Alumna’s estate gift to provide educational opportunities for students west of the Blue Ridge
Perseverance, determination, and a degree from Mary Washington – Susan Orebaugh Nicholson ’64 has mastered the blending of these three hearty ingredients to create a successful career as a dietitian, entrepreneur, cooking show guest, syndicated columnist, and author.
It all started in the fall of 1960 when a bright-eyed, small-town girl came over the Blue Ridge mountains to attend a state college in Fredericksburg. Having never seen Mary Washington until the day she moved into Virginia Hall, her main goal was to become a college graduate and pursue a career.
“I knew specifically which careers I didn’t want to follow, so I was open to actively exploring majors that might offer unique opportunities for the future,” she says. “I ended up taking a foods class that first semester, and I guess the die was cast. It was a hard major with lots of science courses – plus science labs and food labs – but I persevered and conquered them all.”
That life choice led to two summer jobs in Veteran’s Administration (VA) hospitals within the Commonwealth of Virginia and then a dietetic internship in Houston, Texas. This experiential learning led directly to a position as staff dietitian at the VA hospital in Houston. Susan continued to learn and look for new challenges and soon became the first female pharmaceutical company representative with Mead Johnson. There she trained dietitians and created a model for new positions that was used nationally. She later moved to Atlanta to work with the Marriott Corporation.
Always at the forefront of technology and looking for unique opportunities, Susan opened a microwave store in Atlanta in the 1980s. With her extensive background in nutrition, it was a natural progression for Susan to teach classes and share recipes and tips for using the new-fangled devices. One thing led to another, and she began sharing these recipes with a national audience on CNN, which led to her first book, Save Your Heart With Susan: Six Easy Steps to Cooking Delicious Healthy Meals in a Microwave.
By 1995, with one book under her belt, Susan was writing a column, the “7-Day Menu Planner,” for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It became syndicated and was carried by newspapers across the nation. In fact, this year marks the 25th anniversary of that popular column. Eventually, Susan added another column; a new book titled, 7-Day Menu Planner for Dummies; and the blog, “Making the Menu.”
From her strict upbringing in Shenandoah County, Susan learned early to push boundaries and how to overcome unexpected obstacles, including cancer. Today, she and her husband, Nick, call Atlanta home, and they enjoy traveling across the U.S. and around the world.
With her decades-long background in nutrition, Susan continues to offer advice about cooking, and she proudly credits her Mary Washington experience for playing a key role in her life and career. As a way to pay it forward, Susan recently notified the University of a bequest in her estate plans to create an endowed scholarship for UMW students from designated counties along I-81 from Winchester to Bristol.
“Before I came to Mary Washington, I’d lived a small-town life, even though I was a city girl by heart,” says Susan. “Looking back, I now know that getting away was the only way for me. My college coursework, internships, social interactions, and extended travel experiences all helped broaden my horizons.”
Asked about expectations for the need-based scholarship, she adds, “I am proud of my Mary Washington degree, and I want deserving students from the all-too-often underserved western counties of Virginia – and all the way south to Appalachia – to have a real chance at higher education so they, too, have hope for a better future.”
Make Your Bequest Personal
Bequests to Mary Washington can support a variety of programs that have direct impact on student success. Contact the Office of Gift Planning at 540-654-2064 to discover how you can leave a legacy in a way that is meaningful to you.