Gator Nation News

“It Gave Me the Nudge to Keep Going”

How a “Patriots” Scholarship Is Changing the Lives of Veteran-Nurses

Left to right: Former Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody shakes hands with Air Force firefighter Jared Weeks (BSN ‘20) in 2015. Receiving the MSC Patriot Award from the College of Nursing enabled Weeks to complete UF’s Accelerated BSN program in 15 months. Photo courtesy Jared Weeks.

From serving their country to serving patients. That is the inspiring career trajectory of a select group of scholarship students at the UF College of Nursing, whose educations are supported by donors who have walked the same path.

Created in 2009 by three veteran/Gator nurses from the Class of 1994, the MSC Patriot Award provides scholarship assistance to UF nursing students affiliated with the military. (“MSC” stands for the last names of its donors, Neil McFarlane and his wife, Karen; Price St. Hilaire; and Erik Cline.) Since then, MSC Patriot awardees have been earning their bachelor’s degrees and joining the proud legions of Gator Nurses worldwide.

“For me, the MSC Patriot Award not only provided financial relief during nursing school, it also gave me motivation to keep going when information overload creeped in. It reminded me of my ‘why,’” recipient Jared Weeks (BSN ’20) said in a recent interview.

“I chose this field for the same reason I chose to serve my country in the military,” Weeks said. “It is to serve those around us, to advocate for, to protect and help, or even to just be human to someone else in the time of destruction.

“This award reminds me that we all need each other, and it gave me the nudge to keep going.”

A native of Valdosta, GA, Weeks spent eight years as an Air Force firefighter, serving on three deployments in the Middle East before enrolling at UF in early 2019. As a student in the Accelerated BSN program, Weeks earned his bachelor’s degree in 15 months, graduating this past August. He is currently preparing to take his nursing boards and has a job offer pending that achievement.

In 2019, MSC Patriot Award recipient Marianna Colon (BSN ’20) took part in UF’s Study Abroad program in Grenada, where she assisted at a hospital and performed health exams at community fairs. The award inspired her to “make her time at UF worthwhile” to thank her donors for their support.

Another newly minted Gator Nurse and MSC Patriot Award recipient is Marianna Colon (BSN ‘20). The daughter of military parents and a first-generation college student, Colon entered UF intending to become a doctor or a lawyer. However, volunteering at UF Health Shands Hospital made her realize nursing was her true calling.

“I wanted to be at the patients’ bedside and be there for them, caring for them,” said the Jacksonville native.

Thanks in part to her scholarship, Colon was able to soak up every available nursing experience UF has to offer – from studying abroad in Grenada to serving as a Gator Nurse Ambassador. Plus, she was empowered knowing that fellow veteran-nurses supported her dreams.

“Obtaining this scholarship revealed the support I had from people I did not even know,” she said. “To show my gratitude, I was determined to make my time at UF worthwhile.”

Since earning her BSN in May 2020, Colon has been working part time toward her doctorate of nursing practice at the University of Alabama while completing a nursing residency at Baptist Medical Center, in Jacksonville. Her dream is to become a pediatric nurse practitioner.

When asked about his long-term goals, Jared Weeks’s response speaks for many who have received the MSC Patriot Award: “To look back when all is said and done and say that my efforts added to humanity.”

The daughter of military parents, Marianna Colon (BSN ’20) discovered her career path while volunteering at UF Health Shands Hospital. “I admired the compassion and empathy that nurses have behind everything they do,” says Colon, who is now completing her nursing residency at Baptist Medical Center, in Jacksonville.