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$2 Million Gift Expands Impact of Successful Bridge and Mentoring Program for Student Nurses

Phyllis Nickerson Dotson '62 and George S. Dotson(October 2, 2012) -- The Simmons School of Nursing and Health Sciences (SNHS) was able to launch the innovative Dotson Bridge and Mentoring Program in 2008 thanks to the visionary philanthropic support of Phyllis Nickerson Dotson '62 and her husband George S. Dotson. Since then, the Tulsa, Okla. couple's gift has had a powerful impact on the nursing program, its students, and its lab facilities.

The Dotsons' original $2 million gift created the Phyllis Nickerson Dotson '62 and George S. Dotson Fund for Academic Excellence. The fund has had a two-fold impact. The Bridge and Mentoring Program helps Simmons simultaneously address the nationwide shortage of nurses and correct racial and ethnic disparities in the profession. Associate Professor of Practice LaDonna Christian directs the program, which provides academic support and mentoring to help students successfully transition into the nursing program and graduate. The program's success is helping Simmons attract and retain more students from diverse backgrounds.

"The Dotson Bridge and Mentoring Program has already transformed the lives and futures of close to 100 nursing students who are the future leaders of the profession," says SNHS Dean Judy Beal, "The Dotsons' continued support is truly inspirational." Their newly pledged $2 million gift will make it possible for the Bridge and Mentoring Program to continue into the foreseeable future.

"When you give to an institution, it's nice to feel like you are part of a winning team. We are on a winning team at Simmons," says Phyllis Dotson, an alumna of the nursing program.

The Dotson Bridge and mentoring program has already helped 30 students from diverse backgrounds graduate from the nursing program. And over three years, the NCLEX-RN licensing exam pass rate among program-eligible students has increased from 75 percent to 94 percent, on par with non-program eligible students.

"I have a very healthy respect for the organization," says George Dotson, "President Drinan and Dean Beal have both demonstrated a clear vision and crisp execution of good ideas – things I value based on my business experience."

The Dotsons say the success of the program to date, and their conversations with participating students, inspired them to renew their support. "When you're listening to the life experiences of women in the program, you can't help being moved and inspired by their stories – and what they are accomplishing," says George Dotson.

The Dotsons' gift has also transformed the nursing labs. Renovations have included additional advanced simulation technology and other teaching tools that help prepare students to excel in today's technology-rich hospital rooms and other healthcare settings.

Reflecting on her own Simmons experience, Phyllis Dotson explains that her father was a doctor in Boston, and when it was time for her to go to college, "He encouraged me go to Simmons!" She has no regrets. "Simmons made me the person I am today. It also made me an activist for various health causes."

Dotson says her activism took on a new dimension after the couple's son Ben died at the age of eight after a two-year battle with cancer. She started a pediatric play group at the hospital where he was treated. The Dotsons went on to lead the fundraising necessary to build the Ronald McDonald House in Tulsa.

"Our philanthropic goal is to help make life better for others, to lift burdens," says Phyllis Dotson.

Phyllis Dotson says she's very impressed that the vast majority of students in the Bridge and Mentoring Program have indicated that they, too, want to give back. "It continues the cycle of giving."


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