Stanislaus State nursing student Tonya Hensley experienced her share of difficult hardships.
She left home at age 16 after enduring a tough childhood. Years later, her husband died in a hiking accident.
Each situation on its own would have been enough to bring anyone to their knees. But for Hensley, the events set her on a path that led her to Stanislaus State. Her fortitude has paid off.
On Monday, Sept. 13, the California State University Office of the Chancellor announced Hensley as the 2021 Trustee Emeritus Ali C. Razi Scholar Award winner. Each year, the CSU honors 23 students, one from each campus, who are selected to receive a Trustees’ Award for Outstanding Achievement, the CSU’s highest student recognition.
The Razi Scholar Award honors the top Trustees’ Award recipient. As this year’s Razi winner, Hensley will receive a $15,000 scholarship. All Trustees’ Award winners will be recognized for their superior achievements during the Committee on Institutional Advancement portion of the CSU Board of Trustees virtual meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 14.
In a video message shared systemwide, Stanislaus State President Ellen Junn congratulated Hensley for her achievements.
“Stanislaus State is overjoyed for you,” Junn said. “Despite the unimaginable challenges you have faced in your life, you have transformed these experiences into becoming even stronger, more resilient and passionate in your efforts to help others by pursuing a career in nursing. You are bright, compassionate and an inspiring representation of what it means to be Warrior Strong.”
In a media release announcing the award recipients, CSU Chancellor Joseph I. Castro lauded this year’s cohort.
“These 23 scholars wonderfully exemplify the ideals of the California State University,” Castro said. “Every year, and especially this year, our Trustees’ Award honorees demonstrate resilience, tenacity and resolve — together with a keen intellect — while making an indelible, positive impact on their families and their communities. They are truly an inspiration.”
Hensley credits the unimaginable challenges she’s faced in her life with steering her toward a career that she loves and in which she can help others.
“I knew that I could just go work at any job for 40-plus hours a week, but I wouldn’t be doing what I love,” Hensley said.
“I think one of the things that drives Tonya is a desire to help others and put others first in her life, whether it be her own children or the future patients and colleagues that she’s going to be working with in the health care system. I think she has a genuine desire to help people and that will take her far in her profession and in life.”
Anthony Salafia, Department of Kinesiology and Public Health
Being a single mother meant that she needed a job that would enable her to support her four children while fulfilling her passion to help others. Nursing fit the bill.
Hensley’s love of children helped steer her toward wanting to become a labor and delivery nurse.
“I get to watch and help bring these miracles into life,” she said. “I want to be there for people. When I’ve got my mind set on something, I go full force until I reach my goal.”
Stan State’s Anthony Salafia, a faculty member in the Department of Kinesiology and Public Health said of Hensley: “I think one of the things that drives Tonya is a desire to help others and put others first in her life, whether it be her own children or the future patients and colleagues that she’s going to be working with in the health care system.
“I think she has a genuine desire to help people and that will take her far in her profession and in life.”
When she’s not studying, working or taking care of her children, Hensley gives back to her community by providing free childcare to single working parents. During the pandemic, she’s helped seniors by doing their grocery shopping and running errands on their behalf.
She manages to juggle her many responsibilities while maintaining a stellar academic record as a student. During her time at Stan State, Hensley has made the Dean’s List, is a member of the Alpha Alpha Alpha Honor Society and The National Society of Leadership and Success. She also works as a student assistant for the School of Nursing.
Choosing to pursue her nursing degree at Stan State was a “no brainer,” Hensley said. “When I was looking at different nursing programs, Stan State always popped up as one of the top nursing schools.
“I feel really blessed that I have this opportunity to attend Stan State and to be almost halfway done with my nursing program,” she said. “And, on top of all that, getting this amazing award will allow me more time to focus on school and further my education.”
Hensley said she wants to set a good example for her children. Her daughter Max attests that she’s already doing so.
“She worked really hard for this. She gave up a lot of her social life and a lot of things that she really cared about to get back in school,” Max Hensley said. “I’m really grateful for that. I really do appreciate everything that my mom has done for us.”