By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Gracie Woods has a heart for helping others.
The recent Grand Island Central Catholic graduate plans to pursue a career in health care, following in the footsteps of her mother and two older sisters.
“I think it’s really rewarding to work in health care – seeing the difference you can make in patients’ lives,” she said. “I really enjoy making those connections with not only the people you work with but the patients and their families, too.”
Woods is currently employed as a certified nursing assistant at the CHI Health St. Francis skilled nursing facility in Grand Island, but her ultimate goal is to become a physician assistant. That’s why she’s attending the University of Nebraska at Kearney this fall.
“I chose UNK because I love the community of Kearney and also because of the health science program there,” Woods said. “I feel like the university is making really great advancements in this area and there are a lot of opportunities for students to get involved and learn more about what our future career paths will be.”
Plus, she’ll likely graduate debt-free thanks to the scholarship opportunities available to students interested in health care and other high-demand career fields.
Woods is among the nearly 90 UNK students who are benefitting from the Nebraska Career Scholarship for the 2023-24 academic year.
Created by the state Legislature in August 2020, this program provides scholarships for Nebraska college students pursuing undergraduate degrees in high-growth, high-demand areas such as computer science, cybersecurity, health care, communication disorders, information technology, mathematics, psychology, engineering and veterinary medicine. In May, state lawmakers approved a 2023-25 budget that allocates an additional $2 million to the scholarship program, increasing the total funding available to NU students to $8 million.
“Nebraska lawmakers and industry leaders recognize that these critical workforce needs are a key to the future of this state, and that we need to do a better job of keeping Nebraskans here for their higher education,” said Kelly Bartling, vice chancellor for enrollment management at UNK. “Scholarships and internships are providing the incentive that students need to stay in Nebraska. Our prospective students and their families are eager to take advantage of these opportunities, and they ultimately benefit everyone.”
Incoming freshmen and transfer students in the qualifying fields of study are eligible to receive a Nebraska Career Scholarship, which are renewable and can be worth up to $25,000 per year. Scholarship funds may be used for tuition, fees, room and board or relevant tools and equipment. Recipients are asked to complete a Nebraska-based internship, apprenticeship, clinical position or other work related to their career before graduation.
Woods is eligible to receive $10,000 annually through that scholarship program, and she received the Board of Regents Scholarship, which covers the full cost of tuition. She’s also part of the Kearney Health Opportunities Program (KHOP), a collaboration between UNK and the University of Nebraska Medical Center that recruits and trains students who are committed to practicing in rural Nebraska as health care professionals.
KHOP participants receive academic and financial support throughout their time at UNK, along with valuable professional development opportunities. They’re also guaranteed admission into their professional program at UNMC if all requirements are met.
Woods called the financial assistance she’s receiving at UNK a “blessing.”
“It really will help ease the financial burden of college and allow me to focus more on my schoolwork and studying,” she said. “That will be really nice.”
Once her education is complete, Woods plans to start her career in rural Nebraska, where the need for additional health care providers is greatest.
“The rural populations in Nebraska don’t have access to as many health care providers as the more urban areas, so they’re forced to travel long distances for certain types of care, and that’s just not feasible for some people. Having more providers in those areas will allow patients to be better served and lead to better outcomes,” Woods said.
The following academic programs are eligible for the Nebraska Career Scholarship:
Health information management
Medical laboratory science