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SDSU nursing student awarded Sanford military scholarship

SDSU nursing student and South Dakota Air National Guard senior airman Ellise Otheim, third from left, is awarded a $5,000 Sanford Health Military and Veteran Scholarship in class Nov. 13.
From left are Karin Emery, College of Nursing assistant dean at the Brookings site; Paul Weckman, head of military and veteran affairs for the Health Services Division of Sanford Health; SDSU nursing student and South Dakota Air National Guard senior airman Ellise Otheim; College of Nursing Dean Mary Anne Krogh; Heidi Mennenga, associate dean for academic programs and professor; Tom Stenvig, associate professor and Ph.D. program director; and SDSU Director for Veterans Affairs Russ Chavez.

Ellise Otheim, a first-year nursing student at South Dakota State University, is the recipient of a $5,000 Sanford Health Military and Veteran Scholarship. 

Otheim, a sophomore from Hartford, was surprised with a scholarship announcement during her Professional Nursing Concepts class on Nov. 13, as representatives from Sanford and SDSU stormed the Wagner Hall classroom with balloons and a giant check. 

“I was not at all expecting to be awarded the scholarship in front of my peers at the end of class; it definitely took me by surprise. It was an honor. A scholarship of this amount means a lot to me and definitely lowers the stress levels that come with paying for school,” she said. 

Otheim is a member of the South Dakota Air National Guard, serving as a senior airman at the 114th Fighter Wing in Sioux Falls. She works in the weapons loading shop. 

Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Paul Weckman, head of military and veteran affairs for the Health Services Division of Sanford Health, said the scholarship is awarded to veterans, Guard/Reserve members or active-duty military service members who have demonstrated leadership and commitment in their community. 

The Sanford Health Military and Veteran Scholarship, with four awarded across the Upper Midwest this year, honors those who have furthered their own progress and enriched the lives of others, especially in service, academics and community involvement. 

In addition to their military service, applicants must be a full-time student pursing a community college/vocational, bachelor’s, graduate or professional degree from an accredited U.S.-based institution of higher education. They must also have at least one full year of education remaining. 

The scholarship was created in 2018 as part of the health system’s efforts to serve veterans and military personnel through patient care, employment opportunities and community outreach. 

Weckman said Otheim is an honors student who has an impressive record and inspiring community service and letters of recommendation. “It was all above and beyond. She was one of those who just rose to the top right away. I feel good about giving scholarships out when you have people of this quality,” he said. 

“Elli is out there defending our freedom one weekend a month, two weekends a year, and then sometimes she’ll deploy for a period of months anywhere in the world. It’s pretty impressive that someone like her not only can do that, but she maintains her grades and serves her community. It’s the whole-person concept,” Weckman told the class on Tuesday. 

“Elli, you have a very impressive record, so keep up the great work. I appreciate everything you’re doing for the school here, and I wish you the best in becoming a nurse. Thank you for everything you do in the military defending our freedoms,” he added. 

SDSU College of Nursing representatives echoed Weckman’s statements. 

“We celebrate and honor Elli for her outstanding achievements and contributions as she serves our country. Elli is inspiring to others. It will be exciting to watch her grow into an outstanding and dedicated nurse,” said Karin Emery, College of Nursing assistant dean at the Brookings site. 

After graduating from West Central High School, Otheim took a year off for basic training and technical school for the Air National Guard. 

This past summer she had the opportunity to deploy to Germany to participate in Air Defender 2023, the largest air defense exercise in the history of NATO, where participants partnered with NATO allies and other Air National Guard bases to deter aggression. 

Otheim said her brothers, both crew chiefs in the Air National Guard, influenced her decision to join the military. “I have looked up to both of them my whole life, and watching them serve and create relationships with other members pushed me to join. The members of the unit are truly like family.” 

She said she’s always wanted to help and care for people in some way, which led her to pursue a nursing career.  

“I was an adaptive aquatics instructor throughout high school, and this gave me a lot of exposure to students with different ability levels. It was very fulfilling to help them reach their potential, which emphasized my interest in caring for and helping others. Also, I have always been interested in the medical field, so I thought nursing would be a great fit.” 

Otheim wants to work as a labor and delivery nurse around the Sioux Falls area, and she plans continue her career in the Air National Guard and develop her skills as she gets more opportunities. 

“Elli is an outstanding student, person and service member. I know she will impact the lives of those around her and those in her care. We are proud to have her in the SDSU nursing program. Thanks for your service, Elli, and congratulations,” said Jessica Sommerfeld, College of Nursing professional academic advisor.