With college out of reach financially, Jennifer Viola joined the workforce when she graduated high school. She went on to start a family in the years that followed, but feeling unfulfilled professionally, Viola returned to school in 2020 to study nursing, while working 14-hour waitressing shifts to support her family and cover tuition costs.
For more than two decades, the Johnson & Johnson Foundation has partnered with Middlesex College in New Jersey via the Middlesex College Foundation to provide scholarship support and other resources to help students like Viola achieve their personal and professional goals. Since its inception in 2000, the Middlesex College Health Technology Scholarship Program funded by Johnson & Johnson Foundation has benefited more than 1100 students at the college pursuing careers in the health technologies field, primarily nursing.
A recipient of the scholarship, Viola was able to cut back on her shifts, graduate from the Middlesex College Nursing Program in May this year and go on to pass her nurse license exam. She now looks forward to taking up a nursing position in Raritan Bay Hospital’s emergency unit in September and continuing her studies with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree in January.
“I am so proud of how far I have come,” says Viola. “I never thought that I would be here in this position with a nursing qualification and a job lined up. It’s not something I thought would ever be possible for me.”
Non-traditional students in the program are typically female and older, many of them working and single parents looking to better circumstances for their families and improve their economic outlook, says Dr Kara Kaldawi, Nursing Program Director at Middlesex College. “We are very excited to see this in a diverse group of people within the nursing program. We continue to advocate for diversity in training, professional diversity, and opportunities to diversify financial assistance for individuals seeking improvement.”
Support that goes beyond academics
To alleviate the financial burden on nursing students with parental responsibilities like Viola, and to reduce interruptions in their studies and drop-out rates, the program began offering childcare grants last year with support from the Johnson & Johnson Foundation. These grants provide access to the Middlesex College Early Learning Center situated on campus, where children of nursing students are supported in a high-quality learning environment—a significant stress reliever that enables students to focus their energy on their studies and families.
The grant has meant Viola can spend more time with her five-year-old daughter who, she says, wants to attend nursing school when she is older. “It’s motivation to keep going and to show her that once you start something you need to finish it, even when it’s hard. She was so excited when I graduated; everywhere she went she would tell everyone that her mom had just finished school and is now a nurse.”
Kaldawi says the childcare support reduces anxiety for parenting nursing students who juggle between commitment to their children and studies. “There is a high level of comfort for parents knowing they do not have to worry about their child. There is nothing more important than knowing your child is safe while you are trying to pursue your career, and that they are provided for.”
Invested in students and their success
100% of students who graduated from the Middlesex College Nursing Program in May this year are employed as registered nurses. Many of the program’s graduates have gone on to occupy leadership roles as directors, nurse managers and charge nurses working in both hospitals and community settings. “We want nurses to be successful, and we give them the tools to succeed,” says Kaldawi. “We graduate safe practitioners and leaders in the profession who are helping improve working conditions and who are at the table when difficult decisions are made.”
Executive Director for the Middlesex College Foundation, Lisa Kelly adds that the institution is committed to investing in nursing students to help them succeed, helping to alleviate the burden of the global nursing shortage and ensuring better preventative care for patients. “Nursing is unlike any other major out there because of how deeply it touches people's lives. Nurses’ decisions directly impact patients,” says Kelly. “The dedication of nursing students is unparalleled. We had an aspiring nurse living in her car and trying to finish her last semester. It takes a special kind of person to be a nurse, and that kind of person can be found on our campus.”
Manager for Johnson & Johnson Global Community Impact in North America, Tommy Lobben says the Johnson & Johnson Foundation is proud of its longstanding partnership with Middlesex College and its work with the institution in visioning, growing, and supporting initiatives to help highest need students succeed in all aspects of their lives.
“Middlesex College has quality facilities, an excellent nursing faculty and a history of strong academic performance in its nursing program,” he says. “The college shares our long-term commitment to a diverse health workforce and ensures that nurses who graduate are equipped for the next level. Everyone, from their president and administration to their aid office and program officers, is incredibly invested in each person’s development and success.”
Students are equipped with high-quality education and contribute to a pipeline of diverse health workers graduating from Middlesex College’s Nursing Program to serve diverse and historically underserved populations. Located in Middlesex County, New Jersey where Johnson & Johnson is headquartered, Middlesex College is a recognized Hispanic-serving institution, with a student body reflecting the state’s diversity and large immigrant population. Upon graduation, many students choose to stay and work in their local communities, helping to narrow the nursing gaps that exist locally and creating a critical and stable workforce to strengthen the state’s healthcare system.