Dr. Sonja Fuqua spent the better part of her career in clinical nursing, but her passion for the field didn’t end when she left the hospital for the Jackson Heart Study almost two decades ago.
In September 2017, she brought her devotion full circle by establishing the Sonja R. Fuqua, Ph.D., R.N. Sigma Theta Tau Endowed Scholarship in Nursing.
“Last year, when I started looking at my estate, I realized this was the opportunity to finally do what I’d been thinking of,” said Fuqua. “I saw this as an opportunity to leave a legacy at the School of Nursing.”
Her initial $25,000 gift established the endowment, and an estimated $221,534 planned gift will fund the scholarship that will be awarded to University of Mississippi School of Nursing students who are members of the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society, Theta Beta Chapter, at UMMC. Fuqua also requested that the scholarship give preference to students who are from diverse and historically underrepresented communities and who have an interest in clinical practice.
“I was pleased but not surprised given Dr. Fuqua’s longstanding commitment to the School of Nursing, nursing education, practice and scholarship,” said Dr. Kim Hoover, dean of the School of Nursing.
Former nurse, educator, and Jackson Heart Study colleague Dr. Frances Henderson agreed. “The fact that she’s established this scholarship is quite fitting with her character,” Henderson said. “She’s an excellent role model for nurses. She’s very committed to her nursing organization and to all students.”
Fuqua is still an active member in Sigma Theta Tau, and as a UM School of Nursing student, she was a charter member of the honor society when it was founded here in 1982. The society strives to advance world health and celebrate nursing excellence in scholarship, leadership, and service. Fuqua has held several leadership positions with the organization, including chapter president, and serves on the organization’s 2017-2019 international leadership board as a Region 8 coordinator.
After she graduated from nursing school, Fuqua worked in the obstetrics department at UMMC as a registered nurse in labor and delivery and as a clinical nurse educator for almost 20 years.
“I always enjoyed labor and delivery. Obstetrics is about family and community, not just the mother and baby,” said Fuqua.
Her community experience served her well when Fuqua left clinical practice for the Jackson Heart Study where she was manager of research and recruitment. The JHS investigates genetic and environmental risk factors associated with the disproportionate burden of cardiovascular disease in African-Americans. While there, she and her team amassed more than 5,300 participants in the Jackson area.
Though Fuqua has since retired from her position with JHS, she still serves as a community advisor and is no less passionate about nursing.
“The SON established my roots in nursing. It’s not what I do; it’s who I am,” she said. “I’m not actively practicing, but still involved with the clinical aspect in a different way.”
In her clinical career, Fuqua also served as a nurse preceptor and mentor to nursing students, including Dr. Audwin Fletcher, professor and director of Family Nursing Practitioner-Adult Geriatric Acute Care Nurse Practitioner.
“Sonja is probably one of the most sincere and passionate nurses I know,” said Fletcher. “Her genuine concern for her patients inspired me over 25 years ago as a student nurse. She has a heart of gold, and her inner being will not allow her to be anything else but a seed sower.”
Fuqua is doing exactly that through this endowed scholarship. In her words, she found a way “to support the dream of some rising scholar.”
Hoover is always grateful for alumni involvement and especially for new scholarship opportunities for nursing students. “Without the support of alumni, we would not be able to provide the current level of resources for our students and faculty,” she said. “Without financial support, some students would not consider nursing education. Scholarships allow students to focus on their education rather than working to pay tuition and other expenses.”
Fletcher agrees. “This scholarship could mean the difference of having or not a needed textbook. Nursing school is rigorous, and students should not have to be stressed unnecessarily about purchasing textbooks and other needed supplies. The fortunate students who receive the award will definitely thank Sonja.”
To make a tax-deductible gift to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, contact the UMMC Office of Development at 601-984-2300 or https://www.umc.edu/givenow/. If making a donation by check, please mail your gift to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Office of Development, 2500 N. State St., Jackson MS 39216.
By Amanda Markow