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Bower Foundation MSN Grads Educate Future Nurses
James Davion of Hattiesburg, shown here in a workshop for Bower scholars, said the project put an MSN within reach.

One of the obstacles in solving the shortage of nursing educators around the country is financial. Nearly two dozen Bower scholars at the University of Mississippi Medical Center have been able to earn their MSN degrees without the worry of tuition payments and student debt thanks to a $3.8 million grant from the Bower Foundation.

Members of the second cohort of Bower scholars include, standing, from left, Wendy Sasser, Stephanie Langston, James Davion, Jeremy Nowell, Noah Holcomb, Kimberly Roland; and, seated, from left, Shannon Blailock, Jessica Cagle, Stephanie Childress and Angela Cooper.

The 2021 grant funded the project, Building a Stronger Future for Nursing in Mississippi, giving full scholarships to the UMMC School of Nursing’s RN-to-MSN program to registered nurses around the state. The first cohort of the project will have a total of 22 Bower scholars who will have graduated with an MSN from UMMC after May’s commencement.

The master’s degree qualifies them to teach at community colleges and baccalaureate programs and hold leadership roles in health care organizations.

“We’ve all wanted to earn an MSN and felt like we could,” James Davion of Hattiesburg said about his classmates in the Bower program, “but the cost stood in our way.”

An increase in the number of nurses qualified to teach nursing could translate into more registered nurses, according to the American Association of Critical Care Nurses. The AACN reports that, in 2021, 91,938 qualified applicants were turned away from the nation’s nursing schools because of a shortage of nursing faculty as well as budget constraints and the limits of classroom space, clinical sites and clinical preceptors.

Victoria Seals teaches nursing students at Southwest Mississippi Community College.

The program also addresses the decrease in MSN students nationally. In April 2022, AACN reported that for the first time since 2001, enrollment in master’s programs decreased by 3.8%, which translates to 5,766 fewer students enrolled in 2021 than in 2020.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects more than 175,000 openings for RNs each year through 2029, highlighting the need for nursing faculty to train them.

“Nursing faculty influence the care of thousands of patients through the nurses they teach,” said Dr. Tina Martin, dean of the UMMC School of Nursing. “Having more nurses qualified to teach will improve health care in Mississippi and across the country.”

Victoria Seals graduated from Southwest Mississippi Community College in 2016 with an associate degree in nursing and worked as a nurse for the Mississippi Department of Health clinic serving Amite and Wilkinson Counties. Now she’s back at her alma mater as an instructor, teaching future registered nurses, thanks to the Bower program.

“When I received a call telling me about the program, I automatically said yes,” Seals said. “How could you say no?”

Stephanie Langston, a member of the second cohort, agreed. “This is an incredible blessing. I couldn’t say no.”

Tina Martin

Lacey Gentry, program director and assistant professor for the UMMC School of Nursing’s Oxford Accelerated BSN program, graduated from the leadership track of the Bower project.

The Bower project “literally changed our lives,” she said of the first cohort of the project, who finished in summer 2023. “The bonds and collegiality formed over working together are strong. We still text each other today.”

Nurses in the project had mentors in the UMMC School of Nursing. “The amount of support was incredible,” she said. “They helped me develop as a nursing leader. Today I am so much more self-aware, thanks to this project. It’s helped me grow exponentially and truly changed the trajectory of my career and life.”

Anne Travis, CEO of the Bower Foundation, is pictured during the announcement of the project’s grant in 2021.

The scholarships target community college-trained nurses, which make up about two-thirds of the nurses in the state, Gentry said.

“I am so grateful to the Bower Foundation and the UMMC School of Nursing for seeing the value of community college nurses,” she said. “What they have done is profound, and it opens doors for so many.”

Anne Travis, CEO of the Bower Foundation, said the School of Nursing is a valued partner.

“The Bower Foundation is very grateful for the UMMC School of Nursing’s education offerings and quality grant management to expand nurse education and nurse administration for Mississippi Community Colleges and health care providers in our state,” she said. “The grant funding from Bower, aligned with the SON’s strengths, is enhancing nursing in our state.”

To support the University of Mississippi Medical Center, visit or contact Meredith Aldridge, executive director of development, at 601-815-7469 or

By Annie Oeth/UMMC Public Affairs


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