Lander University nursing majors Larry Middleton Sr., left, and Eric Puckett work on a medical mannequin in the university's William Preston Turner Department of Nursing. The seniors, who will graduate December 13, have established a scholarship at the university to assist other male students majoring in nursing.
When Lander University nursing students Larry Middleton Sr. and Eric Puckett receive their diplomas in December, they'll be making history at the university.
Not only will the Greenwood residents be among the first class of December graduates from the William Preston Turner Department of Nursing, they'll also be the first African American male students to graduate from the nursing program.
But as they prepare to finish their experience at Lander, the two aren't looking back on the history they've made. Instead, they are looking toward the future and the impact they could have on other students at the university.
Puckett and Middleton have established a scholarship to encourage other male students to pursue nursing careers at Lander. The Eric L. Puckett and Larry Middleton Sr. Scholarship is reserved for junior or senior male nursing majors who possess and radiate a genuine passion for caring for patients and patients' families. The recipient must also demonstrate respect and courtesy toward Lander's nursing faculty and his peers.
"Eric and I feel like we have been given so many opportunities while at Lander, and we talked about what we could do to give back to show that we appreciated our education," said Middleton. "By doing this, we feel like we will contribute to someone's education and encourage him to strive for success."
For Puckett and Middleton, the road to success in Lander's nursing program has followed a different route than that of many traditional students, and both men spent years in the workforce before deciding to chart a new course in their careers.
Puckett has worked fulltime with Self Regional Healthcare's environmental services department since 2002. The youngest of nine children, he said he was often called on to help care for his parents and family members when they were ill. "I grew up as a young nurse," he said, laughing. "Caring for others is something that was always practiced in my family, and I think that it influenced my decision to go into nursing. I was looking for a way I could help others."
Puckett, who enrolled as a freshman at Lander in 2004, said being a full-time student while holding a full-time job was not as difficult as it might sound, thanks to the support he found from the nursing faculty and students, as well as his co-workers at Self Regional. "The biggest thing was learning how to balance studying and work," he said.
Middleton, a native of New York, served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 12 years, arriving in Greenwood in the early 1990s as a recruiter. Following his military days, Middleton served seven years with the Greenwood County Sheriff's Office and also worked with the U.S. Postal Service. After spending years serving his country and community, Middleton said the decision to move into nursing felt like a perfect fit.
"Because of my career background, my life has revolved around serving my nation and the community. I'm definitely a people person, and for me, nursing is one of the ultimate professional fields where you get to serve the public on a day-to-day basis," Middleton said.
Middleton took some college courses about 15 years ago, but he was still nervous about enrolling as a full-time student at Lander in 2005. His wife, who is a nurse in Greenwood, and his three children, including a daughter studying nursing at Charleston Southern University, have been faithful in providing support and - Middleton added with a chuckle - homework advice. "We all have the same goals, and the accomplishments required of them are the same that I require of myself," he said.
Although Puckett and Middleton had never met before enrolling at the university, they quickly developed a friendship, finding common ground among their experiences at Lander and in life. The two have served as inspirations to their fellow classmates at the university, said Bernice Daugherty, chair of the Department of Nursing. "They have worked hard, and we expect they will do very well in the nursing profession," she said.
Middleton, who was recently inducted into the Sigma Theta Tau nursing honor society, said he and Puckett have in turn been inspired by their professors and peers.
"Our professors and classmates have always been supportive of us, and our class has really become like a family," Middleton said. "It has been a wonderful experience."
And now, as they prepare to leave Lander and embark on new chapters in their lives, Puckett and Middleton hope their scholarship will open doors for future students who wish to follow in their footsteps. "We hope this will encourage more male students to look at nursing as an option because male nurses can bring a different perspective to the job," Puckett said.
Lander's Daugherty said the newly established scholarship is a meaningful contribution on the part of the two students - and one that could have a long-lasting effect. "We actively recruit men for the nursing profession, and this will certainly help with those efforts," she said. "If it increases the number of qualified male applicants by just one, it will be significant."