Nursing Champions City Students

July 26, 2021 by Sarah Achenbach

Annual event boosts support for Baltimore Talent Scholars, fulfilling their dreams of a top-notch nursing education

As a nurse and lifelong Baltimore resident, Shania Johnson, Nurs ’18, ’20 (MSN), sees the difference access to resources makes in building stronger communities. It guides her work as a pediatric rehabilitation nurse at Kennedy Krieger Institute and it inspires her dream of opening a community clinic.

“Growing up, I saw a lot of people who achieved a certain level of success leave the city,” says Johnson, who received a full-tuition scholarship for the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing (JHSON) Master of Science in Nursing Entry into Nursing program through the Baltimore Talent Scholars program. “Baltimore’s neighborhoods aren’t bad, but there is a lack of access to different health care needs and advocates, which is a big problem in a lot of neighborhoods.”

Candid image of Shania Johnson from the chest up with her hair in bun at the top of her head and wearing a gray headband and white top
Baltimore Talent Scholars alumna Shania Johnson dreamed of becoming a nurse since the fifth grade.

Johnson heard about the Baltimore Talent Scholars program when she was a Baltimore Scholar as a JHU undergraduate biology major. A graduate of Baltimore Polytechnical Institute — the Baltimore Talent Scholars program selects four talented Baltimore City public high school graduates annually — she dreamed of becoming a nurse since fifth grade when she switched her aspirations from pediatric neurosurgeon. “I knew that I wanted more of a personal connection with my patients,” she says of her younger self. As a Baltimore Talent Scholars alumna, that desire has deepened.

“The Baltimore Talent Scholars is part of Hopkins’ commitment to Baltimore and core to our mission,” explains Cathy Wilson, JHSON admissions director. “When you have students from Baltimore who are leaders in their cohorts, they can speak firsthand to the community and help all JHSON students better understand Baltimore’s needs.”

That was certainly Johnson’s experience. “Many classmates were from Texas, California, and a few from the East Coast,” she says. “I shared my perspective about Baltimore and they asked questions, so I was breaking down stereotypes.” Her goal was always to remain in Baltimore — the ultimate goal of the program, Wilson adds. The program began in 2016, and today, six alumni are working in Baltimore and two in the Washington, D.C., region.

“There is something special about health care workers who call Baltimore home,” Wilson says. “We want to see the impact grow.”

Each year, the net proceeds from JHSON’s An Evening with the Stars gala event support the Baltimore Talent Scholars Fund. The evening brings together JHSON nursing alumni, students, faculty, and community members throughout the Johns Hopkins Health System to celebrate the accomplishments of nursing and recognize deserving students, alumni, and JH nurses. At the 2017 gala, recently appointed JHU Alumni Council member Lou Bartolo, Nurs ’18 (MSN), won the Student Shining Star award.

The impact of those events and the role Hopkins has played in his education are the reasons he and husband Tony Giarrusso, a real estate entrepreneur and the uncle of nurses, pay it forward. In 2018 and 2019, they purchased a table at the gala for current JHSON students chosen by the school’s dean for their leadership qualities. They also supported the 2020 virtual Evening with the Stars event. The 2021 event, scheduled for Saturday, November 6, will be in person.

It was at the annual gala where the New Orleans-natives first learned about the Baltimore Talent Scholars. “Baltimore has a similar feel to New Orleans with demographics and challenges in the community,” says Bartolo. “We think it’s great that people who go to high school in Baltimore have a chance to attend, tuition-free, a world-renowned university.”

Candid shot of Lou Bartolo from the chest up and who is wearing a darrk blue blazer, light blue shirt, purple tie, and eye glases
School of Nursing alumnus Lou Bartolo won the Shining Student Award at the Evening with the Stars event in 2017 and today helps to sponsor the annual event with his husband Tony Giarrusso.

The couple also enjoys donating white coats at the annual ceremony that opens each academic year by giving new nursing students their white clinical coat. Bartolo and Giarrusso write inspiring notes to be placed in the front pockets to honor the encouragement Bartolo received at JHSON. Today, Bartolo is a quality assurance RN manager/officer at Medstar Georgetown University Hospital Stem Cell Transplant and Cellular Immunotherapy and Blood and Marrow Collection.

“Hopkins gets into your blood,” adds Bartolo. “The faculty and staff guide and push you and make you a leader who can see beyond your department or hospital. You become a leader for your system, state, nation, and the world.”

It was the world that led Nathan Rehr, Nurs ’22 (MSN), to Hopkins and to the Baltimore Talent Scholars program. From 2014 to 2016, he was a Peace Corps health education volunteer in Senegal after graduating from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and majoring in political science with a minor in emergency health services. When he returned to Baltimore, Rehr took a job with Jhpiego as West Africa program coordinator, working on HIV projects and strengthening health systems.

“I worked with a lot of cool Jhpiego nurses,” Rehr recalls. “I really liked the practical things they do.” After graduation next spring, he plans to work in critical care nursing and, someday, he hopes, in disaster relief abroad. A passionate Baltimore champion, he gave a tour of Charles North, near where he currently lives, for his group project for last spring’s neighborhood survey assignment. He connects classmates with his nursing network and happily recommends good takeout places.

“I grew up in a privileged area of Baltimore that has gotten a lion’s share of resources,” Rehr says. “I have an obligation and desire to repay that by getting the skills that are desperately needed in other parts of Baltimore.”

Being a Baltimore Talent Scholar, he explains, allows him to do this. “I don’t have to take the flashiest job to make money and pay off my loans,” he adds. “I can take a job in an emergency room in Baltimore and volunteer in a local clinic.”

It’s how Johnson, also debt-free because of the full-tuition scholarship, can save for her Doctor of Medical Physics degree and her dream of establishing a community clinic. “The Baltimore Talent Scholars program keeps great nursing talent in the community,” she says.

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Topics: Alumni, Friends of Johns Hopkins Medicine, School of Nursing, Strengthening Partnerships, Support Scholars