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Janet Harris, right, presents a $500 scholarship to nursing student Helen Watts


A student’s financial need and an untimely family death led Janet Harris to think about how she could leave a legacy and impact the future of her profession.


Harris, chief nursing executive at University Hospital, said she mentored a graduate student in the nursing executive track who was a single mother and needed help continuing her education. The student raised her awareness of the financial need of adults who work full time and have families.


Around the same time, her only niece’s husband died unexpectedly, which forced her to take stock of how finite life is.


“It prompted a discussion with my husband about what we wanted when one of us dies,” she said. “The result of that conversation highlighted what my true passions are.”


One of those passions is training nurse professionals, and the establishment of the Janet Y. Harris Scholarship in the School of Nursing (SON) at the University of Mississippi Medical Center will provide money to fuel that passion. Two students received the first scholarships this year.


Estelle Watts of Pearl and Brandy Houlk of Columbus each received $500. To qualify for the scholarship, a student must seek a graduate degree here with a focus as a nurse administrator or nurse executive,  be an active member of a local, state or national professional nursing association and demonstrate excellence in coursework and practicums specific to the nurse administrator/nurse executive role.


“I didn’t want to wait until I die to do this,” Harris said. “I wanted to watch what these people would do after they received that scholarship and completed their graduate education.


“It is a small way I can contribute to my alma mater and the overall profession of nursing.”


Dr. Kaye Bender, SON dean, said she’s pleased to see one of the school’s alumnae establish the scholarship to help students trying to advance in their careers.


“There’s limited scholarship money available for graduate nursing education, so when one of our alumni steps up to the plate and helps a fellow nurse, it helps the whole profession,” Bender said. “Janet has an outstanding career in nursing administration, and having her name on the scholarship encourages these recipients to follow in her footsteps.”


Watts, who worked as a school nurse in Pearl, said her advisor recommended that she apply for the scholarship.


“It was a great honor to be considered for the scholarship, and I have since gone into working in the Department of Education as the state school nurse consultant,” Watts said. “I’m really excited to be in a position where I can help school nurses to be ready for their jobs.”


Harris said she encourages every SON graduate to consider how they can contribute to the advancement of nursing, because the needs are great.


“If every person that’s an alumnus gave $10-$15 every year, we would make a significant difference to students,” she said. “The bottom line is, I got a great education here, and the very least thing I can do is give back to my alma mater.”


By Patrice Sawyer Guilfoyle


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