What to Give to Inspire and Enrich

Samantha Bronson, SMU News

When nursing Professor Paulina Van decided to establish a scholarship, it made sense to create one for Samuel Merritt University nursing students who plan to care for mothers and infants.

For years, Van’s research has focused on health disparities concerning pregnancy loss and infant mortality with a particular focus on African American and other diverse women. The statistics are sobering: African American mothers from across the socio-economic spectrum die from preventable pregnancy-related complications at 2.5 times the rate of white women. African American mothers also suffer pregnancy losses at higher rates than white mothers. And the mortality rate for African American infants is more than double that of white infants.

“The conditions and statistics related to pregnancy loss among women of color have been static for at least two decades,” Van says. “We need more focus and emphasis on this public health issue. I want nurses who share a passion for the care and support of diverse women after pregnancy loss to use my work as a foundation to advance knowledge and direct care in this area of practice.”

“Additionally, financial struggles among students of color continue to impact their access to nursing education and their abilities to graduate and enter the profession successfully,” Van says. “I want to do my part in contributing to mitigate this barrier.”

Financial aid for nurses

The Paulina R. Van Perinatal Nursing Scholarship was created in 2020 to provide vital financial assistance to SMU nursing students. In fact, Van was so inspired after receiving thank you letters from two recipients and hearing from a third about their financial needs that she donated even more to the scholarship fund.

“I don’t know what else to say, but it’s almost like I’m infused with life when I help someone else,” she says. “If I can make a difference in just one person’s life, it has given purpose to my whole life. I’m always looking at my resources to figure out what more can I give. How can I up the ante?”

Van is now working to make the scholarship endowed, meaning that awards provided to students will be made using the interest accrued on the principal. Because of this, the scholarship will continue to support students in perpetuity. Van is donating a percentage of the sales of her new book of healing poetry, Regala Healing, toward the scholarship; and she has asked friends and family to donate to the fund in lieu of gifts for birthdays and other celebrations. Not only does that help the fund grow, Van says, but it also helps grow a community of giving.

It’s a sentiment she feels passionately about, Van says, pointing to childhood role models who gave selflessly and mentors who guided her throughout her career. She hopes her scholarship will inspire others to consider how they can contribute.

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