Scholarship recipient carries forward a legacy

Nursing doctoral student Melissa Scott Swensen is the inaugural recipient of the General Hazel Johnson-Brown Scholarship. Photo by Christopher Bobo.

For Melissa Scott Swensen, a George Mason University nursing doctoral student, her roles as nurse, military spouse and mother of five children are complementary aspects of a commitment to caring for others.

As the inaugural recipient of the General Hazel Johnson-Brown Scholarship, awarded to an outstanding student in Mason’s School of Nursing, Swensen said she has been inspired by the legacy of women like Johnson-Brown, as well as her own mother, a nurse who was one of 10 children and the first in her family to graduate from college.

“It is my firm conviction that this is what the reciprocal nature of nursing truly is—to educate, nurture, heal and care for others along our life’s pathway,” said Swensen at the “Celebrating Mason Patriots” event, held Nov. 9 in Peterson Family Health Sciences Hall, home of the College of Health and Human Services.

“I am grateful for nurses and women who have gone before me with strength and grace in this life,” she added, “and to have my children see that legacy through my own education as a result of women like General Hazel Johnson-Brown.”

Swensen with Gloria Smith, sister of Hazel Johnson-Brown. Photo by Christopher Bobo.

A classroom in Peterson Hall was also dedicated in honor of the late Johnson-Brown. A career U.S. Army nurse who became the first African American woman to achieve the rank of general, Johnson-Brown was a renowned professor at Mason, where she taught and mentored nursing students. She died in 2011 at the age of 83.

Swensen, who formerly worked as a critical care nurse, volunteers weekly at a clinic at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, where she treats veterans facing mental health issues or the effects of traumatic brain injury. Her career goal as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner is to help fellow military families, adults and children with their mental health needs.

Her experiences have taught her that “physical wounds heal, while mental and emotional wounds require more individualized care,” she said.

The scholarship helps ensure she can graduate from Mason in 2021, before her family will likely move for her husband’s next military assignment.

“This type of stability is a gift to any military family, and mine is extremely grateful,” she said.

Last year, the college established a scholarship fund for nursing students and an endowed faculty position in the School of Nursing to honor the legacy of Johnson-Brown. The fund has now raised $236,000 in the last two years, including $125,000 for scholarships.