New graduate student nursing award creates lasting ties

Have you ever thought about what you’d do if you unexpectedly received a significant sum of money? Dr. Sonya Grypma did, and interestingly, one day she was given the opportunity to really figure it out.

Dr. Sonya Grypma created the Jacoba Vanden Brink Award to support nursing students by binding together dedication to others and academic success.

“It was a complete surprise,” Grypma says about the day she received an unexpected cheque in the mail. “It came from my uncle, and as soon as I got it my husband and I went right into, ‘what are we going to do with this?’ We never looked at the money as ours – we looked at it as something that had been entrusted to us, and we wanted it to have a wide circle of influence.”

Grypma has a PhD in nursing and is currently the dean at the School of Nursing at Trinity Western University. At the time she received the cheque, however, Grypma was an assistant professor of nursing at the University of Lethbridge. Her passion for nursing education made Grypma’s decision on what to do with the funds fairly easy.

“Creating a scholarship felt like the right thing to do,” says Grypma. “I received a number of scholarships as a graduate nursing student and they were tremendously impactful on my education and career. The idea of helping other graduate nursing students that way was inspiring, and I knew that in doing so I’d be helping a lot of others in turn.”

The next decision Grypma faced was what name to give the award. Once again, she went with something close to her heart, and the Jacoba Vanden Brink Award was created.

The scholarship is named in honour of Grypma’s maternal grandmother, a Dutch immigrant with 13 children who came to Canada with her husband after the Second World War in pursuit of a better life. Grypma never had the chance to meet her grandmother, who was tragically killed in a car accident that happened just south of the Alberta border before Grypma was born. Vanden Brink was on her way home when she died, returning from a trip to the U.S. university her second-youngest son was attending – the first member of the Vanden Brink family to ever pursue a university education.

“The name ties so many things together for me,” says Grypma. “It pays homage to my grandmother’s strength and determination to transition her family into a new life. It honours my mother, who shares my grandmother’s first name. It upholds the value of a university education. It pays tribute to two of my uncles – the one who was attending university at the time my grandmother died, as well as my eldest uncle who entrusted the money to me and who took responsibility for the family after my grandparents passed. The accident happened near to Lethbridge, so there’s a tie there too. The Jacoba Vanden Brink Award is a deeply personal name for the scholarship, and to know that this money will work in service to others is really pleasing.”

Grypma's grandparents Bernardus and Jacoba Vanden Brink.

The Jacoba Vanden Brink Award is a $1,000 scholarship given each year to two graduate students in the U of L Faculty of Health Sciences – a first-year student and a second-year student. The first ever beneficiaries of the award, Mercy Enwere and Kim Veldman, received the scholarship last fall.

As both a previous recipient of scholarships and a current dean, Grypma has seen and experienced the effects of funding on both sides of the academic fence. Her take on the matter is as far-reaching and philosophical as her choice to create the Jacoba Vanden Brink Award.

“Nursing is a public service,” says Grypma. “A good nursing education doesn’t stop with one person – it rolls out to countless others. I received the help and affirmation I needed to succeed as a student, a nurse and an academic. This scholarship is a way for me to pay it forward while honouring people I know who dedicated themselves to helping others.”

Kim Veldman (BN ’14)
Master of Nursing student
Recipient of the Jacoba Vanden Brink Award

“The ability to help other students become great nurses is a dream of mine and I would like to become a clinical instructor of nursing students. I am extremely grateful for receiving the award because it enables me to focus on my schooling, and not stress over funds. Subsequently, I feel that the award will set me up for success in nursing.”