Brookdale Community College honor student Heather O’Donnell has been named a 2021 Guistwhite Scholar and will receive a $5,000 scholarship for baccalaureate studies. 

“The Guistwhite Scholarship that I have recently received as a result of my public health concerns provided me with much-welcomed help to continue my education at Rutgers University,” O’Donnell said. “The Guistwhite Scholarship will help me achieve my goal of contributing to public health and medical research that will benefit many people.”

Fifteen winners were chosen among 4,400 applicants nationwide, and their selection was based on academic excellence, leadership accomplishments, and engagement in Phi Theta Kappa (PTK) programs. The Guistwhite scholarship is the second-highest scholarship offered by Phi Theta Kappa. O’Donnell is Brookdale’s first Guistwhite scholarship recipient since Jennifer Christensen received the award in 2004. 

During her time at Brookdale, O’Donnell served as Vice President of service for the College’s chapter of Phi Theta Kappa and took on leadership roles in a number of other campus organizations including the Honors Association, Biology Club and The Current.

Her commitment and dedication to PTK led to O’Donnell’s selection for the 2021 New Jersey All-State Academic Team, facilitated by the New Jersey Council of Community Colleges. 

“It is a tremendous honor to be named a member of the NJ All-State Academic Team. Through my time as a PTK officer, I gained leadership, interpersonal, and time management skills,” O’Donnell said. “It has been truly gratifying to make a difference on campus and in the community alongside my fellow officers and members.” 

While addressing important global issues in her work for The Current, O’Donnell was recognized as a global citizen at the 2021 Global Citizenship Distinction Awards Ceremony on April 29. Through her role as Features Editor of the student newspaper, she addressed climate change and human rights in a number of her articles. In a recent editorial, O’Donnell used her platform to shed light on violence and hate against Asian Americans. 

“Writing Features articles for The Current has allowed me to raise awareness of, and gain a deeper understanding of, global issues and cultural diversity,” she said. “I hope to apply the knowledge I have gained to address global, cultural and racial inequalities and to help all populations gain access to healthcare.” 

For her research paper titled “The Healing Power of Art for Alzheimer’s Disease” completed for Professor Brandon Gramer’s English 122 Honors class, O’Donnell received the 2020 Bankier Library Research Award, presented to Brookdale students who show excellence in critical thinking in their research process. In her future career in public health, O’Donnell said she hopes to focus on finding ways to improve the lives of Alzheimer’s patients. 

“I wanted Alzheimer’s patients to be my audience because they are overlooked in the health care system and suffer from the physical and psychological toll of the disease. My research findings suggest that long-term care units can use the creative arts to promote acceptance and inclusion, and also help Alzheimer’s patients cope more effectively with their illness,” O’Donnell said. “As a public health major, I would like to have a hand in combating the Alzheimer’s stigma and developing interventions that will help Alzheimer’s patients lead healthy and productive lives.”

O’Donnell said her time at Brookdale was shaped by her involvement in research and campus clubs and organizations, which ultimately led her to discover her passion for public health.

“My advice to current and future Brookdale students is to take advantage of all the opportunities you have because you never know where those opportunities will lead you,” O’Donnell said. “It may be scary at first to step out of your comfort zone, but the long-term benefits will make it worthwhile.”