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Focus on Rural Health

Williams County Graduate Scholarship

Private and public collaboration provides a generous boost to high school graduates in Williams County.

By Stacy Kusler on

The effect of the oil boom on western North Dakota communities has provided great opportunities to balance, or even outweigh, the challenges of providing healthcare. As referenced in the summer North Dakota Medicine article "Making it Work in the West," the increase in population and revenue from oil has allowed communities like Williston and Watford City, North Dakota, to grow their medical service lines and improve patient care facilities. The benefit of being able to offer more medical service lines in Williston and Watford City, though, also presents challenges in filling a variety of open healthcare positions. It seems like perfect timing, then, that Williston State College (WSC) will be offering the Williams County Graduate Scholarship (WCGS) beginning in the fall of 2015. This scholarship will offer free tuition, fees, and books for two consecutive years to any degree-seeking student who has graduated in good standing from any Williams County high school.

Terry Olson
Terry Olson

The WCGS is an aggregation of funds from the Alva J. Field Memorial Trust, the Williston State College Foundation, and the North Dakota Challenge Grant. The Alva J. Field Memorial Trust was originally established to provide scholarships to Williams County high school graduates to assist in their continued education at a college of their choice (in or out of the state of North Dakota). The trustees of the Alva J. Field Memorial recently donated $1 million over five years for the collaborative WCGS effort, and the North Dakota Challenge Fund donated $500,000. The rest of the scholarship funds are coming from the Williston State College Foundation. Through this collaboration, WSC is able to award scholarships to any Williams County high school graduate, from any year, to fully pay for tuition, fees, and books. "This is an unheard of opportunity," said Terry Olson, executive director of the Williston State College Foundation.

We are so thankful to the families who donated mineral acres a long time ago. If they could see the impact their donation is having on students today, I think they would be very pleased.

Many donors to the Williston State College Foundation donated mineral acres years ago to be used specifically for student scholarships. With the increased value of mineral acres from the oil boom, the foundation's scholarship fund dramatically increased, allowing for this unique collaborative scholarship program to take shape. "We are so thankful to the families who donated mineral acres a long time ago. If they could see the impact their donation is having on students today, I think they would be very pleased," Olson said.

The Next Wave of Workforce

Janet Johnson
Janet Johnson

The effect of the WCGS is already showing promising numbers for its inaugural semester. Kaylyn Bondy, registrar and director of effectiveness for WSC, reported that overall applications for the 2015 fall semester are up over 100 percent compared with 2014. Specifically, applications for health-related degrees are up 77 percent compared with last year. Within the Health and Wellness academic department at WSC, degree options include massage, medical coding, mental health/addictions technician, nursing (registered nurse), and speech language pathology assistant. This is good news for healthcare facilities in the area that have growing services lines requiring more healthcare staff members. Janet Johnson, MSN, is the RN nursing coordinator for WSC. She realizes the nursing shortage in her community and believes the scholarship will help increase the number of nursing graduates who will stay in the area. "When they are in our nursing program, they are going to be working in our communities and making friends and lasting relationships here, so I certainly hope this wonderful [scholarship] gift helps to recruit and retain the nurses we can provide to this community," Johnson said.

The population influx in western North Dakota has created challenges for infrastructure, business, and community members, but there are plenty of diamonds in the rough to be seen and celebrated. "The oil industry has really changed Williston, but Williston is still a great community, and I wish those stories were told more," Olson said.

For more information about the WCGS, please visit the Williams County Graduate Scholarship website.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of North Dakota Medicine.

Stacy Kusler Stacy Kusler is the connection between rural healthcare facilities in North Dakota and qualified health professional job seekers. As the workforce specialist, she assists rural facilities to attract medical providers and other health professionals to their communities by sharing job opportunities. Through her position, Stacy is working to reduce the healthcare workforce shortages throughout the state.