Sep. 24—PEMBROKE — The name that now occupies the new School of Nursing at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke bears the remembrance of a women who, despite many obstacles and setbacks strived for a career that better the lives of others.
Standing before the David F. Weinstein College Health Science Building Thursday, UNCP alumni, leadership and nursing students gathered to celebrate the establishment of the McKenzie-Elliott School of Nursing.
The naming was made possible by former UNCP board of trustee Mary Ann Elliott, who gifted $6 million — the second largest in the university's 134-year history — to go toward expanding and transforming UNCP's nursing program into the new School that will be housed in Weinstein Building.
"The McKenzie-Elliott School of Nursing is perfectly poised to build upon our strong nursing program, allowing us to train more students to meet regional health care needs," said Chancellor Robin Cummings.
Elliott is a native of the area and retired CEO of a global aerospace company. Currently living in Virginia, she has followed the rise of the university's nursing program since it first began offering an RN-BSN program in 1992. Years later, a prelicensure BSN option was introduced. Then in 2013, UNCP approved a Master of Science in Nursing program.
"Nursing started here in the early 1990s, the same time frame that Dr. Elliott started the Arrowhead industry — two completely different efforts but with the same goal having a genesis together," said Cherry Maynor Beasley, Nursing Department chair. "This genesis is just one way of many ways we are balanced together. It is fitting that today we acknowledge the similarities of the calling and celebrate the conference of this past."
In 1991, Elliott founded Arrowhead Global Solutions, a satellite communications firm, which, over the next 17 years, grew to a multi-million-dollar operation that played a critical role in supporting American troops deployed overseas. Through her work with Arrowhead and other firms, Elliott spent more than 30 years supporting America's military, security and intelligence communities.
During her career, she was recognized as one of the nation's top female satellite communications experts. In 2007, she became only the second woman inducted into the Space and Satellite Professionals International Hall of Fame, among many other awards. Two years later, she received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from UNCP.
"Dr. Elliott was willing to break the gender glass ceiling, bringing her strong since of justice, her creativity, her innovative spirit in her commitment to excellence in innovation in all the work that she does," Beasley said. "But one does not talk to Mary Ann long before you know that she values the work and support of others and says that without them she would not be where she is today."
The McKenzie-Elliott School of Nursing will honor Elliott's mother, Mary McKenzie Edwards, who dedicated her life to the nursing profession after struggling financially to earn her degree during the Great Depression in Robeson County in the 1930s, a time when the nation was experienced it's first nursing shortage.
"Ms. McKenzie Edwards chose to enter the profession at a time of change and uncertainty, devoted more than 35 years of her life to caring for others, always striving to improve her care while tenderly meeting the needs of others," Beasley said.
Elliott has long supported UNCP philanthropically for years leading up to her $6 million gift by establishing scholarships and contributing to the UNCP School of Business.
After her mother died in 1996, Elliott established a nursing scholarship at UNCP in her memory. She was also among the private donors who helped establish UNCP's Entrepreneurship Incubator, and in 2017 she donated $500,000 to the Thomas School of Business to create the Mary Ann Elliott Business Career Center.
"My professional career led to financial success but the sincere need to give back to others. This driving need to share with others, my mother's example, and the nursing shortage here in this community and throughout our great nation is what led to the McKenzie Elliott School of Nursing," Elliott said.
"I had the honor to serve on the Board of Trustees with Mary Ann during her tenure from 2017-2019, but her service and commitment to UNCP began far before and will no doubt exceed far beyond," said UNCP board of trustee Chairman Patrick Corso.
Following remarks, Cummings and Beasley unveiled the portrait of Elliott that will be hang in the hall of new School of Nursing. Elliott was also given the first white coat faculty will wear as the McKenzie-Elliott School of Nursing.
Edwards legacy has led to at east 12 McKenzie who have entered into the medical profession, and Elliott credits for her life's success to her.
"Mother's life lacked many things but she taught by examples and saying that have guided me throughout my life," Elliott said. "I can still her voice. 'Never give up' was her mantra and became the driving force of by which I life my entire life."
Tomeka Sinclair can be reached at [email protected] or 910-416-5865.