Transformative Power of Education

Craig Nordlund, JD’74, and Sally Baum Nordlund, BSN’74, found three important things during their time at Vanderbilt. First, they found each other—the two met as students, Craig at Vanderbilt Law School and Sally at Vanderbilt University School of Nursing. Second, they each discovered a passion for their professions that has remained with them throughout their lives. And third, they developed a belief in the transformative power of education.

The Nordlunds would go on to become lifelong Vanderbilt supporters. In addition to annual gifts to the university, they have endowed scholarships at three of Vanderbilt’s schools and colleges, and included Vanderbilt in their estate plans.

Sally, an Ohio native, immediately felt at home at Vanderbilt after arriving on campus. “I felt really lucky to be a student in that environment,” said Sally about her experience at VUSN. “I was prepared to go out into the world and eager to begin my nursing career.”

Craig feels connected to Vanderbilt in a number of ways, including the fact that his three siblings attended the university, and his father, Donald Nordlund, served on the Board of Trust from 1986 to 1997. But it was Craig’s time at the law school that proved to be an important turning point in his life.

“I had professors with the right balance of theory and practice—which heavily influenced my career,” he said.

The Nordlunds settled in Palo Alto, California, where Craig had a distinguished legal career at Hewlett-Packard Co. and then later at Agilent Technologies. Meanwhile, Sally spent her early career working in intensive care, emergency care and coronary care before shifting to teach CPR and first-aid training in industry. The couple also raised three children. Their son, Michael Nordlund, BA’09, and youngest daughter, Laurie Finch, BA’12, both graduated from the College of Arts and Science.

In honor of their educations—and those of their children—Craig and Sally established three scholarships to help future generations of students pursue a Vanderbilt education. The Donald Craig Nordlund and Sally Baum Nordlund Scholarship in Nursing has provided need-based support for 21 nursing students since it was established in 2005. The couple also established a Donald Craig Nordlund and Sally Baum Nordlund Scholarship at the College of Arts and Science and at the law school. In addition, they documented a bequest in 2015 to provide future support for their scholarships, which will ensure their legacy extends long beyond their lifetimes.

“We included our scholarships in our estate to make sure they stay in place and stay viable,” Craig said. “It’s our hope that this extra support will allow future students to get an education they might not otherwise be able to afford.”

The Nordlunds intend for their scholarships to allow students to graduate without the burden of high debt. When Craig was in college, he recalls that working a good summer job meant one could earn enough money to pay tuition for the school year. He says that’s often no longer true.

“The cost of education is increasing exponentially at a time when it is more and more important for people to earn at least an undergraduate degree,” he said. “Anything we c Illustration of a brain with arms and legs lifting weightsan do to help eliminate that burden will help make the world a better place.”

Sally believes their scholarships could help encourage students who might otherwise be deterred from choosing high-cost, advanced degree programs like nursing or law. She also hopes their support will inspire recipients to similarly give back to Vanderbilt in the future.

“Vanderbilt remains on the cutting-edge of nursing research and education, continually assessing the skills and knowledge base needed for today’s RNs,” she said. “I cannot think of a better way to support these endeavors than by giving to Vanderbilt and helping to provide future students with these same opportunities.”

Megan Cohen, Class of 2021, is a current recipient of the Donald Craig Nordlund and Sally Baum Nordlund Scholarship in Nursing and first-year student in the women’s health nurse practitioner program. Like Sally, Cohen found Vanderbilt to be a perfect fit.

“This scholarship has enabled me to go to a school where I know they will prepare me to be a competent provider who helps patients to the best of my ability,” she said. “That’s exactly why I went to nursing school to begin with.”

The Nordlunds’ nursing scholarship also supports students like Erin Dowling, Class of 2020, who chose VUSN for its top-rated family nurse practitioner master’s program. A former U.S. Navy Nurse Corps officer, Dowling appreciates how Vanderbilt supports former military students and provides unique opportunities to work with underserved populations.

“The financial aid has afforded me the optimal graduate school experience,” Dowling said. “I have been able to support myself while focusing all my efforts on learning. In the future, I will be under less financial burden as a new nurse practitioner thanks to the aid that I have received.”

Thanks to their documented bequest for scholarships, the Nordlunds joined Vanderbilt’s Sarratt Society, which celebrates the generosity and vision of donors who make a planned gift to the university. In 2019, Sally served as the Sarratt Society Class Chair for VUSN in honor of her 45th Reunion. In this volunteer role, Sally further supported VUSN by encouraging fellow alumni to include Vanderbilt in their estate planning. To learn more about how to create your legacy through a planned gift to Vanderbilt, visit

by Sydnie Hochstein

Tagged Under:

Features Summer 2020