MITCHELL, S.D. (KELO) — Dakota Wesleyan University is partnering with Avera Health to provide funding for nursing students finishing up their degrees and heading to the workforce.

The “Avera Achieve Sponsorship Program” awards selected sophomores pursuing nursing at DWU $20,000 for their junior and senior years. Those students would then finish their studies and commit to working at Avera Health for at least three years after graduation.

Elisabeth Ortiz and Connor Tapia are among the six recipients of the first ever sponsorship.

“It really means a lot that I was accepted into this awesome program. You know, I already work for Avera and it’s such an amazing organization, and so I really feel like I can grow in my professional career with the aid of them,” Ortiz said.

“That takes off a huge burden really, and it also helps me kind of focus more on school instead of student loans maybe. But with this, like it’s just another way for me to leave my mark on the health care field and to really have a secure job at a really great facility here in Mitchell,” Tapia said.

DWU president Dan Kittle says it’s a win-win for both the university and Avera.

“You strengthen communities. You’re taking young people, many of which are from this region, from this state, from this area, and they’re going to return to those communities and they’re going to make meaningful contributions,” Kittle said.

There is a preference for graduates to work at Avera Queen of Peace Hospital in Mitchell, but it’s not required.

“If we don’t have a need or there’s not a match there, then it’s anywhere in Avera would be open to that student,” said Doug Ekeren, regional president and CEO of Avera Queen of Peace and Sacred Heart hospitals.

Providing students with a career path and more.

“We’re meeting the needs of our local communities, and we can’t do that without qualified and competent staff who are dedicated to our mission,” Ekeren said.

The the six students who received the sponsorship this year are:

Tessa Kilber, Ipswich

Nora Nelson, Rapid City

Elisabeth Ortiz, Sturgis

Jasmine Salcido-Santos, Mitchell

Connor Tapia, Tea

Alexis Tilton, Mitchell