Outstanding alumni and friends honored for accomplishment, service and impact

The Vanderbilt University School of Nursing Alumni Association recognized 11 alumni and friends during the 2022 alumni awards ceremony in October.

Honorees were nominated by fellow alumni and colleagues and selected by the association’s board of directors. The awards recognize alumni at varying stages of their careers and in different areas of impact.

2022 Honorees

S. Abigail Morgan, MSN’05, received the Alumni Award for Clinical Achievement in Nursing. Morgan works for the Yukon Kuskokwim Healthcare Corporation in Bethel, Alaska, where she and her colleagues care for predominantly Alaska Native patients in clinic and through village visits. Morgan’s focus is on high-quality women’s health care, despite limitations to supplies and staffing. Her nominator wrote,
“Abigail works tirelessly to improve outcomes for patients and improve
processes for providers.”

Taaka Cash, MSN’12, DNP’13, received a Thomas L. Christenbery Award for Diversity and Inclusion for bringing mental health care to Black patients in Texas. More than a decade ago, she opened Privy Oasis, the first Black-owned mental health clinic in Southlake, Texas, to provide equitable and accessible mental health and psychiatric care to communities of color in the Dallas area. One of her nominators wrote that she deserved the award because of her “work, support, development and heart in her life’s mission to open dialogue about mental health nursing and mental health … On every level, her achievement in building accessible, innovative and actionable mental health services to her community is admirable and necessary.”

Rebekah Lee Hayes, MSN’16, DNP’20, received a Thomas L. Christenbery Award for Diversity and Inclusion. When she was one of only a few Asian American students at VUSN, she co-founded and was president of the first student group devoted to awareness of Asian American and Pacific Islander cultural practices and health disparities. Now an instructor at VUSN, Hayes is faculty adviser for the group, the Asian Pacific Islander and Desi American Student Nurses Organization, and serves as the VUSN representative for A3PI, a research hub for Vanderbilt’s Asian and AAPI identifying members. In her acceptance speech, she credited the person for whom the award is named, saying, “Dr. Christenbery embodied, not only the spirit of inclusion, but the kindness and the compassion, and the gentleness of spirit that is really at the heart of the nursing profession and he helped make VUSN my home.”

Karen Hande, DNP’13, received a  Colleen Conway-Welch Award for National Leadership in honor of her broad impact on health care. A nationally recognized nurse scholar, Hande is known for her innovative teaching and learning strategies. Among her accomplishments was the creation of a DNP practice hours database and project timeline, which improved how students document and faculty evaluate readiness to practice. Hande designed and implemented the DNP Appreciative Advising Model that connects student needs to faculty skills. She also created and launched a competency-based, postgraduate in oncology fellowship at the Vanderbilt Ingram Cancer Center, the first hospital-based oncology transition-to-practice in Tennessee and third in the country. She also designed a nationally recognized opioid mitigation protocol to prevent opioid abuse.

Cara (Calloway) Young, MSN’06, PhD’10, received a Colleen Conway-Welch Award for National Leadership in honor of her broad impact on health care. Young develops sustainable, culturally competent strategies to promote physical and mental health for marginalized and underserved rural Hispanic and African American adolescents and young adults. In her clinical work, Young helps Hispanic females diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome through self-management science and mindfulness-based interventions. She implemented a culturally-tailored intervention for a school system of more than 11,000 primarily Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students. Her work has potential scalability for underserved U.S. schools and districts.  Her contribution to understanding the complex, psychological processes among stressful life events and development of depressive and anxious symptoms in marginalized and underserved youth has been widely disseminated in peer-reviewed journals.

Gilbert Gonzales, PhD, MHA, received the Friend of Nursing Award for significant contributions to the profession of nursing from an individual who is not a nurse or VUSN graduate. Gonzales is an assistant professor in Vanderbilt University’s Department of Medicine, Health and Society, the Department of Health Policy and the Program for Public Policy Studies, as well as an associate director in the Vanderbilt LGBTQ policy lab. He is an international expert on health policy reform, disparities, LGBTQIA health, and at VUSN, he has lectured and led student seminars for many years.

Jade (Ward) Vergara, MSN’13, received the Alma Gault Award for Public Service. As a VUSN instructor, she led community-based pilot quality improvement projects to improve culturally-sensitive health care for underserved Nashville older adults. She partnered with the Vanderbilt Mobile Vaccination Clinic and with Catholic Charities to bolster COVID-19 vaccination rates in older adults and taught nursing students how to offer culturally sensitive vaccine education and outreach. Her nominator wrote, “Jade has shown tremendous leadership in her advocacy efforts for Nashville’s underserved older adult population … Her nursing students have learned about the impact of social injustice and racism on underserved communities and the current disparities they face within social determinants of health.”

Erin Miller, MSN’19, received the Catherine Hanley Class of 1912 Rising Star Alumni Award. Miller is one of only two certified pediatric sexual assault nurse examiners in Florida. She helps child victims of sexual assault heal from trauma, collects forensic evidence and testifies in court. She serves as part of the VUSN SANE Advisory Board and helps others develop similar skills by serving as a preceptor and offering clinical training. She also shares her expertise in clinical immersion sessions and has spoken about her work to other nurses and to policy makers.

Amy (Conklin) Pettigrew, PhD, BSN’72, received the Lulu Wolf Hassenplug Award for a Distinguished Career in Nursing. She also celebrated her induction as a Quinq (a Vanderbilt alumnus who graduated at least 50 years earlier). During her career, she has presented on and published numerous research papers and has served as a leader in educating future nurses. She worked as an assistant head nurse, clinical nurse specialist, assistant professor and chair of nursing at Xavier University, among others. Pettigrew is a former dean of Miami-Dade College of Nursing. Since retirement, she serves on the National League of Nursing’s Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation and participates in medical mission trips.

Bonnie Pilon, PhD, professor of nursing, emerita, was selected as the Honorary Alumna. While leading the VUSN practice division, Pilon started many successful clinical practices, which continue to impact numerous vulnerable individuals. Pilon is a beloved and dedicated colleague, teacher, mentor and friend to thousands of students, alumni, faculty and staff. She came out of retirement to fight COVID-19, and worked with VUSN and Vanderbilt University Medical Center to handle tracing and vaccination. Her nominator says, “Bonnie deserves to be awarded the distinction of VUSN Honorary Alumna in light of her contribution and sacrifice to Vanderbilt University School of Nursing. She loves and is loved by VUSN and Vanderbilt University. I have difficulty identifying one of our VUSN family who has had a larger impact on the nursing school and larger Vanderbilt community.”

Laura (Logsdon) Buchanan, MBA, BSN’84, received the Linda D. Norman Award for Innovation in Health. Buchanan co-founded the Nursing Institute for Health Care Design to create and build a network of nurses interested in evidence-based design for health care organizations. The institute has grown to more than 150 members across the world, and now includes architects and designers from other disciplines. Buchanan’s nominator wrote, “This national organization has provided the clinical voice … for the design of health care environments. It has … built a reputation in the industry as a champion of nurses having a seat at the table for design discussions. She is a pioneer and innovator who expands the boundaries of nursing. She sees a problem and is not afraid to tackle it.”

The 2022 Vanderbilt Alumni Association Awards were presented during Vanderbilt’s Reunion Oct. 7-9. Nominations for the annual awards are collected each spring.