Counseling Student Establishes Scholarship to Honor Professor

Childers and Nilsson with the daughter of a recent graduate

A new profession led to mentoring relationship, gift

Martha Childers, M.A. ‘08, EDSP ‘13 decided to become a counselor after working in libraries for 38 years. An influential relationship with Johanna Nilsson, Ph.D., a professor in counseling psychology, led to a gift to UMKC to establish the Johanna E. Nilsson Scholarship for Diversity and Courage in Psychology.

“I read an article that mentioned that in midlife one of the ways to ward off dementia is to do something completely different with your life,” Childers says. “I remembered that in high school I’d wanted to be a counselor, so I thought I’d pursue that.”

Sixty hours of academic work seemed like a significant commitment, but Childers was determined.

“Once I started the program, I understood why you would need that much coursework. There’s a lot more to counseling than meets the eye.”

During her studies, Childers took a class from Johanna Nilsson, Ph.D. At the end of the semester Nilsson brought her husband and children, who are twins, to meet her students.

“I just thought that was really nice,” Childers says. “After that I asked her to be my advisor. It was totally spontaneous, and she said, ‘yes!’”

It turned out that Childers’s instincts were good.

“Johanna never steered me wrong,” Childers says. “There were times that she made suggestions and I was unsure. For instance, she recommended that I take gerontology. And I said, ‘I am old!’ But she was right. I took two classes, and they were very valuable.”

Childers decided to honor Nilsson in an interesting way by establishing the Johanna E. Nilsson Scholarship for Diversity and Courage in Psychology.

“I donate 10 percent of my income every month,” she says. “I’ve worked in library science and as a counselor. I don’t make a lot of money, but I realized a few years ago that I could set up an endowment and that would honor people who are important to me and provide more security to the organization. A little bit every month adds up.”

Childers enjoys the practice because it is the manifestation of her focus on thinking about helping others.

“It’s the first thing I do at the end of the month – figure out my income and what I’m going to do with that 10 percent. It feels good to not be thinking just about myself. I’m thinking about others, which is really healthy.”

Nilsson was surprised by Childers’s gift in her honor.

“Honestly, I didn’t think I had a big impact,” Nilsson says. “Martha is fun to work with. She is a non-traditional student who has traveled a lot. Her kindness is overwhelming. I’m very honored by Martha’s gift.”

Childers and Nilsson worked on the parameters of the scholarship together. Nilsson often works with students who are refugees or have disabilities, who have to work harder to achieve their goals. For this reason, the pair settled on including “diversity and courage” in the name of  the scholarship.

“We both agreed that we wanted to encourage and provide opportunity to students who are not ‘set up’ to get an undergrad degree,” Nilsson says.

For more information on endowments and other ways to support UMKC students, please contact Angela Machetta at