UNC School of Nursing graduate student receives NEF Scholarship 

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Nursing BSN-PhD student, Cassandra Dictus, received a scholarship from Nurses Educational Funds (NEF) this summer. 

Nurses Educational Funds, Inc. (NEF) established in 1912, is a non-profit organization that has depended solely on donations to advance its only mission, to promote leadership and health equality through annual scholarship support for professional nurses seeking master’s and doctoral degrees in nursing education, advanced clinical practice, research, health policy, and administration. 

Each year the NEF scholarship application process opens on October 1st and closes on February 1st of the next year. To apply for an NEF Scholarship, go to the NEF Website at: n-e-f.org and click on “Apply” in the Menu. 

Tax exempt donations to NEF can be made by going to, n-e-f.org/donate.html 

Cassandra “Cass” Dictus, MPH, RN is honored to be awarded the NEF Scholarship. She is currently attending the BSN-PhD nursing program at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Nursing. 

Cass earned her Bachelor of Science in Biology from Denison University. Upon graduating, Cass served in AmeriCorps working alongside an inspiring community-based nurse and serving home-bound seniors in poverty in Appalachia. She was struck by the resiliency and adaptability of older adults and motivated to explore working with this population. 

She became a certified nursing assistant (CNA) in long-term care (LTC), where she gained clinical experience and confirmed her love of serving older adults. However, she was saddened by the poor quality of life and care among New Hampshire residents, even when the families, nurses, and CNAs were trying their best. To learn more about the healthcare system, she pursued a Master of Public Health (MPH) focused on Health Management and Policy at Portland State University. She completed her master’s thesis with a Program for All-inclusive Care for the Elderly site, where she learned about the potential of research-based national policy. Throughout her MPH, she saw nurses enact meaningful change at the individual, practice, and policy levels. 

Cass decided to pursue a degree in nursing to combine her interests in clinical care for older adults, public health, and research. She chose the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) School of Nursing (SON) for the competitive Hillman Scholars Program in Nursing Innovation, a unique integrated BSN-PhD curriculum. After completing her BSN, she completed a one-year clinical fellowship, working full-time as a registered nurse at a continuing care retirement community, where she continues to work per diem. 

She was also competitively selected as a pre-doctoral trainee in the T32 Interventions for Preventing & Managing Chronic Illness program. As a T32 trainee, she was influenced by the focus on stakeholder engagement to improve equity and effectiveness of interventions and prioritized this in her dissertation. To learn methods of stakeholder engagement, she obtained a fellowship at the UNC-CH Partnerships in Aging Program. She led the evaluation and community assessment phases of the Orange County Master Aging Plan, which supports equitable age-friendly initiatives designed and implemented through partnerships and collaboration among stakeholders. 

She was awarded an F31 training fellowship grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research to support her training and dissertation focused on disparities related to racism and cognitive impairment for nursing home residents at end-of-life. After completing her PhD, Cass plans to pursue a career as a nurse scientist focused on improving equity and quality of life for those LTC residents and workers. She is incredibly grateful to receive the NEF Scholarship, which will provide more time to focus on her dissertation.