Federal grants help nursing student earn degree

January 9, 2024 (Volume 47, Number 10)
Article by Michele Coffill

family photo of nine people in front of tree, in black and white

Sarah Conant, far right, poses with her family. Conant received two federal grants that will help her earn a master's degree in nursing.

When she was 14, Sarah Conant was asked to take care of her grandmother, who was in a wheelchair.

It was the start of Conant's path, albeit a rocky one, to a nursing career that set her on course to earn a bachelor's degree (and soon a master's degree) from the Kirkhof College of Nursing because of federally funded grant programs.

"When I was with my grandmother, a public health nurse would come in regularly," Conant said. "She would see what I had been doing and she would tell me that I should go into nursing."

It was not easy for Conant to follow that nurse's advice. The first in her family to attend college, Conant was in high school when she had her first child. 

"It's not there anymore, but I finished high school at a school where students could bring their babies," she said. 

Conant then enrolled at Grand Rapids Community College and earned an associate degree in nursing. She was a single parent to two boys at that time.

"I pushed myself to get through GRCC," she said, adding she would study in a library room with a baby and toddler. "When you're raised in a cycle of poverty, some family members think that you can't step outside this circle. I understood that I had the power to shape my own future, regardless of my circumstances in life."

She worked various roles at nursing homes and for Corewell Health, where she works now, dividing her time between various nursing departments and intensive care units at the Butterworth and Blodgett hospitals. Two years ago, Conant opened an email that detailed a federal grant opportunity at Grand Valley that would cover the costs of a bachelor's degree in nursing. 

The Nursing Workforce Diversity grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is designed to remove barriers to education for registered nurses. Janet Winter, KCON associate dean for undergraduate programs, said support services are provided to ensure students who enroll through this program are successful.

Conant knew that more opportunities were available to nurses who have a bachelor's degree. She applied and was accepted, and completed a bachelor's degree in nursing in April. Winter said the HRSA grant was created with students like Conant in mind.

"With work/life demands, KCON’s ability to offer part-time course schedules through fully online delivery of nursing education removes the challenges associated with cost, time and the logistics of traveling to and from campus," Winter said.

Conant, now married with five children, began the master of nursing program in August, again with assistance from the HRSA Nursing Workforce Diversity grant.

"There have been moments of doubt, but this is the right thing to do," she said. "I want to help make an impact on our community. With the clinical knowledge I gain, I can give back to the community. I also want my children to understand how important it is to recognize that life is bigger than ourselves."

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This article was last edited on January 5, 2024 at 9:12 a.m.

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