Historic philanthropy establishes the Bill and Jo-Ann Vandergriff College of Nursing and Health Sciences
With the recent commitment of the largest legacy gift in university history, philanthropists Bill and Jo-Ann Vandergriff continue unprecedented support for Mississippi University for Women’s nursing students.
“It is through the unwavering commitment of individuals like the Vandergriffs that we can shape a brighter future for healthcare in the state of Mississippi. Their gifts serve as a beacon of hope and inspiration,” said University President Nora Miller.
For two decades, the Vandergriffs have shown unwavering and transformative generosity to the College of Nursing and Health Sciences through the creation of numerous scholarships and facility improvements. Their latest commitment will further increase scholarship opportunities for students and continue to secure the university as the state’s leader in nursing higher education.
“It is our pleasure to partner with The W to develop resources and provide scholarships for students. We are happy that our legacy gift will have a far-reaching impact on nursing education in Mississippi,” said Jo-Ann Vandergriff.
The renaming of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences, the university’s largest college, to the Bill and Jo-Ann Vandergriff College of Nursing and Health Sciences was announced at the College of Nursing and Health Sciences 50 years of Nursing Celebration held Friday, Nov. 10.
“The College of Nursing and Health Sciences is elated to receive the latest estate gift from Bill and Jo-Ann. The Vandergriffs have been and continue to be phenomenal educational partners that value all student pathways, educational advancement and commitment to the nursing workforce. The revolutionizing gift will aid the college in sustaining growth and continuing to be leaders in our field for years to come,” said Dr. Brandy Larmon, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences.
Historic and impactful gifts from the Vandergriffs are not uncommon. Through their generosity, approximately 131 nursing students have received scholarships. A minimum of 21 nursing scholarships are awarded annually.
The Vandergriff’s initial endowed scholarship commitment to the university was the Jo-Ann McCullar Vandergriff Scholarship Fund established in 2017. The scholarship benefits students seeking a master’s degree while other monies are awarded to second-year associate degree RN students.
The Bill and Jo-Ann Vandergriff Simulation Learning Lab, a simulation hospital for nursing students, was created in 2019. The second-floor lab provided six bays with high-fidelity simulators that have all the qualities of human beings and real-world situations. The College of Nursing and Health Sciences was able to fund an additional 12 practice bays on the third floor of Martin, expanding the teaching impact of the matching gift. The learning lab was made possible by a challenge grant by the Vandergriffs. It was matched by an equal amount from the Bower Foundation of Ridgeland.
The university recognized Jo-Ann’s service in the nursing field with an honorary doctorate during the university’s 2022 Summer Commencement ceremonies. In 2017, the university unveiled the Bill & Jo-Ann Vandergriff Plaza which welcomes the campus community as they approach the south entrance of Martin Hall. The outdoor space is composed of ample seating surrounding landscaped elements.
In 2021, the Jo-Ann Vandergriff Scholarship Fund was established for the benefit of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences. The scholarship fund benefits deserving students enrolled in the Doctor of Nursing Program or Bachelor of Science Nursing Program and creates the opportunity for graduate nursing students to attend the Bill Vandergriff Entrepreneurial Seminar, an annual seminar that educates on healthcare business best practices including owning, establishing and managing a practitioner clinic. Annually, scholarships are awarded to BSN students and four to DNP students.
Jo-Ann grew up in Southaven and graduated from Horn Lake High School. She started her career in nursing in 1972 when she graduated from the Tennessee vocational program as a licensed practical nurse (LPN). At the same time, Bill graduated from the University of Tennessee and received a commission to the United States Army. Bill was stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany, and Jo-Ann worked at the 97th General Hospital in Frankfort in the Medical Records Department. She feels the experience of working in medical records was invaluable to her future nursing career.
After returning to the United States, Jo-Ann attended the University of Mississippi and earned a BSN degree in 1979. She received a Master of Education degree in 1984 from Memphis State University. Shortly thereafter, Bill and Jo-Ann were hired to work at the Al-Salam Hospital in Yemen Arab Republic, where they lived and worked with people from more than 20 countries. Several conditions were treated that are rarely seen in the United States, including rabies, tetany, diphtheria and parasitic diseases.
The Vandergriffs returned to Mississippi in 1987, and in 1989 Jo-Ann was accepted in the Master of Nursing Program at The W. After graduating in 1990, she opened a health clinic in Crenshaw, a small town in Panola County. The Vandergriffs left Mississippi in 1992 and headed for Utah and then made their way to New Mexico when that state passed legislation allowing nurse practitioners full practice authority with no physician supervision. Jo-Ann enjoyed 25 years of NP practice in New Mexico while Bill built a successful self-storage business.
The College of Nursing and Health Sciences is home to more than 900 students and is composed of the Department of Associate of Science in Nursing, the Department of Bachelor of Science in Nursing Program, the Department of Graduate Nursing, the Department of Health and Kinesiology and the Department of Speech-Language Pathology.