Kennesaw State celebrates inaugural class of honors-nursing scholarship recipients

KENNESAW, Ga. | May 5, 2022

Kennesaw State University freshman Caleb Cruz always wanted to follow his mother into the nursing field. Through the Wellstar-Tom and Betty Phillips Elite Honors Nursing Endowed Scholarship, he now has that opportunity.

Cruz said he has thrived under the rigorous combination of classes in the Wellstar College of Health and Human Services and KSU Journey Honors College, and couldn’t have imagined a better start to his college career. University officials, along with Tom Phillips and Wellstar Health System President and CEO Candice L. Saunders, recently celebrated Cruz and the other scholarship recipients at a reception.

Elite Honors Nursing Scholars

“At Kennesaw State, a key part of our mission is to prepare students to meet critical needs in their communities. Skilled, dedicated nurses are among the most important resources in the healthcare field and always in demand,” Kennesaw State President Kat Schwaig said. “I’m excited and honored to have the support of Tom Phillips and Wellstar Health System – together we are impacting our students, our community and our world for the better.”

The $5 million scholarship endowment is a joint venture between Kennesaw State’s Wellstar College, KSU Journey Honors College, Wellstar Health System, the KSU Foundation, and Phillips, an emeritus member of the Wellstar Health System Board of Trustees.

Students present from the inaugural cohort were Nyona Austin, Ciana Bilal, Serene Boudiab, Katrina Burrow, Alexia Chambert, Caleb Cruz, Keller Danberry, James Dorsey, Emily Downs, Abby Evans, Hanna Lee, Isabella Lidalen, Diane Nguyen, Thelma Ogunjiofor, Carson Payne, Denise Peeples-McDearmont, Maggie Riggs, Nicholas Roncal, Jaelyn Spearman, and Riley Walker.

This scholarship is the most recent gift to the University from the Phillips. In 2009, Tom Phillips and his late wife Betty established the Tom and Betty Phillips Endowed Scholarship to benefit both graduate and undergraduate students in KSU’s Wellstar College of Health and Human Services.

“It’s gratifying to finally meet the students benefiting from this scholarship,” said Phillips, whose gift made the program possible. “You’re the first class of this program and you’re starting a legacy that will perpetuate and get stronger as time goes on.”

Elite Honors Nursing
Tom Phillips, left, and KSU President Kat Schwaig

Kennesaw State and Wellstar Health System have been collaborating for more than 40 years, formalizing their partnership in 2008 when the University added the Wellstar name to its College of Health and Human Services and School of Nursing in recognition of an agreement that strengthened the relationship between the university and one of the top producers of nurses in the state.

“We are incredibly proud of our longstanding partnership with Kennesaw State University and our shared commitment to training qualified, compassionate nurses,” said Wellstar president and CEO, Candice L. Saunders. “Together, we are transforming the landscape of healthcare by inspiring and training the next generation of world-class nurses.”

In 2019, the National Institutes of Health awarded KSU and Wellstar a grant to jointly address the bioethical issues faced by individuals experiencing social and/or economic hardships when trying to manage their healthcare needs. And in February 2020, Wellstar gifted nearly $9 million to the nursing school to double the nursing program’s enrollment and address the state of Georgia’s nursing shortage.

Cruz said he and his fellow students have reaped the benefits of both Honors and nursing.

“Everyone around us has helped us stay on the right path to becoming nurses, and we’re all learning together and becoming closer,” Cruz said. “As students and as nurses, we’ll approach each day with a positive attitude and a passion for our work. We’re all grateful beyond measure and we promise to make you proud.”

– By Dave Shelles

Photos by Judith Pishnery

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit