College comes within reach for Sanford employee scholars

Some are first in their family to attend college, while others are pursuing new careers

College comes within reach for Sanford employee scholars

The Sanford Health Equity in Education Scholarship is a targeted financial scholarship program aiding traditionally underrepresented populations seeking higher education.

In all, five rewards of $5,000 each are granted to members of often underserved groups of people. Specifically, that includes first-generation Americans, first-generation college students and nontraditional students of at least 25 years of age.

Award recipients must demonstrate exceptional character and leadership in furthering their own progress and in enriching the lives of others, especially in service, academics, and community involvement and impact.

This scholarship opportunity is important to Sanford Health and its mission of fostering an environment where diversity in thought, skill and background is not only accepted, but also celebrated as a key strength.

Meet this year’s winners:

Heather Malterud

Before joining Sanford Behavioral Health, Heather Malterud worked for 10 years with individuals with developmental disabilities and provided services that supported clients’ ability to live in their own home, their family home, or foster care setting.

Five years ago, she joined the Sanford Behavioral Health team as a patient access representative. She has since then transitioned to a care coordinator. She is enrolled as an undergraduate in the psychology program at Bemidji State University and is pursuing a career as a therapist.

“As a single parent I was focused on raising my kids, making sure their needs were met, and supporting them while they were going to school,” Malterud said. “They are both grown adults living on their own now so I decided it was time to further and pursue my education.”

Throughout Malterud’s career climb, she has earned a reputation for being a hard worker with a positive attitude. Now, with help of the scholarship, she looks forward to a future of helping individuals work through personal challenges and distress, and work toward improved mental health that will enable patients to achieve positive changes in their lives.

“The scholarship opens doors to opportunities that might have been out of reach otherwise for me and is a chance to help me pursue my education and follow my passions,” Malterud said. “I am excited about the prospect of playing a role in the patient’s journey towards healing, growth, and self-discovery.”

Pragati Dhungel

Pragati Dhungel is a student at the University of South Dakota whose energy follows her wherever she goes.

The native of Nepal wants to go to medical school and become a doctor. Her work at Sanford Health’s Dakota Gardens, a senior living and assisted living residence in Vermillion, South Dakota, has sparked her interest in pursuing a career in medicine.

“This exposure to health care settings and patient care has been a blessing,” Dhungel said. “And it fuels my enthusiasm to undertake professional medical procedures in the future.”

While moving forward in her education, Dhungel has also become deeply involved in campus activities. In particular, her efforts in creating an international dance club at USD have made an impact via organized dance workshops and performances.

The club has fostered cultural awareness while also demonstrating Dhungel’s leadership and teamwork skills. These are skills she looks forward to putting to good use as she advances in her career.

“Working here has not only deepened my understanding of patient care but has also taught me the importance of patience and compassion when dealing with residents,” Dhungel said. “My ultimate goal is to serve and uplift communities facing hardship and to make a positive impact on the world. The scholarship means a lot to me since it adds up to my determination and gives me the extra push to reach my goal. Most importantly, it reduces my financial burden.”

Jennifer Simpson

Sanford Health has been part of Jennifer Simpson’s life pretty much since the day she was born. This resident of northwest Iowa came into the world at Sioux Valley Hospital, since renamed Sanford Health, and has been involved in health care for two decades.

Her introduction came as a certified nurse aide (CNA) in high school. Through the years she has had roles at an assisted living facility, a small local hospital and child and adult residential facilities.

In 2014, she became a patient care technician with the postpartum/high-risk obstetrics/labor and delivery unit in Sioux Falls. That same year she and her husband relocated to Tuttle, North Dakota, and Simpson began working as a unit secretary and CNA with the orthopedic unit at Sanford Medical Center in Bismarck until August of 2023.

This mother of two is now a PRN who works at both the Sanford Sheldon Medical Center and at Sanford Medical Center in Bismarck as a CNA – while also pursuing an RN degree.

PRN stands for “pro re nata,” which in nursing means she holds a position where she often has to navigate flexible hours and a variety tasks. In Simpson’s case, it means being a team player who is not afraid of new circumstances.

“I view my role not merely as a job but as an ongoing opportunity to actively pursue knowledge that benefits the entire health care team,” Simpson said. “As I continue to evolve within the health care profession, I am driven by a commitment to continuous growth, service and positive impact. This scholarship means being able to spend more time with my family while going to school for nursing and less worry about paying bills. I have been with Sanford a little over 10 years in total and am thankful for the support.”

Myrla Villa

Myrla Villa is a first-generation college student at Minnesota State University-Moorhead pursuing a degree in social work. She was born in Mexico and moved to the United States with her parents when she was six months old.

She continues to pursue what she calls “the American Dream” at full speed. In addition to being a full-time student with a full-time job, she is deeply involved in faith-based activities and college and community organizations.

Specifically, as a student at MSUM she assists both students and faculty as a representative for the university’s student advisory board. She is part of the campus Social Work Child Welfare program while working as the unit secretary for Sanford Home Dialysis.

Her life includes volunteering for Carson Wentz’s AO1 Foundation in Fargo and as a youth church leader.

“My passion for social work sparked during my early years by a deep love for volunteering,” Villa said. “I have always been enthusiastic about supporting the youth and families in our communities, especially considering the limited resources available to the Hispanic community.”

Villa’s goal is to get her bachelor’s degree in social work in the fall of 2024 and then start a master’s in social work with the goal of becoming a mental health counselor.

“As a first-generation college student and the child of immigrants, I aspire to be an embodiment of hard work, dedication, and sacrifice,” Villa said. “I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to pursue my education further. I am eager to go out into the field and provide support, guidance, and empathy to those in our community.”

Whitney Bercier

A group of people pose under an exit sign while holding a giant check made out to Whitney Bercier.
Whitney Bercier and team smile after surprising her with a $5,000 scholarship from Sanford Health.

Photo by Sanford Health

Whitney Bercier is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and grew up in Belcourt, North Dakota.

Bercier, who now lives with her husband and three children in Dickinson, is a licensed practical nurse in internal medicine who is nearing an RN degree at the University of Mary.

Getting to where she is has not always been easy. A family move had its challenges along the way but also came with rewards.

“It was a grand adventure with many hills to climb but we kept on climbing,” Bercier wrote of her career. “I’m no stranger to hard work and my family taught me respect, love and what it means to put your heart into something.”

Her past has prepared her well for her next career step. This background includes time helping take care of the elders of the Turtle Mountain Band at family events and years working in long-term care.

She is now putting her heart into becoming an RN.

“I hope to continue my journey with being a humble leader and making an impact on others’ lives,” she said. “I believe that no matter your position, you are a valued member of the team. My parents have always instilled in me to respect others no matter their background or position. We are all critical components in getting the job done. I believe that education is important for myself and for my people and this scholarship is giving me the opportunity to provide a better life for myself and for my family. I am so very thankful.”

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Posted In Bemidji, Bismarck, Dickinson, Fargo, Inclusion at Sanford, People & Culture, Scholarships and Sponsorships, Sheldon, Vermillion