Carolina Nursing recognizes Alumni Award recipients

Outstanding Alumni Award recipient  

Mary Jo Strauss Gilmer, PhD ’97  

This award recognizes a Carolina Nursing graduate who is known for their outstanding service to the field of nursing, either through scholarly efforts in research or teaching, promotion of health care or excellence in patient care and practice. 

Dr. Mary Jo Gilmer earned her PhD in 1997 from the UNC School of Nursing. Prior to that, she worked as a Clinical Nurse Specialist in Pediatric Cardiovascular surgery and received a Commonwealth Fund Fellowship to pursue her MBA at Queens University. Dr. Gilmer has received numerous awards for her research and teaching expertise and has been a leader in several international healthcare projects in Belize, Uganda, China, Italy and Ecuador. Her research focus is enhancing the care of children with life-threatening conditions through the establishment of a core palliative care service at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. Currently, she is the Co-Director of the Pediatric Palliative Care Research Team at Vanderbilt School of Nursing. Her specific research interests include parent-sibling bereavement, parent-child communication, and interventions to reduce suffering in children with cancer. 

Dr. Gilmer’s newest pioneering project has the potential of not only advancing knowledge in both the pediatric oncology and animal-assisted therapy (AAI) fields through rigorous and groundbreaking research, but, more importantly, greatly improving childhood cancer treatment by lending credibility to an adjunctive treatment modality aimed at providing meaningful comfort of a therapy dog. 

Outstanding Alumni Service Award recipient  

Cheryl Brewer, PhD ‘11 

This award recognizes a Carolina Nursing graduate who has demonstrated outstanding voluntary leadership or public service on a local, national or global level. 

Dr. Cheryl Brewer received a BSN degree from NCCU, an MSN Degree in Nursing Administration from Duke University, and a PhD in Nursing from the UNC School of Nursing. She is the Associate Vice President of Nursing for the Private Diagnostic Clinic-Duke Health and serves as Clinical Associate Adjunct Faculty at Duke University School of Nursing.  In addition to providing oversight for the practice and professional development of nurses across more than 140 clinics, Dr. Brewer is a nurse scientist whose research includes strategies to improve quality of life/self-care management in individuals with sickle cell disease.  

Dr. Brewer devotes much of her time to advocating and volunteering at community events and programs for underserved populations. This includes vaccine clinics, blood drives, gun safety and other educational events. She led the Duke COVID-19 nurse triage center focusing on patient care needs and dispositions. She has received the NC Honors Community Advocate Award, Duke Sigma Theta Tau Mentoring Award and the NCCU Award for Inspiring Minority Youth, the Duke University School of Nursing Distinguished Alumna Award, the NC Central University Nursing Distinguished Alumna Award, Triangle Business Journal Healthcare Heroes, Duke Friends of Nursing Award for Excellence in Leadership, NC Great 100, and the Chi Eta Phi Nurse Legend Award. 

She is a member of many organizations including the International Association of Sickle Cell Nurses, the American Organization for Nursing Leadership, the NC Nurses Association, the Senior PharmAssist Executive Board, the Poe Center for Health Education, Central Carolina Black Nurses Council, and the Durham Access to Care Committee.  

Outstanding Early Career Alumni Award recipient

Madison Elise Morgan, BSN ‘18, DNP ’23 

This award recognizes a recent Carolina Nursing graduate who has exhibited excellence as an emerging nurse leader. 

Madison Morgan earned her BSN from the UNC School of Nursing in 2018. She was hired on the inpatient hematology/oncology unit at UNC Medical Center, where she now serves as the Interim Nurse Manager. Madison is also currently enrolled in the DNP program at UNC with a concentration in healthcare leadership and administration and is scheduled to complete her DNP in December 2023.  

She serves on multiple unit committees, including the SAFE Champions, Unit Retention/Recognition Committee, and the Magnet ® Operations Council. She also participates on hospital-wide committees, including the Professional Development Council and the Oncology Safety council. She is an active member of the NC Triangle chapter of the Oncology Nursing Society, serving as a secretary for one year. Her poster presentation at the 2022 Oncology Nursing Society Congress was on the Plan-Do-Study-Act model used to implement the UNC School of Nursing’s inaugural undergraduate oncology nursing elective with Dr. Ashley Leak Bryant, PhD ‘11, RN, OCN, FAAN.  Furthermore, she has obtained the clinical position of Clinical Nurse IV and is now the Assistant Nurse manager of 4-Oncology.  

Madison is also a course faculty member for the undergraduate elective course on cancer care at the UNC School of Nursing. She is an avid baker and proud dog parent to Otis and Piper, whom she shares with her boyfriend Skyler. 

Outstanding Nurse Innovator Alumni Award recipient  

Syvil Summers Burke, BSN ’79  

This award recognizes a School of Nursing graduate who is applying new ideas and methods to the field of nursing to improve patient experiences, health outcomes and nursing practice, research and/or education. 

Syvil Summers Burke received her BSN degree from the UNC School of Nursing in 1979. Initially specializing in pediatrics, Syvil worked at Duke University Hospital in multiple roles that included a Neonatal and Pediatric Intensive Care Staff Nurse, Pediatric Clinical Nurse Educator, Pediatric Transport Coordinator, and Intensive Care Nursery Nurse Manager. Her excellence in pediatric patient care and developing pediatric care providers has been recognized through receiving the March of Dimes Maternal Child Health Nurse of the Year Award, the inaugural Duke Friends of Nursing Wilma Minnear Award for Excellence in Mentorship, a North Carolina Great 100 Award for Nursing Excellence, and an AACN National Leadership Award.  

After excelling as a leader in pediatrics, Syvil was appointed as the Associate Operating Officer for Transplant Services at Duke University Hospital. By promoting excellence in care for transplant patients, care providers and leaders she fostered the integration of four separate solid organ transplant programs into one service line. This led to an invitation to serve on a national task force to educate transport professionals in the care of pediatric patients and she received the Duke Hospital Crystal Award for Excellence in Leadership and a UNOS Transplant Management Forum Quality Assurance/Improvement Abstract Award.  

Syvil continued her educational journey by obtaining an MSN from UNC-Greensboro, an MBA from Duke University, and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Nursing Education from East Carolina University. She presents on clinical and leadership topics locally, regionally, and nationally and is a contributing and primary author for several publications. She is retired from Duke and is currently self-employed as a nurse consultant. 

Lifetime Alumni Achievement Award  

Cynthia “Cindy” Freund, PhD, NP, RN, MSN ’73, School of Nursing Professor and Dean Emerita 

This special award recognizes an alumnus/a of the UNC School of Nursing who has made outstanding contributions to the School, our alumni community and the field of nursing. 

Dr. Freund earned her BSN from Marquette University and her MSN and FNP Certificate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. While earning her master’s degree, she worked with the founders of UNC’s FNP program, conducting the first research about the new nurse practitioners in North Carolina. She then joined the faculty in 1973 to develop an FNP Program in a newly established regional AHEC. A year later she returned to Chapel Hill as Associate Director of the FNP Program and Coordinator and Liaison for Statewide FNP Programs, helping develop two new FNP programs. 

Dr. Freund then worked at the University of Alabama at Birmingham where her dissertation, funded by the NIH as well as the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics of The Wharton School, led to the development of the first joint PhD in Nursing and MBA degree program.  

In 1984, Dr. Freund returned to UNC where she first served as chair of the Social and Administrative Systems Department. She worked to develop the Nursing Systems component of the new PhD program. In the spring of 1989, Dr. Freund was Interim Dean and in 1991 was appointed Dean and served until 1999. During that period, the school experienced growth in enrollments and funding, the new PhD program became more grounded, post-doctoral programs started, the undergraduate curriculum was redesigned, distance education was implemented, and the school was ranked within the top 5 in the NIH rankings of schools of nursing. 

Dr. Freund retired in 2000. Later in retirement, she wrote, “A New Order of Things: Origins of a Nurse Practitioner Movement,” a historical study of the development of the nurse practitioner movement in North Carolina, from 1965 through 1978. She was a part of the team who created and expanded the nurse practitioner program and formed a statewide consortium of nurse practitioner training programs. She was appointed by Jim Hunt in 1996 as the first nurse to serve at the NC Institute of Medicine, and through her service, she helped shape policy with the General Assembly and expanded the influence of nursing. Her extraordinary contributions to nursing education, administration, research, and practice and leading the way for nurses make her a deserving recipient of the 2023 Carolina Nursing Lifetime Alumni Achievement Award. 


It is an honor to recognize all of our esteemed Carolina Nurses nominated for a 2022–23 Alumni Award:

Karen McBroom Butler, BSN ’77 
Samantha Crum, BSN ’21 
Karen Parker Davidson, BSN ’92 
Eleanor Davis, BSN ’15 
Kasey Gamble, BSN ’20 
Crystal Ellen “Ellen” Honeycutt, BSN ’22 
Kimberly Davis Hunter, BSN ’84, MSN ’87 
Nipa Kinariwala Kamdar, MSN ’03 
Nicole Klesmit Karcinski, MSN ’07 
Janet Merritt Littlejohn, BSN ’55 
Shannon Blackwelder Matthews, BSN ’92 
Katherine Moore, BSN ’14 
Braxton Nowell, BSN ’22 
JoAnn Noell Scott, BSN ’96 
Alyshia Smith, BSN ’89 
Meredith Spaid, BSN ’18 

For a list of past recipients, please visit our Alumni Awards page.