. Sanford also ranked first in the health care category and fourth overall out of 175 employers.

Five scholarships are awarded annually to applicants who must be full-time students pursuing a college degree with at least one full year of education remaining. They must also maintain a 3.0 grade point average and showcase service, scholarship, humble leadership and impact.

Representing BSU, Donley served in the military from 2005 to 2012, joining initially for the discipline and structure.

"I had seen myself not going down a great path in life, and I wanted to change it," Donley detailed. "I felt like (the military) was my best avenue at that point in time."

She completed basic training in Fort Jackson, S.C. before heading to Fort Bliss, Texas, for Advanced Individual Training.

She remained active as a truck driver, assistant resiliency trainer and teacher among other roles throughout her time of serving in the Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota Army National Guards.

With her husband also serving in the military and having three children, the pair came to a mutual decision that Donley would step down come 2012.

"We were both slotted for deployment at the same time at one point and we learned that, with three kids, that's just going to be too much," Donley said. "We wanted to make sure that never happened again."

With her husband's encouragement, the couple moved to the area to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. With initial plans to pursue medical laboratory science at BSU, Donley saw the need for frontline workers when the coronavirus pandemic struck and changed her pursuit to nursing.

She noted BSU's

Niganawenimaanaanig Indigenous Nursing program

that provides support to ethnic and racial minorities underrepresented in the nursing profession.

"I wouldn't receive those services, but the fact that they're willing to go above and beyond to help another culture that may not necessarily have the resources to be able to go to school ... it spoke volumes about the college. That really brought me to BSU."

Donley plans to work in pediatric nursing after graduation and has her sights set on the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth to complete her Doctorate of Nursing Practice.

Drawing on her clinical experiences and current work in the emergency room at Sanford, Donley sees herself working at Sanford as a way to apply what she has learned in college.

"I can't thank the staff at Sanford and here at BSU enough," Donley added. "I've learned an immense amount of stuff, and utilizing it at Sanford makes everything I learned at BSU come together."

As a nontraditional student, Donley left off with a piece of advice for those considering a college return or first steps on campus.

"You're never too old to go back to school," Donley said. "I'm 34 years old and back in school with people who are in their early 20s. It's very different, but students are really accepting. So, if you want to do it, do it."

Weckman highlighted the scholarship program's recognition of those who continue to serve their communities after they leave the military, notably Donley's nursing pursuits.

"When (scholarship recipients) leave the military and transition to the civilian world, a majority of them continue to serve in some type of role," Weckman said.

He also noted the importance of recognizing veterans in a public setting whenever an award is given out much like the surprise scholarship that Donley received.

"I think it's important for your peers to hear and see the testimonial of someone who works hard and achieves these things," Weckman added. "Why wouldn't we want to hear good news and celebrate it with others?"

Weckman encourages all those who are qualified to apply as a majority of recipients typically come from Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

"Most applications come from within the Sanford Health footprint, but there's nothing prohibiting anybody from applying anywhere in the U.S. or overseas," Weckman said.

Having served for 26 years in the U.S. Navy, Weckman sees himself continuing to serve others through his role at Sanford.

"The best part of my job is I continue to serve others, but more importantly, fellow veterans," Weckman said. "That's the great thing about my job, or my calling."

More information on the scholarship program can be found at


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