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Arizona Lottery invests in state's health care future with scholarships for ASU students

One student battled leukemia as a child. Another student split her meals with her kids to save money. A third student is a single mother juggling school with working in a hospital emergency department. Their lives are diverse, but all three students share a passion for helping others and a strong commitment to earning their degrees from Arizona State University’s Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation.

But financial hardships can be daunting, especially when tuition, books and other bills add up. That’s one reason the Arizona Lottery presented Edson College with a $50,000 Gives Back sponsorship check this past week.

The funds were transferred to the ASU Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization administering scholarship support for Edson College. The $50,000 was then disbursed among the three outstanding students who were chosen by Edson College’s Scholarship Committee.

“The Arizona Lottery is proud to invest in the future of our health care system by investing in these dynamic, compassionate students through our Gives Back sponsorship to Edson College,” said Sherri Zendri, Arizona Lottery deputy director of legal services. “There’s a dire need for nurses, particularly in underserved communities, and this acute shortage is even more profound since the onset of the pandemic. These scholarships will help close that gap” 

Edson College Dean Judith Karshmer said the shortage of registered nurses will impact most of the United States through at least 2030, with Arizona needing nearly 35,000 nurses to care for its increasing population, projected to grow by almost 1 million people over the next decade. 

Edson College Dean Judith Karshmer looks on and claps during a scholarship awards presentation

Edson College Dean Judith Karshmer, along with Arizona Lottery Gives Back representatives, presented scholarship checks to three students on Thursday. Photo courtesy of Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation 

“Educating and preparing an increasing number of high-quality nurses is one of Edson College’s top priorities. Scholarship funds, such as these from the Arizona Lottery, provide essential assistance to these worthy students,” Karshmer said.

Each of the three nursing students has an inspiring story.

Scholarship recipient  poses with a birthday cake.

Adriana Ordonez

Adriana Ordonez, of Apache Junction, Arizona, received $30,000. She’s enrolled in the nursing (entry to practice) MS program. Ordonez was diagnosed with leukemia at age 12. She battled cancer valiantly for two years, and she credits the nurses who helped her with inspiring her to pursue a career in nursing. 

Adriana graduated from Edson College with a Bachelor of Science in community health. She just started her first year of the master’s program to become a registered nurse. She’s also working in community health, primarily in HIV prevention, and she aspires to become a community health nurse.

“Since I was so young, I didn’t really understand what was happening to me. As I moved in and out of the hospital, I was surrounded by a great team of nurses who eventually became a second family to me,” she said. “They always treated my family and me with respect, advocated for us and showed compassion. These nurses left a mark on me that I will never forget, and they inspired me to do the same for others as a future nurse.”

Tycarsha Velasquez, of Lakeside, Arizona, will receive $10,000. She’s enrolled in the RN-BSN program. Right now, Velasquez works as a public health/surge nurse with Navajo County and is training as a hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis nurse. 

A mother of two young boys, Velasquez said there have been times when money was so scarce, she ate spaghetti for weeks and split fast-food meals with her sons. She wants to earn her Bachelor of Science in Nursing to “open more windows, doors, cracks in the ceiling and holes in the wall to allow more opportunity.” 

Scholarship recipient Tycarsha Velasquez is pictured with her partner and two kids. All four are wearing masks.

Tycarsha Velasquez with her husband, Carlos, and their sons, Timmothy, 4, and Christopher, 16.

Her goal is to be a public health nurse at Indian Health Services in Whiteriver, Arizona, on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation, where she is from. 

She finds strength in her faith and is inspired by her mother, a retired nurse, and other strong female nurses who have mentored her.

“My mother has blazed a trail for me. She is getting along in years and has since retired after working more than 30 years as an obstetric nurse. It is my turn to step up and take care of her. There are few guarantees in life; aging and death are of the few guarantees. I respect those before me and am passionate about helping patients with the dignity and respect they deserve,” she said.

Rhiannon Smithson, of Cottonwood, Arizona, will receive $10,000. She’s enrolled in the RN-BSN program. Smithson’s greatest need is time. She’s a single mother of two young children and juggles working in a local hospital’s emergency department with online classes. 

Trying to make ends meet has been a challenge, and she often takes on extra shifts, where she is experiencing another surge of patients with coronavirus.

“It’s emotionally exhausting,” Smithson said, adding that because the patients' families can’t visit, she and her colleagues try to provide as much comfort as they can.

Rhiannon Smithson smiles in a selfie with her two young children.

Rhiannon Smithson with her daughter Teya and son Greyson.

Smithson has always had an interest in health care. She has experience working as an EMT and completed her associate degree in nursing, obtaining her license as a registered nurse. After she earns her BSN from Edson College, she hopes to attain a bio-medical degree and apply for medical school or a research job.

“I am so blessed to receive this scholarship,” she said. “I can now avoid having to work extra shifts, giving me more time with my children. I will also have more time for classes. And, while not required, I plan to use part of the funds to take Spanish classes. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and I believe being bilingual will help me at work.”