Brionna Cunningham Senior, Biology Middle Tennessee State University

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation recognizes outstanding minority students pursuing health care careers

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn.–Every year since 2013, the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation has awarded $10,000 scholarships to outstanding minority students pursuing careers in health care.

“The Power of We Scholarship program is part of our overall effort to address health disparities minority groups face ,” says Ron Harris, vice president of corporate workforce diversity at BlueCross. “By helping increase minority representation in Tennessee’s health care workforce, we hope to improve health outcomes within our communities.”

Here are the 2022 BlueCross Power of We Scholars:

Destiny Bryant

Senior, Nursing
University of Memphis 

Destiny Bryant

“I have had more exposure to the health care system than most people my age,” Destiny says. “I was a premature baby, which kept me in the hospital for a long time. It also meant frequent trips to the doctor’s office as a child. My relatives have also had serious health issues. Through those experiences, I saw the impact nurses had not only on the patients, but their families. I love the hands-on nature of nursing, whether it is delivering care to the patient or explaining medical terms to their families.”

Destiny started her pursuit of a health care career early. In high school, the Nashville native was part of the Saint Thomas Scholars program, which exposed her to the day-to-day lives of health care professionals and enabled her to become a clinical certified medical assistant.

Destiny has embraced student life at the University of Memphis. While focusing on her studies and working on campus part time, she has been involved in organizations that help mentor female students and students of color. They include: the Professional Assertive United Sisters of Excellence (PAUSE), TRIO Student Success Programs and Setting The Standard (STS) Enterprise.

“PAUSE, TRIO and STS have helped me be more comfortable and feel more welcome at school,” she explains. “It’s nice to be in a room with people who are like me and have them support me and my success. My sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated, has also been a great support system, as well as a way for me to give back to the Memphis community through our service programs.”

Giving back to the community is Destiny’s long-term career goal. While she has three semesters left of nursing school, she wants to go to graduate school to become a nurse practitioner  working with women of color in underserved areas.

“I want to reach out to women and tell them that they are in a safe place and will receive the best care possible while they are seeing me – that’s my dream,” Destiny says. “The Power of We Scholarship allows me to continue to believe that’s possible. As I’ve entered each semester, I’ve wondered if it would be my last due a lack of financial resources. Now I know I can complete my undergraduate studies and focus on achieving my dream.”


Zennia Nesmith

Junior, Psychology
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Zennia Nesmith

“I’m definitely a non-traditional student,” Zennia says. “I’m 47 years old and proud of it. I’ve done the educational process a little backward.”

After receiving her GED in 1998, Zennia entered Chattanooga State Community College, but it wasn’t the right fit at the time. So, she entered the corporate world where she worked for 22 years, including 12 years at BlueCross. Unfortunately, a severe shoulder injury required that she retire during her two-year recovery. That down time, along with her advocacy efforts for people with disabilities, ultimately led her back to the classroom.

“I have a beautiful 25-year-old daughter with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) resulting from a car accident when she was four,” Zennia explains. “As her caregiver, I learned so much about the resources and work opportunities available for the disabled that I started a nonprofit, Empowered Connections, to help other caregivers of people with disabilities.”

“Connecting other caregivers with resources to improve the lives of their loved ones is so rewarding,” she continues. “I especially like assisting families with the development of individualized educational plans (IEPs) for children in exceptional education with the public-school systems. When they graduate, I help them find competitive employment. The impact these things have is truly life changing. However, the experience taught me there is so much I didn’t know. I realized I needed a greater understanding of disabilities other than TBIs in order to be a better advocate for these individuals.”

After a two-decade absence from school, Zennia returned to Chattanooga State and received her associate degree in psychology in May. She enters UTC this fall as a psychology major, but ultimately wants to complete her master’s in clinical mental health. 

“My husband is at UTC completing a degree in mechatronics, so we originally planned to delay the rest of my education until he finishes for financial reasons,” Zennia says. “But the Power of We Scholarship changed all that. I am so grateful to BlueCross. First, I learned so much about teamwork and leadership while I worked there. And now, this scholarship will allow me to pursue the rest of my undergraduate degree.”


Tzipora Hunter-Davis

Senior, Nursing
University of Memphis

Tzipora Hunter-Davis

“I’ve always wanted to help people,” Tzipora says. “It’s just always been my thing. And I like hands-on work and seeing results.”

As a basketball and tennis player in high school, the Nashville native initially thought her path was to become an athletic trainer. However, when her grandmother experienced a stroke and needed full-time care, Tzipora saw a different way to help people.

“My grandmother couldn’t work for two years, and my mother was the only breadwinner, so I jumped in,” Tzipora explains. “Caring for my her – making sure she took her medicines and helping her with her doctors’ appointments – really shifted my thinking about my future. While my mother didn’t go to college, she brought up the idea of nursing after seeing me care for my grandmother. After doing my research, I found that the University of Memphis was the right fit for me.”

Tzipora is active on campus. She serves on the board of the Student Activities Council and is a member of Black Scholars Unlimited and First Generation, a support group for first-generation students. She also works part time as a patient care assistant (PCA) at Methodist Le Bonheur Germantown Hospital.

“My work as a PCA had allowed me to see what I’m capable of,” Tzipora says. “I love the immediate impact you can have on people. Even if I’ve just brought them a cup of ice or changed their bed, I can see from their smile that I’ve made their day a little better. My clinical rotations at school give me the same kind of feeling. During my time in obstetrics (OB), I was able to help deliver two babies. That experience has me leaning towards a career in OB or maternal health.”

The Power of We Scholarship will help pay for Tzipora’s final two semesters of school. 

“I am relieved that I can just focus on making my grades and not worry about working 60 hours a week or being a financial burden on my family,” she explains. “It also gives me the confidence that I can do this and that I’m on the right path.”


Bryson Hartsell

Junior, Therapeutic Recreation
University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Bryson Hartsell

Bryson’s personal sports injuries as a basketball player gave him the idea to pursue a career in health care.

“I’ve had multiple injuries, mostly knee problems and plantar fasciitis that sidelined me from sports and had me spending a lot of time with physical therapists,” Bryson explains. “While I didn’t like being injured, I learned a lot about injuries and how to treat them. I started having talks with my therapists about the profession, the opportunities in it and what was involved to be a part of it. They were very helpful and supportive of my entering the field. Pursuing a career in occupational therapy will also allow me to achieve the two goals my parents set out for me: continually strive to be a better person and to help others.”

One way Bryson is already helping others is through his work at the Change Center, a youth center featuring a skate center, climbing wall, café and arcade.

“I’ve been at the Change Center since it opened in 2018, and I’m now a manager,” Bryson says. “We’ve unfortunately seen an increase in gun violence in recent years in East Knoxville. The center is a safe place for kids to have some fun and get them off the streets. It is a positive, welcoming environment for everyone, no matter where you come from.”

At UT, Bryson is part of 100 Black Men, a mentoring organization focused helping youth reach their highest potential.

“My dad was a mentor in the organization, and I’ve been a mentee since I was in the seventh grade,” Bryson says. “It’s a great place where people can get access to knowledge and find role models to help them improve their lives. I hope to be the same kind of role model in health care. Growing up in East Knoxville, I’ve seen a lot of people who don’t have consistent access to reliable, quality care.”

“The Power of We Scholarship is going to help me become that provider,” he adds. I want to care for the overlooked and underserved.  I also want to be a role model for youth, showing them the power of giving back and that if they put in the work, they can achieve their dreams.”


Brionna Cunningham

Senior, Biology
Middle Tennessee State University

“People talk about health inequities, but they often don’t realize that they extend into vision care,” Brionna says. “I’m hoping that once I become an optometrist, I can inspire and influence others through the power of my voice and action. I also want to create programs to serve the overlooked, either through free eye exams, donations or helping deliver the eye care they deserve.”

The Jackson, Tennessee native is in her final year at MTSU, majoring in biology with a double minor in chemistry and psychology. She’s a member of Lambda Sigma and Gamma Beta Phi National Honor Societies and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated. She’s also a member of the Raider Health Corps, a student volunteer organization that educates peers on a variety of health issues and promotes positive health behaviors.

“I’ve always loved the world of science, literally every part of it, which made it difficult for me to decide what kind of health care specialty I wanted to pursue,” Brionna says. “After my sophomore year, I attended the Summer Health Professions Education Program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Through that program, I learned about the extent of health disparities in our society. I’ve always had a passion for helping people, but through the program I learned my purpose was to be part of the fight for health equity.”

The program also allowed Brionna to learn about different health professions by shadowing doctors in different specialties.

“I was trying to decide between going to medical school and becoming an optometrist,” Brionna says. “But after shadowing an optometrist, I knew that was going to be my path. 

While she remains focused on her schoolwork at MTSU, Brionna is preparing for the next stage of her education.

“I’ve been working during the summer break, but I’m also getting my applications together for optometry school and studying for the Optometry Admission Test,” Brionna explains. “As I enter the fall semester, the Power of We Scholarship will relieve financial stress by covering a lot of my school expenses and application fees. I know I have a lot of school ahead of me to become an optometrist, but I’m ready and excited to take it on!”


Audra Grace Crutchfield

Junior, Nursing
University of Memphis

Audra Grace Crutchfield

When Audra Grace was in the sixth grade, her brother suffered a football injury that led to her decision to become a nurse.

“It was a freak accident – my brother fell and damaged his pancreas,” she explains. “He had to have a third of it removed, then had an intestinal obstruction called an intussusception that required surgery. He was in the hospital for a while, and we were there every day. I saw how the nurses interacted with the patients and their families and the impact they had on the people in their care. I was just 11, but I knew that I wanted to become a nurse like them.”

Audra Grace chose to attend the University of Memphis because of the quality of the nursing program, the proximity to her home in Memphis and the diversity of the student body. While starting school during pandemic restrictions limited social interactions during her freshman year, she has been involved in a variety of campus organizations. She is part of the Emerging Leader Program, a scholarship and service organization, which facilitated her involvement in the Tiger Leadership Institute and her work as a volunteer at Holy Rosary School. She’s also part of Setting the Standard Enterprises (STS) professional leadership organization and is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

Outside of school, Audra Grace is working as a camp counselor at Holy Rosary school and as a patient care assistant (PCA) at Methodist North Hospital.

“I love it here at the University of Memphis, and while I still have a lot of classroom work to do, I’m excited to start my clinical rotations this semester and learn about the different specialties,” she says.

“I want to become a nurse practitioner, possibly in pediatrics or women’s health , which means a lot more school ahead. The Power of We Scholarship will cover a lot of my expenses for the rest of nursing school, which is a big relief knowing that I won’t enter graduate school in debt.”


Get to know this year’s scholars better

Watch the video below to find out more about this year’s Power of We scholars – and to see a special surprise we sent their way.