‘Historic’ gift to Creighton University aims to help Nebraska’s nursing shortage

By: - August 21, 2023 4:12 pm

Nursing students at Creighton University (Courtesy of Creighton University)

OMAHA — A $5.2 million gift to Creighton University, from a family whose name is known also for growing ConAgra Foods, will create a new scholarship fund to help meet a critical need for Nebraska nursing leaders.

The Harper Family Foundation gift was described as historic based on its size, being one of the largest gifts made to the College of Nursing.

The scholarship program will pay for the bulk of tuition costs for 30 nursing students, from their arrival on Creighton’s campus to graduation day.

“Creighton nurses are leaders who advance quickly at the hospitals and clinics where they practice,” said Catherine Todero, dean of the College of Nursing. “And now, the Harper Scholars program will help us attract top talent and form even more innovative leaders.”

The scholarship namesakes are the late Charles “Mike” Harper and his wife, Joan “Josie” Bruggema Harper, who moved their family to Omaha in the 1970s when he became the CEO of Conagra. Josie was a nurse.

The late Mike and Josie Harper were longtime supporters of Creighton University. (Courtesy of Creighton University)

Creighton is recruiting now for the first cohort of Harper Scholars to begin in the 2024 fall semester.

The scholarship program comes as the nursing college moves to Creighton’s new $75 million CL and Rachel Werner Center for Health Sciences Education, which is set to open next month. There, nursing students are to join medical, physical therapy, pharmacy and other health disciplines in a collaborative learning environment.

University officials said nurses can’t arrive fast enough. By 2025, they noted, Nebraska faces an estimated shortage of nearly 5,500 nurses. 

The Harper gift will help fund a leadership program led by faculty, a senior trip at the Institute for Latin American Concern in the Dominican Republic, and a research and travel fund. The funds also create a program director position to oversee programming and clinical and research placement.

The Harpers have long supported the city of Omaha and Creighton, a news release said. The family established a freshman leadership scholarship and a scholarship that paid tribute to a former Creighton president, the Rev. Timothy Lannon. 

The Harpers endowed professorships, and are the namesakes of the Mike and Josie Harper Center at the Creighton  campus.

Betsy and Chris Murphy, Harper Family Foundation trustees who also are the Harpers’ daughter and son-in-law, said they wanted the foundation’s next project to be significant and impactful. “Because one of the guiding principles of Mike Harper was a focus on ‘the cannonball.’ Not a lot of little things but one big thing that can make a difference to the mission of the organization,” said Chris Murphy.

“Our hope is that for nursing students around the country, this scholarship will be the scholarship to go for,” Murphy said.


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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics.

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