Pershing E. Sims Memorial Scholarship in social work aims to break the cycle of poverty

Three women standing together with fields and mountains in the background
Scholarship recipient Jessie Stewart, left, with Lynae Sims and Katie Brayden at the College of Health and Human Sciences Scholarship Brunch.

Scholarships serve many purposes, including helping to memorialize a special loved one. For Katie Brayden, director of stewardship at Colorado State University, her mother Lynae Sims, and her aunt Lori Sims, that special person in their family was Pershing E. Sims, their father and grandfather, who went to incredible lengths to support his 11 siblings in a time of need. The three established the Pershing E. Sims Memorial Scholarship in CSU’s School of Social Work in 2008 as a way to celebrate his life, legacy, and ability to break the cycle of poverty.

A black and white photo of a man in a tie and dress clothes crouching at the side of a road in front of a lake.

About Pershing E. Sims

Sims was born in 1918 and was raised in Crookston, Minnesota. As was common during those times, Sims was one of 12 children. He was the second born and the oldest boy in his family. In 1925, Sims’ father bought a farm and was optimistic about the future. Unfortunately, after several crop failures, his father lost the farm and the family fell into extreme poverty. From there, Sims’ father struggled with addiction issues and was unable to support his large family.

Because Sims was the oldest boy, he felt a personal responsibility to provide for his family, so he quit school at a young age and focused on getting food on the table. Given that he was still a child himself, sometimes he had to resort to extreme measures, such as stealing, to secure food so his family wouldn’t go hungry.

Breaking the cycle of poverty

A black and white portrait of a man in air force uniform

Sims was determined to break the cycle of poverty for himself and for his siblings. When he was old enough, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. This decision provided Sims with steady employment. In addition, the military provided Sims with an education, something he was always grateful for. Sims served in the Air Force from 1942-1946. After he was discharged, he moved back to Crookston, Minnesota, and secured a job at Consumers Gas Company.

Once he was settled back in Minnesota, Sims met the love of his life, Bernice. The two got married in 1947 and went on to have nine children together. Given his own upbringing, Sims always fought to give his children more opportunities than he had when he was a child. Sims’ youngest daughter, Lynae Sims, is the mother of Brayden, who has been a member of the CSU Division of University Advancement since 2008.

A black and white photo of a man hugging a woman with a car in the background.
Bernice and Pershing Sims

Brayden remembers her grandfather, Pershing, fondly. “He was always a kind soul and such a gentle man,” she said.

Sims passed away more than 20 years ago from Alzheimer’s. The Pershing E. Sims Memorial Scholarship is awarded to social work students who want to focus their careers on poverty prevention.

“The scholarship was originally created to honor my grandfather and carry on the kindness and generosity that he always shared with others,” explained Brayden. “It is also a tribute to his hard work to break the cycle of poverty and it seeks to prevent others from facing poverty.”

Since the scholarship’s inception, thirteen CSU social work students have been awarded this generous scholarship.

Scholarship recipient Danielle Matra

Two women smiling in front of a gray background
Lori Sims, right, with a Pershing E. Sims scholarship recipient in 2010.

Danielle Matra was the recipient of the Pershing E. Sims Memorial Scholarship during the 2010-11 academic year. Matra graduated from CSU with her BSW in 2011 and then went on to get her MSW the following year. Today, Matra is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and has been serving the community as a therapist for the last 10 years.

“I am a single mother. When I was the recipient of the Pershing E. Sims Memorial scholarship my children were 3, 13, and 16. It was quite challenging raising my family and going to school full-time,” Matra shared, reflecting on the impact this scholarship made while she was a student at CSU. “Being awarded the scholarship meant two things to me. First, I never thought I’d go to college. I grew up in poverty and higher education wasn’t encouraged when I was growing up. Receiving that scholarship made me feel so proud. I knew that someone believed in me. Someone thought I was worthy. I’d never felt that before. Second, I didn’t think it was realistic to work and go to school at the same time. I was dependent on student loans and scholarships. Having financial support was such a blessing to me and my children.”

Matra continued, “Thanks to this support, I have gone on to dedicate my career to giving back to others who are less fortunate. I have been a therapist for 10 years. Up until recently, I was focusing on trauma work and 90% of my clients were Medicaid clients. I now work at InnovAge, where I am a social worker for a geriatrics Medicaid program. I have over 90 people in my case load. I recently hired a CSU intern (who is starting next week!) to help me with this important population. I consider myself an advocate for those who feel they cannot use their voice. I’m honored you asked me to share a little of my story. I hope everyone who was awarded this scholarship appreciated it as much as I did. Thank you!”

Scholarship recipient Karina Guillen

three women stand in front of a grey background
Lynae Sims, Karina Guillen, and Katie Brayden

The 2018-19 Pershing E. Sims scholarship recipient, Karina Guillen, also shared her thoughts on this scholarship, “The Pershing E. Sims Memorial Scholarship allowed me to focus on my academics. As a first-generation college student, navigating college was difficult for me because I wasn’t fully aware of all the different support systems on campus. This scholarship made it possible for me to work fewer hours so I could become more involved in my community and take advantage of all that CSU has to offer. Because of the scholarship, I was able to partake in different campus events that I would not have the chance to otherwise.”

Smiling woman in a red shirtGuillen graduated from CSU in 2020 with a BSW. She is currently the Program Coordinator for the Roaring Fork PreCollegiate Program that serves first-generation students. In addition, Guillen is also working on her MSW through the CSU School of Social Work’s Advanced Standing Program.

Social work ‘critical to society’

When we asked Brayden to reflect on the ripple effects of this scholarship and share more about what motivated her family to focus on social work students, Brayden explained, “My grandfather’s life intersected with several areas where social workers have skills and expertise. These areas include addiction, mental health, poverty, and even end of life care. It was important to us to create a scholarship to support students who want to go into social work and help change lives.”

A woman leaning down to hug a seated man in a living room
Bernice and Pershing Sims instilled a love of supporting others in their children and grandchildren.

Brayden hopes that the scholarship will continue to have an impact. “Unfortunately, the social work profession is not one of great wealth or great power, but the roles are critical to our society. With this scholarship, we want social work students to know that they are worthy. That this profession is worthy. We want all of our recipients to know that we are proud of them for being on this path and that my family will continue to support students who want to be social workers. We want to help you achieve your educational dreams.”

The School of Social Work is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.