MSUM grad’s scholarship supports social work students

MSU Moorhead transforms the world by transforming lives. Our leadership, faculty and staff are proud of this purpose – and celebrate when our graduates go on to do great things.

Success can be as simple as committing to volunteerism or as impactful as running a community non-profit. It can also include preparing the next generation to discover their passions and develop intellectually, all while providing them a platform to change the world.

Fargoans Ashley and Christopher Johnson, Ph.D., MSW, are committed to passing the torch to today’s students.

Chris is an MSUM alum and the chief executive officer of the Rape and Abuse Crisis Center of Fargo-Moorhead (RACC) – an organization that supports those impacted by sexual assault, dating and domestic violence, childhood sexual abuse, human trafficking, sexual exploitation and elder abuse. His career began at MSUM, where he received his bachelor’s degree in social work.

Ashley, who studied at MSUM, is a registered nurse who now works at Sanford in orthopedic surgery.

Together, they established the Gayel Marie Saude Scholarship Fund in 2022. It honors Ashley’s mother, who passed away in 2021 at 74. The scholarship provides up to $2,500 annually to support social work students.

Gayel, who lived in Hawley, Ada and Fargo, was a fiercely independent mother to Ashley, her older brother Gabe and a proud grandmother of four.

“She raised my brother and me by herself,” said Ashley. “She built her own house when I was two years old and had a beauty shop in the basement.” Gayel always had at least three jobs at a time to make ends meet, ranging from dog grooming and hairstyling to supporting those in need. Gayel spent more than 20 years lovingly caring for others at a group home.

For Ashley, the scholarship is a way to honor Gayel and pay respect for the years of compassion, care and support she received from her mother. For Chris, the ongoing donation is a way to share his gratefulness that Gayel co-signed the loan that launched his career – and helped him go on to serve the Fargo-Moorhead community. He says the scholarship is critical to ensuring those interested in social work have the opportunity to do so, as the field desperately needs more professionals.

“People experience various barriers to higher education,” said Chris. “Often, it is financial, and people cannot pull together the resources to go to school, especially now.” He says many social workers are single mothers, similar to Ashley’s mom, and many clients served by social workers are in similar situations. To him and Ashley, it seemed fitting that Gayel’s legacy would help more social work students establish their careers.

“She would be so proud that her name is tied to a university and would have been beside herself to know this scholarship is providing an opportunity for students,” he said.

To Ashley and Chris, tying the scholarship to MSUM’s School of Social Work was the ideal way to keep Gayel’s memory alive. And the entire Dragon family is grateful for that gift.

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