Alumna builds off scholarship support by starting one of her own
[marketing-quote color=’red’ align=’left’ img=” source=’Elizabeth Nance’ quotes=’true’]I wanted to give students the safe space to fail, but know that there’s always someone in your corner[/marketing-quote]
The story behind Elizabeth Nance’s scholarship endowment to the College of Engineering begins and ends with her maternal grandmother.
In between is Nance’s own story of feeling as if she wasn’t as qualified as her peers while pursuing her engineering degree. Yet, in spite of that feeling, the support of faculty and staff members kept her in the program and led to the receipt of her own scholarship that she says was essential to her success.
Nance enrolled at NC State in 2003 determined to pay her own way as she pursued a degree in chemical engineering.
As she progressed, it became evident that her work commitments were impacting her study time. The intervention of her professor and mentor, Dr. Lisa Bullard, teaching professor and director of undergraduate studies, changed Nance’s trajectory.
“She was instrumental in prioritizing and helping me,” Nance said. “She found a scholarship opportunity that would take some of the pressure off.”
Nance was the first recipient of the first scholarship created by Frank and Doris Culberson to support the College of Engineering.
Several family members had gone through the engineering program, but it was a family health issue that really drove Nance’s decision to pursue engineering. Both her grandmother and uncle had been diagnosed with an at-the-time poorly understood neurodegenerative disorder.
“It was clearly hereditary,” Nance said. “But science and medicine didn’t have information or solutions then to provide treatment.”
She saw engineering as a useful, problem-solving approach to tackle challenges.
As she pursued her degree, however, Nance said she struggled with imposter syndrome — feeling as if she wasn’t cut out to be a chemical engineer.
“Even though I struggled a lot in the program, I still remember distinctly the community, and feeling invested in by the faculty, the graduate students and the teaching assistants,” she said.
In fact, Bullard’s role was so critical in her life that Nance’s career path was motivated, in part, to “re-create Lisa Bullard at another university,” she said.
“I wanted to give students the safe space to fail, but know that there’s always someone in your corner,” she said. “She would support me and give me perspective — when she saw me approaching a point where it was a risk for me, where I could potentially drop out of that major, she provided the space to be able to have those conversations.”
Nance earned her Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins and did a post-doc in critical care medicine. That work confirmed her passion for working with students and creating active learning environments. Today, she is the Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering and Associate Chair of Undergraduate Studies at the University of Washington.
Nance came from a tight-knit family that spent every Sunday together at her grandparent’s house.
NC State was a prominent part of Nance’s life from an early age. Her uncle Roger Nussman and cousin Chad Nussman both earned degrees in chemical engineering at NC State. Additional family members earned degrees from the University as well.
Nance’s mother was a nurse and father, a minister — putting the family income at that line where they barely qualified for financial aid when Nance was accepted to NC State, she said.
“That wasn’t easy on my mom and dad — they took out loans and did what they had to,” she said. “I felt the need to financially help support our family, as did my brothers, but it wasn’t something my parents asked us to do.”
She knew from the time she received the Culbersons’ scholarship that she would want to pay it forward one day.
That’s exactly what she’s done. When her grandmother passed away in 2015 — largely from complications from the neurological disease she had — Nance knew she wanted to do something in her grandmother’s memory.
When her family heard about the idea, they wanted to be a part of it as well. The Edna Loretta Nussman scholarship, named for Nance’s grandmother, was endowed through the generosity of Nance, Tommy Nussman, Nance’s uncle and Chad’s father, and Candy Nussman Nance, Nance’s mother.
Nance said she’s stayed in close contact with many NC State faculty members over the years. In discussing a gift to the College, it was clear that student support was at the top of their list.
What’s more, she could personally speak to the ways in which financial support changed her life.
“I wrote letters to Frank and Doris at Christmas,” she said. “I wanted to keep them updated because it was so impactful to me at that age — I didn’t always feel like I had the skills to be an engineer, and when somebody invests in you, that’s a message.”
Frank Culberson noted that he didn’t have a lot of money growing up, and wasn’t sure if he’d be able to attend college. Scholarship support was essential to his success in college, he said. It’s part of why he supports the University today, and it is his hope that other recipients of support will do the same.
“Those that get scholarships, I would believe a significant number of them would give back to school,” he said. “We just need to keep pushing these students to think about the University, and to think about including support for the University in their budget.”