A Powerful Legacy

A Powerful Legacy

By Danae Mercer, BA’09

A scholarship honoring the legacy of Creighton graduate Terri Lynn Criner answered Anissa McGee’s prayers

During her second year studying occupational therapy at Creighton University’s School of Pharmacy and Health Professions, Anissa McGee, BS’12, finished a call with her parents then checked her email. What she read changed her Creighton education.

“I was worried about finances, and being able to pay for school,” remembers the 25-year-old student. “We were talking about my budget and how to handle my loans.”

The email gave her good news: McGee was the recipient of the Terri Lynn Criner “That’s What Friends are For” award for the 2015-2016 academic year. “I didn’t believe it,” she explains. “It was as if God was listening to my prayers and granted me this wonderful opportunity.”

The scholarship honors the legacy of a woman who excelled, even while facing challenges. Criner was a single parent and the sole supporter of her household while completing Creighton’s Bachelor of Science degree program in occupational therapy. She graduated in 1994 and went on to a successful career as an occupational therapist in Nebraska before her tragic death from a blood clot in 1997.

The title of the scholarship award — “That’s What Friends are For” — was chosen to commemorate Criner’s “vast love for helping others in a time of need,” says Shirley Blanchard, Ph.D., associate professor of occupational therapy, and one of Criner’s former professors who helped establish the scholarship.

“We wanted to let students know that monetary support is just one aspect to being successful in the occupational therapy program,” Blanchard says. “Care of the whole person is also important.”

While McGee had never met Criner, she was encouraged by her story of optimism and perseverance in applying for the award.

“She was a positive person all through school, and it sort of reminded me of myself,” McGee says.

“I always want to be positive and try to help people.”

McGee says she chose Creighton because of its Jesuit values, its supportive faculty, its personalized approach to teaching and the example of her father, Halvor Sim McGee, PhD’09.

“In 2009, he was the first African-American male from Creighton University to receive a Ph.D. in the Biomedical Sciences Department,” she says. This inspired Anissa to try to become the second doctor in her family — and to do such at Creighton.

As a Creighton undergraduate, McGee immersed herself in the university’s opportunities. She worked with 10 other women to establish a multicultural sorority, Sigma Lambda Gamma. She also volunteered in the community, working with Hand in Hand, Creighton Clean Up, the Siena/Francis House homeless shelter and Habitat for Humanity. McGee graduated with a BA in exercise science in 2012.

“Anissa lives with the Ignatian value of magis,” says Blanchard. “She loves to learn and will be traveling to Hebei Province in China to complete a professional rotation. The interest in exercise science, other cultures and rehabilitation speak to her creating independent learning, and sharing her learning with others.”

“I think what makes Anissa unique is her maturity and focus,” says Al Bracciano, Ph.D., associate professor of occupational therapy. “She is self-directed and isn’t afraid to seek out guidance.” McGee would often tutor classmates who were struggling, notes Bracciano, helping in “her quiet, focused way, without limelight or fanfare.”

McGee is grateful for the scholarship and all the opportunities she has had at Creighton.

“It feels like a second home to me,” she says. “I wouldn’t be here without the help from my professors. When I was filled with doubt, my professors encouraged me to never give up.”