Big gift

A $1.5 million gift to UAM's nursing program is the second largest bequest in school history.

A landmark gift will benefit the University of Arkansas-Monticello nursing program.

Chancellor Karla Hughes announced the gift Thursday night during the UAM School of Nursing Graduate Recognition Ceremony.

It is the second-largest single gift in the university’s history, having an estimated value of $1.5 million. The donor, Raylene Steelman, left UAM the vast majority of her estate with the specific intent of providing nursing scholarships. She wished to remain anonymous until her death.

A Warren High School graduate, Steelman worked at the university as a librarian for 37 years. Her interest in providing nursing scholarships was sparked by the quality of care she received from UAM nurse graduates late in life. Steelman passed away April 12 in Monticello at age 96.

In a welcome address, Hughes recognized the hard work of the graduating nurses and commended students for their chosen profession. “You will absolutely change lives every day,” she said. “Mrs. Steelman learned, over and over, that her own capable nurses had studied at UAM,” Hughes said, which led to Steelman’s planned gift. “One nurse, one patient encounter, can have a profound impact on the entire region,” Hughes said. The additional scholarships come at a time of great nursing shortages across the country, in particular in Arkansas.

Dr. Brandy Haley, dean of the UAM school of nursing, explained that the gift would provide around $70,000 per year in perpetuity for nursing students. “This gift will enhance UAM’s reputation as the premier educator in the health sciences,” Haley said. “Growing interest in our program means it will get even more competitive, and that adds value to the degrees you have earned,” she told graduates.

On its main campus in Monticello, UAM offers associate of applied science and bachelor of science degrees in nursing, in addition to LPN-to-RN, LPN-to-BSN and RN-to-BSN tracks.

CNA and LPN programs are also offered at its Colleges of Technology in Crossett and McGehee. Monticello campus graduates have a 100% job placement rate, and their BSN pass rates have cons in high 90 percentiles in the last few years. The McGehee LPN program has achieved a 100% NCLEX (licensing exam) pass rate for each of the last six years, a feat unmatched across other LPN programs in the state.

Between federal aid, private organizations, and endowments, UAM nursing students receive, on average, about half a million dollars in scholarships each academic year. This semester, each of the nurse graduates is the recipient of at least one endowed (partial) scholarship.

Haley believes the additional scholarships the Steelman gift creates will help her continue to recruit high quality students and will make their competitive admissions process even more selective. “This may also incentivize a number of working nurses to continue their education,” Haley said. “After you’ve been working, it can be difficult to imagine taking a break to get another academic credential, but BSNs are in very high demand in Arkansas,” she said. “With a gift like this, we’ll have more scholarships that will incentivize those quality nurses to earn a degree that leads to a higher-earning job.”

The largest private gift to the university, from the Merle and Deloris Peterson estate, was announced last fall and exceeded $6 million.

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