UMass Amherst Elaine Marieb College of Nursing Receives $2 Million Gift to Create Program to Boost Diversity and Inclusion Efforts

September 23, 2021

AMHERST, Mass. – A $2 million gift to the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Elaine Marieb College of Nursing will create a new comprehensive mentoring and scholarship program to enhance diversity and inclusion within the college. The gift will create a new program called the Seedworks Equity in Nursing Fund, which will provide scholarships, mentoring and peer-to-peer support for aspiring nursing students from diverse backgrounds.

The gift was made to the Elaine Marieb College of Nursing by Susan Hagedorn, who graduated from UMass Amherst in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Hagedorn is a nurse practitioner and educator who has dedicated her career to social justice. The impactful gift comes via the Seedworks Fund, a non-profit fund founded by Hagedorn and her children Hope Hagedorn Reeves, Will Hagedorn Paterson, and Jennifer Paterson Turner. Hagedorn is a longtime strong supporter of the College of Nursing, and previously donated funds to start an endowed professorship in social justice in nursing, currently held by Prof. Raeann LeBlanc.

Hagedorn is a professor emerita at the University of Colorado, where she earned a doctorate degree in nursing. She also holds a master’s degree from Boston College in maternal-child nursing. She has practiced and taught psychiatric, pediatric and public health nursing, as well as provided training for pediatric and women’s health nurse practitioners. She is also a filmmaker who has produced more than 20 films focusing on nursing and social justice, including the film Deputized, a documentary about a murder on Long Island, N.Y. that was screened at UMass in 2016. This year she released a film called, The Berrigans: Devout and Dangerous, that is getting national acclaim at independent film festivals across the country. The film is about two Catholic priests dedicated to non-violent resistance during the Vietnam era. She is currently working on a new documentary about racism in nursing.

“The Seedworks Fund is committed to the UMass Amherst Elaine Marieb College of Nursing and believe they have the will and ability to engage and support diversifying the nursing program,” Hagedorn said. “Diversifying nursing education makes nursing care better and, therefore, improves the health of all. This program is meant to increase equity in nursing and social justice in healthcare.”

Starting this fall, the gift will provide funding for scholarships to nursing students who may have challenges to accessing higher education. It will also support a mentoring program that will include faculty and nursing leaders, networking and professional development workshops, and activities that will strengthen recruitment of high school students interested in health care careers.

“If you care about equity in this country, you need to work on elevating people professionally,” said trustee Will Paterson. “This is an issue that spans nearly every professional workplace from medicine to accounting to teaching. For a long time, these industries have been dominated by white people, particularly at the leadership level. The Seedworks Fund is designed to address some of those disparities in the specific field of nursing and we are incredibly proud of both the design and aspiration.”

For Prof. Gabrielle Abelard, a ’97 and ’01 graduate of the UMass Amherst College of Nursing and current faculty member, the gift from the Seedworks Fund is especially impactful. When Abelard graduated in 1997, she was the only person of color in what started as a cohort of more than 200 pre-nursing students.

“In reflecting back, that was a difficult period, in that I felt alone in many respects,” Abelard said. “Upon returning to UMass in 2001 for my graduate program, I felt it was important to make a positive change for future nurses and nursing practice, so I co-founded the ALANA (Asian, Latino, African and Native American) program here in the College of Nursing for students of color. It made a tremendous difference to create a sense of belonging and support, and the numbers of students admitted to the college in its first application year grew from less than two to 14 students. What a wonderful feeling it was to see that first diverse class of students graduate in 2002. I am still in touch with some of these amazing nursing leaders today.”

Abelard said the gift from Seedworks will amplify the work of the ALANA program and pointed to the mentorship and resiliency training aspects of the program the funding will support as keys to recruiting, retaining and training a more diverse cohort of nursing students. Abelard said the key aspect of the Seedworks Equity in Nursing Fund is that it will help ensure the success of future nursing leaders.

“Diversity in nursing is important because the patients in our health care system are diverse with a wide range of life experiences,” Abelard said. “This is where we can really make a difference with this funding by recruiting and training cohorts of nursing students to care for patients. Too often, our patients don’t see themselves in the people taking care of them. UMass Amherst will be a leader in changing that, and that is very exciting.”

“The Seedworks Equity in Nursing Fund will enable the UMass Amherst Elaine Marieb College of Nursing to empower potential nursing students whose identities reflect the diversity of the communities they will be serving,” said Allison Vorderstrasse, dean of the Elaine Marieb College of Nursing. “It is such a pleasure to connect with Sue Hagedorn who so intimately understands the need to transform health care into a more equitable and inclusive sector. We are deeply grateful for her support of such a crucial aspect of nursing education.”

Vorderstrasse said inequities are present in the field of nursing, where according to a recent survey by the Health Resources and Services Administration, almost three-quarters of nurses are non-Hispanic white, and that about 9 out of 10 are women. A recent report by the National Academy of Medicine showed that only 17 percent of full-time nursing faculty are from under-represented groups.

Trustee Hope Reeves said the disproportionate number of COVID-19 deaths and serious illnesses in people of color clearly demonstrates, among other things, a lack of faith in and access to the health care system in this country. “If a person feels unwelcome, judged or misunderstood by those supposed to be providing guidance and care, they will not seek it, and the consequences can be devastating,” she said.

“The Seedworks Fund has always sought to advocate for nurses,” said trustee Jennifer Turner. “The pandemic has led to a universal crisis and shortage in the nursing profession. The Seedworks Equity in Nursing Fund will not only highlight diversity, inclusion and equity, but it will also assist in the critical need to recruit, support and encourage potential nursing students.”

The program will explore offering summer courses or immersion experiences to rising high school students that aims to strengthen their preparation for college admission and engagement in nursing.

The Elaine Marieb College of Nursing will also use the gift to support an effort to enrich the college’s curriculum by incorporating health equity into its foundation. “We want to ensure our students experience equity in access to nursing education and careers, and can provide care to all of their patients with increased awareness and understanding, and that BIPOC patients see themselves reflected in those who are providing their care,” Vorderstrasse said. Hagedorn will be featured at the UMass Amherst Reckoning with Racism in Nursing event on Sept. 27th.

The Seedworks Equity in Nursing Fund is modeled after other successful initiatives across the U.S., including Marquette University’s BEYOND project, which has seen an increase in enrollment and retention of BILPOC (Black, Indigenous, Latinx and People of Color), and the Dotson Bridge and Mentoring Program at Simmons University, which offers BILPOC students personal mentors to help them navigate the nursing program.

Contact: Mary Dettloff, mdettloff@umass.edu