Renee Black (left) with Erica Tollerson

From Scholarship to Friendship

By Sarah Schwartz, Development Associate, College of Nursing
Education, respect, diligence, and kindness have remained core values in Renée Black’s family throughout the generations. 
“My grandmother would always say, ‘Sit straight, respect yourself, seek success, and be kind to others,’’’ laughed Black, “and that has had a huge impact on how I live.” 
Those values continue to live on today through the Marie LePrince Farmer Scholarship, which Black established in her paternal grandmother’s memory to help first-generation college graduates and single parents who might otherwise be unable to attend nursing school. 
Black became involved with the College of Nursing in 2013 at the suggestion of a friend who served on the college’s advisory board. The college’s national rankings and five degree programs impressed Black, who is a nurse herself, though she would later make a career in the biotechnology industry. 
“Involvement with the college seemed to be an incredible opportunity to help others,” she shared. In addition to her financial support, Black gave her time and talents through her service on the college’s advisory board from 2013 to 2017.
Black has met with almost every scholarship recipient since the fund’s creation five years ago and has come to serve as a resource and mentor to many.
One of those students was Erica Tollerson, BSN, who received the Marie LePrince Farmer scholarship at the MUSC College of Nursing in fall 2016. 
Tollerson took advantage of Black’s offer to keep in touch, and the two met regularly during Tollerson’s time at the college. “I loved that Renée was willing to meet with me and talk. It meant I had someone to get advice from and to share my experiences with who understood because they had walked this same path.” 
The two have continued their friendship beyond Tollerson’s graduation, talking regularly on the phone and sharing meals when possible. 
Tollerson’s hard work and dedication paid off in 2017 as she graduated and shortly thereafter assumed a position with MUSC Health. Tollerson attributes her success to her parents and Black, as well as others who supported her throughout the program. 
When asked what they each wanted to share with those considering scholarships or donations to the College of Nursing, Tollerson stated, “Scholarships give students a sense of balance and instill the truth that we have the resources to achieve our dream.” Black shared, “If you are graced with the ability to contribute monetary gifts, you should. Scholarships change lives.” Looking at Tollerson, Black added one last remark, “and she will no doubt change many lives.”
When asked what the scholarship meant to her, Tollerson smiled and looked back at Black, saying, “At the moment, it meant I could go to school and not worry about the financial burden that comes with enrolling in any program. Now, it means that I have gained a friendship, one that will last a lifetime!”