OC Nurse Carol Pierson Gives Back Through School of Nursing

Dean Mark Lazenby and Donor Carol Pierson

Dean Mark Lazenby and Donor Carol Pierson at 2023 Pinning Ceremony

Rancho Mission Viejo nurse Carol Pierson graduated from what is now known as the Kaiser Foundation School of Nursing in Oakland in 1967 and soon after started her career as a nurse supporting the U.S. Army during the Vietnam war. Later, Pierson obtained BSN and MSN degrees and spent many years as a critical care nurse. She also trained Los Angeles County firefighters and police officers on how to become paramedics. These days, at a time when many of her contemporaries have retired, Pierson continues to work part-time as manager of care services, coordinating care/services for Lou Gehrig’s (ALS) patients in Orange County.

Hard work and service have been ingrained family values. “My mother was this incredible, caring person who believed deeply in giving back,” explains Pierson, whose family owned and operated two diners in Northern California during her youth and whose mother, Carolene Emrich, was later an active community volunteer.

After her husband Mike, an LA County firefighter, passed away in 2018 and her mother passed away in 2020, Pierson says she found herself in an altogether new position. “I had extra money I could give,” she says. She aimed to donate, in particular, in her mother’s honor.

As luck would have it, in 2021 a friend invited her to a UCI Day of Giving event in support of totes and essential supplies for UCI nursing students. And then Pierson wanted to do even more. “I’m in the later stages of my working career now, but I understood that by supporting nursing students I could continue to help patients.” That’s what piqued her interest in UCI’s Nursing Student Award Fund. She became particularly keen on helping students from marginalized communities who may experience financial barriers to education. Now, to date, Pierson has donated over $40,000, providing impactful scholarships to four undergraduate and graduate students.

She’s also teamed up with Maureen & Robert Zehntner — each donating $23,400 – for the purchase of stethoscopes for UCI’s Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing prelicensure students.

At the recent School of Nursing pinning ceremony, Pierson had the opportunity to see the very real impact of her generosity. After the ceremony, scholarship recipient Lacye Lawson and her mother, a neonatal intensive care nurse, approached Pierson to express gratitude and offer a huge hug. It turns out that Lawson’s mother, like Pierson, also attended nursing school in Oakland. Lacye told Pierson she would follow in her mother’s footsteps as a neonatal nurse.

“It truly brought tears to my eyes. I’m dedicating my nursing now to people at the end of their lives and Lacye will be doing it for people at the beginning. I wish more people knew that you don’t have to donate millions to have a significant impact. Lacye and her mother were so grateful for the scholarship. It just made my day.”

And Pierson isn’t finished. “When I pass away, whatever I have left will go for scholarships for UCI nursing students.” Pierson worked with the UCI Foundation, in partnership with her estate attorney, to establish upon her passing The Carolene Emrich and Carol Pierson Endowed Fund that will forever support students enrolled in the Master’s Entry Program in Nursing (MEPN) in honor and loving memory of her mother.

“We need more high-quality nurses. This is something I know and something I can help do for the world,” says Pierson.