Conway-Welch Family Foundation gift to honor longtime dean, support Master of Nursing students

Colleen Conway-Welch, dean emerita of Vanderbilt University School of Nursing (Vanderbilt University)
Colleen Conway-Welch (Vanderbilt University)

The number of dedicated nurses entering the profession will increase, thanks to a $1.25 million pledge from the Conway-Welch Family Foundation to establish the Conway-Welch Second Degree in Nursing Scholarship at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing. This milestone gift, which will be awarded to a student enrolling in Vanderbilt’s new Master of Nursing program, was made in honor of Colleen Conway-Welch, the former dean of the school who died five years ago from pancreatic cancer.

This is the first major gift made toward the MN program, which was launched in 2023 to help address the nationwide shortage of registered nurses, and it memorializes Conway-Welch as part of Dare to Grow, a $3.2 billion campaign that is the most ambitious fundraising effort in Vanderbilt’s history. The MN program provides fast-moving and comprehensive training to students who are choosing nursing as a second career. Vanderbilt’s MN program is also distinguished by its unique focus on health equity and the impact that social determinants and individual experiences can have on patient care.

“In supporting our MN students, the Conway-Welch Family Foundation will enable more registered nurses to enter the profession and to do so with expertise, compassion and awareness of the challenges facing our health care system today,” said current School of Nursing Dean Pamela Jeffries, who also holds the Valere Potter Distinguished Chair in Nursing. “The foundation’s philanthropy will impact our students’ lives, careers and ability to help our broader society—all things that mattered deeply to Dean Conway-Welch.”

A well-regarded leader, philanthropist and advocate of the nursing profession, Conway-Welch served as dean of the school from 1984 until 2013. During her tenure, she established Vanderbilt as the competitive, highly regarded and innovative program that it is today. In addition to advancing the school’s clinical training and community outreach efforts, she spearheaded the respective launches of the Ph.D. and Doctor of Nursing Practice programs, as well as the building of Patricia Champion Frist Hall. In 2019, the School of Nursing paid tribute to Conway-Welch’s many accomplishments by naming its newly constructed atrium—now the main entrance to the school—in her honor.

“Colleen devoted her life to educating and empowering great nurses, regardless of how and when they made the decision to enter the profession,” said Frank Bumstead, a representative of the Conway-Welch Family Foundation. “It feels very meaningful that this gift will support second-career nurses at Vanderbilt’s School of Nursing while hopefully inspiring others to do the same.”

The Conway-Welch Second Degree in Nursing Scholarship will cover the full cost of attendance for a deserving recipient. In funding this student, who will begin classes in January 2024, the foundation hopes to set an example for how other donors can support the nurses of tomorrow. Prospective students can find more information about the MN program here.

To support the School of Nursing and the Dare to Grow campaign, visit