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AHS grad earns nursing scholarship

Sadie Knights has known for a long time that she enjoyed working with people, specifically families, but it wasn’t until she took a side job cuddling babies in the neonatal unit of Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland that she zeroed in on what she really wanted to do with her life.

Knights, who graduated from Ashland High School in 2007, was walking into Doernbecher one day when she had what she now calls an “ah-hah” moment: “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s nursing. That’s the thing,’” she said. “I love the teamwork, I love the role that they play in the health care team.”

Six years later, Knights, 26, is about to begin her third and final year in the Oregon Health & Science University school of nursing program at Southern Oregon University, after which she plans to work for a while before enrolling in graduate school. Her dream job, she says, would be to work as a nurse midwife for La Clinica.

Knights’ passion for the nursing profession and commitment to begin her career in the Rogue Valley impressed the William G. and Ruth T. Evans Endowed Nursing Scholarship board, and last week Knights learned that she was one of 13 recipients of the annual scholarship for the 2016-17 academic year. The Ashland Community Hospital Foundation announced on Aug. 22 that it had handed out $81,000 in tuition assistance this year, up $28,500 from a year ago.

The Endowed Nursing Scholarship has doled out 148 scholarships worth about $340,000 to 103 students since it was established by Ruth Evans in 2002. Ruth Evans, who was a nurse, died in 2013.

Knights had applied for the scholarship the previous two years but put her all into this year’s application, and also improved her chances by taking on some leadership roles at SOU.

“This year, it was kind of a rough year for me in my personal life and so I really wanted to get it this year and I worked extra hard on the application, and I knew the week that I’d probably be getting the letter,” she said.

But when the envelope arrived Knights was disappointed to see that it looked identical to the letters she had received from the foundation the previous two years. The first sentence, an obligatory thank you, only seemed to confirm her suspicions. Then in the second paragraph she read the word she had been waiting three years to see: “Congratulations.”

She was awarded $6,000, which will cover roughly half of her tuition for the upcoming school year.

“I was so excited,” Knights said. “I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I got this.’ It was huge for me because it’s three times as much as any other scholarship I’ve ever gotten. And, I feel super honored because of the scholarship that it is for two reasons. One, because it’s local — this is my home town, this is Ashland Community Hospital Foundation that’s supporting me, not just some random big name like Johnson & Johnson. And, because I absolutely love the spirit of Ruth Evans and hope that I can have a legacy like she had.

“I love that, that she was able to not only be a service in the profession but also afterwards and have that legacy to pass on, and what better way than to support people who are in the (nursing) industry. It’s like the gift that keeps on giving.”

The other William G. and Ruth T. Evans Endowed Nursing Scholarship recipients this year were Luis Ayala Rangel, Michelle Benitez, Helen Danson, Rachel Dunn, Ireli Hernandez, Alisha Kerr, Lindsay McCreedy, Dan McLaren, Katlin Mostue-Nesbit, Guadalupe Ortiz, Gerhardt Reichenbach and MariaElana Rivera.

The Evans Endowment Nursing Scholarship was born about 15 years ago in Ashland when Ruth Evans, perusing an edition of the Daily Tidings, zeroed in on an article about an impending nursing shortage — a prediction that proved to be correct. The news sparked a conversation between Evans and her daughter Peg, who suggested one surefire way to make a difference: start an endowment for a nursing scholarship.

Marjorie Lininger, the chair of the Evans Endowment Nursing Scholarship selection committee, said Knights and other Evans Scholarship recipients were picked from a large pool of candidates because their passion for nursing could serve Rogue Valley patients well for years.

“(Knights’) the very kind of student Mrs. Evans was hoping to support,” Lininger said, “because she’s smart, she is enthusiastic about working in her home community, the Rogue Valley. And she’s absolutely dedicated to nursing, primarily infants, families and at-risk populations. So, she’s really committed to being a nurse to our community and that’s really whom Mrs. Evans was hoping to encourage.”

Knights has done her best to keep her debt manageable by forgoing loans that could have helped cover living expenses. But even working her way through college and accepting only enough loans to cover tuition, she said she’s already racked up $20,000 in debt. With pricy graduate school looming, she says winning the nursing scholarship was a huge relief.

When Knights, who works as a certified nursing assistant at Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center, began nursing school two years ago, she dreamed of working as a labor and delivery nurse, but she’s since had a change of heart.

“I now know that working with families and maternal child health is my thing,” she said. “I see my future in neonatal intensive care and potentially pediatric intensive care. And I want to go to graduate school for sure and either become a nurse midwife or a neonatal nurse practitioner.”

Before starting graduate school, however, Knights wants to try on a stethoscope for a while. Now that she can see the light at the end of the tunnel, she can hardly wait.

“I’m so ready to be a nurse,” she said. “I know that I’ll never really be ready, but this is what I’ve known I’ve wanted to do for six years, so I’m like, ‘OK, let’s do it.’”

Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@dailytidings.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.