Joanne & William Conway Scholarship Program
By Timothy Russell ’12
Meet Belinda Mensah, Taylour Gardiner and Shirley Salazar. All three are disarmingly candid about the challenges they have faced, and rightly proud of achievements they have nonetheless accomplished. Their triumphs include the prestigious Joanne and William Conway Scholarship, awarded to them through a tough nomination and competition process. Like most Conway scholars, these young women once imagined college an unlikely possibility – yet today they are pursuing degrees and careers in nursing, each with her own story and each with a fierce determination to achieve the livelihood of her dreams.
Now in its third year, the Joanne and William Conway Scholarship Program awards high-achieving, low-income nursing students $10,000 per year; Trinity provides additional financial aid up to the total cost of enrollment.
Growing up in Ghana, Belinda Mensah encountered many people in great hardship – often reduced to begging on the streets – and she observes the same since moving to the United States three years ago. The knowledge that poverty and hardship are cross-cultural, international phenomena instilled in her a profound urge to help others, even while her own family struggled with financial crisis.
“I really want to give back to my society, but I felt I didn’t know how… I didn’t know where to start, but I knew I had goals to accomplish. As an immigrant, I tried my best to maneuver my way through high school. I must be honest, it was a tough journey. It became even tougher when I had to think about how to pay for college.”
Troubled by how to afford her education, Mensah retained an unfaltering desire to give back to society, specifically as a nurse. “Nursing lets you show compassion and love…it’s not only about the money but about how you can give from your heart to people.” Mensah’s own academic performance provided the solution. She was nominated and successfully competed for the Joanne and William Conway Scholarship in 2014 after earning the Diligence and Perseverance in Math Award at Gaithersburg High School where she was also awarded a number of certificates of achievement.
Mensah, a rising sophomore, continues to excel while maintaining a challenging course load at Trinity: In one semester she took three science classes in addition to statistics and English. “It was tough because I had a weekend job which was all the way in Gaithersburg. So I had to go home every Friday to work Saturday and Sunday…and sometimes when I came home I didn’t feel like doing anything. Determination, that’s it: I just buckled down and did my work and studied, and I got through the semester and I’m proud of myself!”
As she works towards her degree and a career in helping others, Mensah is a grateful and reflective beneficiary of other’s generosity, declaring, “It is nice to know that someone is helping you, so you can grow up to help other people.”
Another grateful Conway scholar is Taylour Gardiner, who was among the first students to win a spot in the program. Previously a student at McKinley Technical Education campus in the District of Columbia, Gardiner recalls the day in 2013 when she heard she had won a Conway Scholarship: “I was so happy – I called my mother, of course, and told her ‘guess what – guess who’s not taking out a loan!’”
Although the scholarship has eased Gardiner’s financial struggles, she has worked extraordinarily hard to pursue her passion for pediatric caregiving, which she refers to as “a calling – what I really want to do is help mothers and babies.” She heard this calling while working at a library and found herself constantly reading books on childbirth and neonatal care. During one semester, she took five Trinity courses Monday through Thursday, continued working in the library Friday and Saturday, and took Sunday and Saturday classes to become a doula – a trained labor coach who assists during labor and delivery.
Gardiner, a rising junior, credits her Conway scholarship and Trinity financial aid for supporting her success. She notes, “We’re so fortunate that we don’t have to stress about money and can just focus on being the best nurses we can possibly be.”
Gardiner’s Conway-sponsored Trinity degree will be another step toward realizing a career helping newborns and new mothers. In five years she sees herself with a master’s degree in midwifery and working with Doctors Without Borders to lower third-world maternity mortality rates.
While Gardiner pursues her dream of helping infants enter this world, her fellow Conway scholar Shirley Salazar plans to specialize in care at the other end of life. Through internships at Walter Reed Medical Center and Bethesda Health and Rehabilitation Center, Salazar experienced many different types of caregiving including hospital care and geriatrics, and she is happy to have “both experiences because I already know what specialty I’m interested in, which is geriatrics.”
A graduate of Bethesda Chevy Chase High School, rising sophomore Salazar first earned a Basic Health Skills Award at the USA Medical Careers competition. In subsequent years she placed first in the nursing assistant skills category. As a member of the Medical Explorers at Holy Cross Hospital she learned to be a team player and how to utilize team members’ strengths to determine the best care for the patient.
Like her fellow Conway scholars, Salazar’s economic opportunities lagged behind her academic prowess. “College was such a stretch for me – I didn’t have the financial means to think about going out of state…so when I found out I had the scholarship I was excited to call my dad and tell him, ‘You can stop turning blue every time we talk about college because now we can actually afford it!’”
With an international perspective, and working with patients from infancy to old age, the Joanne and William Conway nursing scholars are poised to help people on a truly universal scale. Salazar neatly sums up the sentiment of each of these women, proclaiming, “I am proud to be a Conway Scholar and I am honored to have this opportunity.”