Sanford Health Surprises BSU Nursing Student with Veteran Scholarship

Captain Paul Weckman, director of veteran and military affairs at Sanford Health, presents an oversized check of $5000 to junior nursing student Luke Wilkowski, a veteran Specialist in the U.S. Army.
Weckman and Wilkowski

Bemidji State University junior nursing student Luke Wilkowski, a veteran Specialist in the U.S. Army, was recently awarded Sanford Health’s Military and Veteran Scholarship.

The award is given to any guard, reserve or active-duty military service member who has demonstrated leadership and commitment in their community. Captain Paul Weckman, director of veteran and military affairs at Sanford Health, said Wilkowski was an unbelievable applicant.

“We look at the whole person, including their academics and community service. Not only has Luke served multiple times overseas, he was an eagle scout growing up and continues to volunteer with community outreach,” Weckman said.

Wilkowski has been deployed overseas twice – to Croatia in 2016 for overseas training and to East Africa in 2020 and 2021. On Oct. 28 Weckman made a surprise visit during class to present Wilkowski an oversized check for the $5,000 dollar scholarship.

“This is a big life-changer for me and all my big stressors are helped by this award,” Wilkowski said. “It’s going to push me forward in my career and life-goal to become a nurse. It’s going to support me in a way that I could never imagine.”

Before his most recent deployment, Wilkowski was studying engineering and physics at Bemidji State. When he returned home in April 2021 the Minneapolis native decided to change his career path to nursing so that he could continue helping people.

“When I was deployed over in Croatia, I did a lot of medical tasks. It didn’t dawn on me until I was out in the field doing this kind of training that I really enjoyed working on the medical side of things,” he said. “It clicked and solidified my reasoning that a career with caring and helping is what I wanted to do.”

The support from both Sanford Health and Bemidji State, has eased the transition from the military back to campus Wilkowski said.

“Working with a bunch of nurses has taught me they were the kindest people out there,” he said. “It was a real eye-opener to see everyone that I interacted with being super helpful.“

During his deployments, Wilkowski was frequently working alongside other armed forces who may not have spoken the same language as him. This experience helped him develop the communication and interpersonal skills to best support those around him.

“It’s a massive confidence boost when you build up your communications skills,” Wilkowski said. “There have been times where I would be overseas and we couldn’t communicate that well, but you need to be able to say ‘I can handle this and I can communicate with them.’ The military prepared me to be aware of everything around me and how it may be perceived.”

This skill has fueled Wilkowski in his nursing career thus far and has helped him succeed in the discipline.

“Nursing isn’t straightforward, you have to look at all sides of care. You’re there to connections with patients,” he said. “They may only be there for a day or two, but making connections gives the patients hope as they know that they can trust you and that you have their best interests in mind.“

About Minnesota State’s Veteran Services

Since 2009, the colleges and universities within the Minnesota State system have awarded over 243,000 credits to student veterans and service members in recognition of their knowledge and learning gained while in service to our country, saving them approximately $45 million in tuition.

The colleges and universities of Minnesota State serve more than 8,800 veterans and service members and provide a variety of services and options to help them plan their return from service and reintegration into the workforce. In addition to providing an education that helps them advance their civilian career, some of the many other opportunities Minnesota State offers veterans and service members include:

  • Awarding academic credit for military training and experience
  • Helping veterans make sure they get the most of their GI Bill benefits
  • Equipping nearly every Minnesota State campus with a Veteran Resource Center that provides support and service focused on meeting the unique needs of veterans and their families
  • Waiving application fees for active-duty military service members deployed overseas
  • and many other military-friendly policies.