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PROUD grant helps students from underrepresented backgrounds become nurses

Three students standing together

The $1.1 million PROUD (Pre-entry & Retention Opportunities for Undergraduate Diversity) grant helps increase nursing as a career for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

According to U.S. Census data, minorities make up 37 percent of the population, but the population of underrepresented nurses is around only 25 percent.

“We need nurses to mimic diversity because our patients are diverse,” said Olanna Pullen, Mennonite College of Nursing (MCN) outreach program coordinator Olanna Pullen. “And we are doing just that with the PROUD grant that will help the underrepresented population.”

Pullen coordinates the outreach and programming aspects of the $1.1 million PROUD (Pre-entry & Retention Opportunities for Undergraduate Diversity) grant in an effort to help increase nursing as a career for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. “The grant can help Mennonite College of Nursing students with scholarships and stipends if they qualify based on the federal grant guidelines,” said Pullen.

The PROUD grant currently serves 61 students and offers numerous resources to help them succeed. “We have laptops and recording pens we can loan out, and we help students with resume building and interview skills,” said Pullen. “We also offer the PROUD students free printing and preparation for graduate programs.”

The college received the three-year Nursing Workforce Diversity grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). It allows $370,000 each year to introduce opportunities in nursing to middle and high school students, and retain students from underrepresented groups and disadvantaged backgrounds. The project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.*

Olanna Pullen head shot

Olanna Pullen

Pullen promotes the nursing program at Illinois State by visiting high schools, middle schools, and health fairs. “I talk about what nurses do, the benefits of nursing, and the required courses they should take in high school,” said Pullen.

“The grant allows us to introduce middle and high school students to nursing as a career choice, to implement retention strategies for underrepresented MCN students, as well as leadership development throughout the educational experience,” said MCN Acting Dean H. Catherine Miller, who also oversees the grant.

Pullen makes it a point to bring the idea of nursing to minority groups such as men, which make up around only 9 percent of the nursing workforce. “Men are underrepresented in the field of nursing, and so are people with disabilities, first-generation college students, and low-income students,” explained Pullen.

People seldom think of men as a minority, Pullen said, who is always conducting informal surveys by asking students what they know about nursing and if they plan on going into the field. “Most young boys respond by saying, ‘No, it’s a field for women,’” she said.

According to Miller, the grant not only opens doors to the nursing field, but also strengthens the field itself: “The grant has provided scholarships to underrepresented students and programming that has positively impacted the entire College of Nursing as well as MCN’s partners in the community.”

*(This information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS, or the federal government.)

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