Nursing Student to be Awarded UMass Boston’s JFK Award
May 26, 2011
Office of Communications
After a family illness forced her to drop out of high school at age 16, Alia MacPherson had to put her dreams of a college education on hold.
The Marblehead native took on full- and part-time jobs, earned her GED, and cared for her family; her future, she would say, was limited to just getting through the day. It took MacPherson almost 10 years to make it into a college classroom, but once she did, she made every moment count.
“It was a dream come true,” she said. “In that moment the world was mine to decide where I was going within it.”
MacPherson, 30, will receive the John F. Kennedy Award for Academic Excellence – the highest honor for University of Massachusetts Boston graduates – at commencement June 3. She heads to Yale University’s School of Nursing in the fall.
UMass Boston Chancellor J. Keith Motley made the announcement after receiving the recommendation from the university’s JFK Selection Committee. The award is given to the graduating senior who best exemplifies academic excellence, commitment to service, and good citizenship.
“I am humbled by how many of our students fit this description every year, and I am proud to recognize Alia MacPherson for standing out among her fellow nominees,” Chancellor Motley said. “Alia has overcome great obstacles on her path to success, and she has never stopped giving back to her fellow students, her professors, and the university community.”
MacPherson was drawn to nursing during her first semesters at UMass Boston as an undeclared major. Her mother, although unable to work, had been a nurse, and MacPherson felt a connection. After three attempts, she was accepted into UMass Boston’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences.
And she found her calling while on a service trip to Africa.
This summer she will visit Kenya for a third time with Associate Professor Eileen Stuart-Shor’s Kenya Heart and Sole project to help survey and screen villagers for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. MacPherson says it is now her mission to reduce the barriers to healthcare and improve health across the globe.
“While heart disease and cancer are significant health threats, health disparities such as lack of access, poor quality, high cost, and even language barriers are killing our diverse population quicker than any other diseases out there,” she said. “I am making it my obligation to spend my life and career reducing these barriers.”
While at UMass Boston, MacPherson was on the Dean’s List and served as class president, a member of the Golden Key International Honor Society, an academic peer advisor, and a member of the International Nursing Honor Society – all while working 60 hours a week.
“Alia has gone from GED to Yale,” said Deborah Lind Mahony, a clinical associate professor of nursing and health sciences and Macpherson’s advisor. “But in between, she has been a nursing scholar at UMass Boston. She approached her years at UMass Boston as an opportunity to rise above adversity and was able to succeed from a very tough start.”
The undergraduate JFK Award recipient receives a $1,000 honorarium, a bust of John F. Kennedy, and the opportunity to speak at their commencement ceremony. MacPherson is the 35th recipient of the JFK award.
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