In 2016, Dr. Shannon Spenceley (BN ’84), professor emerita and former dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Lethbridge, wanted to do something special for the 100th anniversary of registered nursing in Alberta. 

She was president of what was then called the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta (CARNA), now known as the College of Registered Nurses of Alberta (CRNA). She discussed the idea with other local RNs and the Lethbridge Legacy of Nursing Committee was formed. The committee members, including Cheryl Andres, Penny Kwasny, Janet Lapins, Shelley Purcell, Michele Ritchot, Diane Shanks, Spenceley, Laura Vogelsang and Carina Zhu, came up with a plan to fundraise for a scholarship. 

“We discussed the future of the profession and how that future is supported by enabling registered nurses to advance their education,” says Spenceley, adding that the committee wanted to keep it local and raise funds to support advanced nursing education focused on addressing local issues in health and health-care. “That was how we came up with the notion of a scholarship specifically for registered nurses who want to pursue graduate studies at ULethbridge.”

The local group contacted the Alberta Registered Nurses Educational Trust (ARNET) to set up and administer the scholarship. To fundraise for the scholarship, the local committee held an annual nursing gala, although the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in one cancellation and one virtual event.

“Our local business community and local donors and sponsors were incredibly generous,” says Spenceley. “We set a goal to raise enough money to endow the scholarship, so it could be awarded every year just from the interest earned on the invested principal. We reached that goal in 2022.”

The committee surprised and honoured Spenceley by voting in 2022 to name the scholarship after her. The Dr. Shannon Spenceley Legacy of Nursing Scholarship is intended for registered nurses or nurse practitioner members in good standing with the CRNA who are pursuing a graduate degree in any faculty at ULethbridge.

“As a committee of practicing RNs, educators and researchers, we were very aware of the financial burdens facing many registered nurses opting to advance their education,” Spenceley says. “Add to that the scarcity of funds available to support nursing research led by graduate students, especially those studying at smaller universities, and the importance of our goal became even clearer.”

Shannon Vandenberg (BN ’08, MSc (Nursing) ’13), an RN and instructor in the ULethbridge nursing program, is pursuing a PhD in Population Studies in Health. She received the scholarship in 2022.

“This award has enabled me to continue with my PhD studies and develop a research program of my own,” says Vandenberg. “My research aims to understand practice preparedness of Canadian RNs in emerging vector-borne diseases, and I hope this knowledge will promote improved patient outcomes.”

Knowing how the scholarship has helped her meet the costs associated with doing a PhD, Vandenberg is determined to pay it forward by donating to ARNET.

“When you receive a scholarship like this, I think it’s important to give back so that others can receive the same opportunities,” says Vandenberg.

Past recipients of the scholarship include the following:
2017    Reema Khullar (BN ’10, MN ’17)
2018    Noelle Sedgwick (BN ’13, MN ’19)
2019    Jeanine Sklarenko (BN ’11, MN ’23)
2020    Tiffany Trinh (BN ’18, MN ’23)
2021    Celine Farrell (BN ’18)
2022    Shannon Vandenberg
2023    Madeline Stevenson (BN ’13)

Future recipients will be announced at the annual Friends of Health Sciences event sponsored by the ULethbridge Faculty of Health Sciences.