For George Mason doctoral nursing student Melissa Scott Swensen, her roles as nurse, military spouse, and mother of five children are complementary aspects of a commitment to caring for others.
As the inaugural recipient of the General Hazel Johnson-Brown Scholarship, awarded to an outstanding student in the School of Nursing, Swensen has been inspired by the legacy of women like Johnson-Brown as well as her own mother, a nurse and one of ten children who became the first in her own family to graduate from college.
“It is my firm conviction that this is what the reciprocal nature of nursing truly is: to educate, nurture, heal, and care for others along our life’s pathway,” said Swensen at the “Celebrating Mason Patriots” event, held November 9 at Peterson Family Health Sciences Hall, home of the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS).
The event was the occasion to dedicate a classroom in Peterson Hall in honor of the late Gen. Johnson-Brown, affectionately known as Hazel to her friends and family in attendance. A career U.S. Army nurse who became the first African American woman to achieve the rank of general, Johnson-Brown later became a renowned professor at George Mason, where she taught and mentored nursing students. She died in 2011 at the age of 83.
The event also recognized 11 CHHS students who are recipients of the ERPi Patriot Scholarship. Awarded annually to students from CHHS and the Schar School of Policy and Government, ERPi scholarships support service-disabled veterans, other veterans or active duty servicemembers, and their dependents.
2018 CHHS recipients of the ERPi scholarship gather at Peterson Hall with ERPi founder Chris Jones.
Swensen, who formerly worked as a critical care nurse, told the audience that she now volunteers weekly at a clinic at Fort Belvoir, where she treats veterans facing mental health issues or the effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Her career goal as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner is to help fellow military families, adults and children alike, with their mental health needs.
She said that her experiences have taught her that “Physical wounds heal, while mental and emotional wounds require more individualized care.”
Swensen was joined at the award ceremony by her husband, Air Force Maj. Todd Swensen, and their five children, ages 7 through 17. The scholarship helps ensure she can graduate from Mason in 2021 before her family likely has to move for its next military assignment. “This type of stability is a gift to any military family, and mine is extremely grateful,” she said.
Last year CHHS established a scholarship fund for nursing students and an endowed faculty position in the School of Nursing to honor the legacy of Gen. Johnson-Brown. The fund has now raised $236,000 in the last two years, including $125,000 for scholarships, said Carolyn A. Taylor, PhD ’14, proud owner of four degrees from George Mason, who chairs the fundraising effort.
“I am grateful for nurses and women who have gone before me with strength and grace in this life,” Swensen said, “and to have my children see that legacy through my own education as a result of women like General Hazel Johnson-Brown.”