Nursing Graduate Endows Scholarship in Grandmother's Name

Posted on April 27, 2020
Joy Washington

University of South Alabama alumnus Barry Coleman recently endowed a scholarship in grandmother's name, becoming one the youngest major gift donors to the College of Nursing. Earlier this semester he met the scholarship's first recipient, Jennifer Dowling. data-lightbox='featured'
University of South Alabama alumnus Barry Coleman recently endowed a scholarship in grandmother's name, becoming one the youngest major gift donors to the College of Nursing. Earlier this semester he met the scholarship's first recipient, Jennifer Dowling.

Barry Jamel Coleman remembers walking into his grandmother’s kitchen, watching her stir a pot of her delicious one-of-a-kind collard greens, which is one of his favorites. He carries that and many fond memories of his grandmother, Thelma Lee McKenzie, in his heart.

Coleman, 33, a native of Jackson, Ala., earned his bachelor’s degree in nursing from South in 2013. He is a registered nurse at the Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa Valley, Calif., where he works in the operating room. Coleman wanted to give back to his alma mater in memory of his grandmother, but thought he would wait until later in life to make his impact on future nursing students. His experiences in the operating room, however, have taught him how unexpectedly a person’s life can end. Coleman decided last year that he would not wait to start giving back.

“My grandmother passed away in 2006,” Coleman said. “It was a tough time for our family. She was the matriarch. Now that I am making a good salary, I wanted to do something special to keep my grandmother’s memory alive while helping a nursing student. My grandmother loved to help others. So, I decided to start a scholarship in her name.”

In May 2019, Coleman gave an unendowed $5,000 scholarship gift to be given to an undergraduate or graduate student from Clarke or Washington Counties. A year later, during USA’s annual Giving Day Campaign, Coleman endowed this scholarship with the help of the Mitchell-Moulton Scholarship Initiative’s two-to-one Giving Day match. The total of the endowment is $112,000, which allows the University to award $5,000 per year in perpetuity to an undergraduate nursing student from Clarke or Washington Counties. Between Coleman’s gifts, pledges and matched funds, he has made a large and lasting impact on nursing students and becomes one of USA’s youngest major gift donors to the College of Nursing.

Coleman recently met the scholarship’s first recipient, Jennifer Dowling of Jackson, Ala. Dowling graduated magna cum laude in December 2019, with a 3.9 grade-point-average. She is in graduate school at South to become a nurse practitioner.

“I am ecstatic to receive the scholarship endowed by Mr. Coleman,” she said. “He is from my hometown and we graduated from the same high school. I am grateful for his generosity and how he is giving back to the community. The scholarship will be an opportunity for me to further my education while lessening the financial burden on me and my family.”

Coleman said he plans to continue helping students who are interested in nursing.

“I am grateful that I was able to help her by donating this scholarship,” he said. “I am just getting started. I am currently mentoring a high school student who will hopefully attend nursing school at South Alabama one day.”

Dr. Heather Hall, dean of nursing at South, is appreciative of this generous gift.

“We are proud of Barry's accomplishments and his contribution to the nursing profession,” she said. “He consistently and enthusiastically shares his pride and dedication for the College of Nursing at the University of South Alabama. On behalf of the students, faculty and administration, we would like to offer our deepest thanks for his donation and the development of the Thelma Lee McKenzie Endowed Scholarship.”

Coleman said he could not have made it through the program without the support of faculty, advisors and mentors. Dr. Aaron Gilligan, assistant professor of nursing and Kristyn Seawell, academic advisor II, were instrumental in helping him graduate from South.

“Dr. Gilligan is like my second mom,” he said. “Nursing is a rigorous program, but she helped me understand the content of my assignments. It was tough. But, she never allowed me to give up. Ms. Seawell was there to guide me as my advisor by helping me select my courses. I could not have graduated without their support. They went above and beyond the call of duty.”

Gilligan said it was a pleasure to be one of Coleman’s professors while at South.

“Barry is an inspiring individual,” she said. “His strength lies deep in a sense of accountability. He simply will not accept failure. When presented with challenges, academically and personally, Barry rolled up his sleeves and looked for a solution. He is a team player at all times. He is acutely aware of the need for individuals to maintain their dignity. Barry’s help is done in a way the individual perceives that they found the ability or strength within themselves. Barry taught me that through hard work and flexibility, a goal could be reached even if significant obstacles are present.”

Seawell is very proud of Coleman and how he’s supporting nursing students.

“Barry was a well-prepared and motivated student,” she said. “I am proud of his accomplishments. His contribution to USA’s College of Nursing will positively impact students within the nursing profession for years to come.”

The Thelma Lee McKenzie Endowed Scholarship will be given to a deserving student from Clarke and Washington Counties during the spring semester of each year.

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