2024 COMMENCEMENT SERIES | Looking toward the dawn 

Graduate nursing student Kailey Fundark is ready to go home, with dreams of helping her Navajo Nation in the American southwest heal — and thrive

In a few days, Kailey Fundark will make the 1,400-mile, 22-hour drive to Farmington, New Mexico, near the Navajo Nation — a place whose people and culture are her very foundation. 

It’s been two years since Fundark uprooted her life. Now she has the master’s degree in nursing she dreamt of, and she’ll cross the Commencement stage back into the world she cares for most. 

It’s a fitting new day for the 25-year-old Fundark, whose middle name is “Sunrise.” 

A pandemic turning point 

Fundark’s path to becoming a Marquette Nurse started at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Kailey Fundark

Her long, dark hair halfway pinned up with a clip and her hands folded neatly, politely in her lap, Fundark gently touches one of her cylindrical turquoise earrings, a gift from her uncle. Her eyes reveal the depth of loss.  

Taking a deep breath, she recalls her turning point.  

“My aunt, who was the primary caregiver to my grandmother, passed away because of Covid-19,” Fundark says. 

Her ailing, elderly grandmother now without a caretaker, Fundark put graduate school on hold to help other family members care for her.  

“Honestly, taking care of her was the greatest honor because she was a very sweet woman. She gave a lot and took care of a lot of people. I think the best thing I was able to do was give that care back to her, especially with what she went through,” Fundark says through tears. “She lived a great life.” 

The 98-year-old mother of 12 died nine months later. 

After caring for her grandmother alongside hospice nurses, Fundark was inspired.   

“I went from wanting to be a physician assistant to being focused on nursing,” Fundark explains. 

On Saturday, May 11, Fundark will graduate with a Master of Science in Nursing from Marquette, which she earned through the university’s direct entry graduate nursing program. 

An invaluable bond 

Dr. Jacqueline Fontaine Schram works with Native students on campus helping them find a community where they can be themselves and find a sense of familiarity that makes their experience healthier and enjoyable. 

She first met Fundark in September 2022 at the Native Student and Community Welcome hosted by the Division of Student Affairs. 

“We immediately gravitated toward one another,” the director of public affairs and special assistant for Native American affairs says. “Maybe it is the quiet and watchful way we walk in the world. Not long after, we connected over coffee — and she has blessed my world ever since.” 

This bond, and those she formed with other Native students on campus, was important to Fundark. 

“Being away from community and families and traditions is an immense cultural shift that requires so much energy and know-how to bridge,” Schram explains. “Finding early cultural support in staff, faculty and place is critical to well-being.”   

Fundark with her family

Now, Fundark encourages other Native students who are seeking a higher education, and she hopes to be an advocate for her Native community in New Mexico. 

“I think, for me, it’s important that a medical professional knows my tribe, culture and language — being understanding and empathizing with their situations and then trying to find resources to connect my patients to so I can meet their needs,” she says. 

Kailey Sunrise Fundark is looking forward to her new dawn. She’s looking forward to the bright southwest sunshine that brightens and warms her Navajo sisters and brothers. 

“I’m expecting lots of sunshine, and my sunflowers are going to be growing,” Fundark says, wistfully. “I’m going to see my hummingbirds. I’m going to see the stars — just being back in nature. But, also, just having the familiarity of having my family there and being in my hometown — I think it’s just going to bring me a sense of, ‘We did it. We’re back.’”