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Gift Officer: Manisha Sharma
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Braun Family Endows Barbie Morgan Scholarship for CRNA Students Fund Honors Memory of Aspiring Nurse
In 2013, on the day of Cary Braun's graduation from ODU's nurse anesthetist program, she had, yet again, another reminder of Barbie Morgan, her cousin who had meant so much to her, yet had died years ago, as a teenager. "The day I graduated from nursing school, Barbie's mom found an essay that Barbie had written in the sixth grade," says Cary. "It was a description of all the qualities - the sense of dedication and helpfulness to others - it took to be a good nurse."
The discovery of that essay heightened for Cary the importance that Barbie put on wanting to help others. In late December 2014, certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) Cary Braun, 33, and her husband Jacob Braun, 36, of Virginia Beach established a $25,000 endowed scholarship for senior-year nurse anesthesia students in memory of Barbie, who had died unexpectedly in 1998 at the age of 16.
Cary had always wanted to honor her cousin; born only two months apart, they had been very close throughout their lives. "It seemed that the best way to hold up her memory was to give back to the CRNA program, whose faculty did so much to help us through my studies," she says. Jacob, who has a master's degree in engineering management through ODU, said that it was an easy decision to come to. "There is an emotion that comes to Cary's face when she talks about Barbie, especially when she shares with me how something she witnessed - whether with our son, or simply something she saw in a movie - relates to her cousin," he says. "It is obvious they were not only cousins, but good friends." Both agreed, without a moment's doubt, that donating to the university, and the nurse anesthetist program in particular, was a fitting way to pay tribute to Barbie.
Cary works as a CRNA at Atlantic Anesthesia of Virginia Beach; Jacob, a 15-year Navy officer, is the executive officer on the U.S.S. San Jacinto. Sitting in their farm home on 15 acres in the Pungo area of Virginia Beach, the Braun's house is notable for a nearby stable of horses, three which Cary owns. In fact, outside of her work and her family, horses are a central passion in Cary's life. She grew up riding them, receiving her first pony when she was two. Her enthusiasm for her job is also clear; she says she is gratified that she can put into place at work each day the lessons she learned in her program at ODU. "Moreover, I enjoy the interactions with the patients, and the variety of the surgeries that we are involved with means that you have to use your brain all the time," she says. Of course, their farm life also keeps them both busy. Jacob, a child of suburbia, finds that the adjustments their rural setting are not onerous, though he marvels at the extent of his wife's commitment. "She'll mention to me that there's something magical and calming about shoveling out horse waste in the morning and I'll think she's a bit crazy," he laughs. "But, I can see how that physical commitment to this place allows her to feel that way." He allows that there is something soothing about their spread, especially as he makes plans to get Luke comfortable with a soccer ball. "I can envision the both of us sprinting in the empty horse paddocks - that will definitely be good for the both of us," he says.
While their lives appear idyllic now, the Brauns faced some challenges while Cary completed her studies at ODU. In fact, they got married and had Luke while Cary was in the program. "The studies are challenging enough, and with these other events, it could seem overwhelming at times," she says. "But we received so much support from the nursing faculty - they were there for us, no matter what." Cary gave birth to Luke four months before she graduated, while Jacob was often away from home for long stretches due to work requirements, so, says Jacob, "Cary had a lot of burden on her, especially physically, as she went into the last year of the program." For example, in the senior year of anesthesia studies, students do clinicals for a month or two in areas like Washington D.C., Baltimore, and Columbus. "So, there is not only the stress of having to relocate, but, in some of these areas, you have to provide your own temporary housing, which can be quite expensive" says Cary. "In my case, we were able to handle these costs because of Jacob's GI Bill, but many of my friends in the program were accumulating substantial debt."
From their experience, the Brauns felt motivated to find a way to help students and make their investment in the nurse anesthetist program more manageable, while also honoring the spirit of dedication visible in Barbie that had long inspired Cary. Jacob pointed out that, once they decided they wanted to memorialize Barbie, they got in contact with Manisha Harrell, Major Gifts Officer for the College of Health Sciences, to discuss the range of possibilities. "She provided a great service in telling us what an endowment was about and how we could make it work," he says. "She was incredibly patient and kind with us, but always acted as an enabler so that we could make this happen." They found out that, if they set up an endowment, it would be a gift in Barbie's honor that would be designed to last a long time. "Manisha helped us accomplish this because she showed us that we could establish the endowment by making smaller installment payments," says Jacob. "That way we could get the endowment started promptly, but have time to spread out how we are funding it."
"Schools give so much to each of us, so it is important to carefully think about how to give back," says Cary. Jacob adds that, if one is considering donating, it is important to think how such a gift can make a difference to students. "Being on the receiving end of a scholarship can help decrease students' stress, allows them to keep their focus on studying, and can help them be in a better place, financially, when they complete their program," he says. For the Braun's, the endowment is also a way to honor the contributions Barbie had made in her short time, and while also helping others to make their mark.