Remembering Nicole Underwood

Remembering+Nicole+Underwood

service_19611Nicole Underwood was just months away from graduating from the University of Iowa School of Social Work before she was killed in a bus accident, but on Wednesday, her family received the diploma she so diligently worked for.

On Dec. 28, 2015, the UI senior was traveling inbound to Chicago. The charter bus lost control and struck a construction arrow board sign. Underwood was the only passenger on board to die out of the 33; four other passengers were taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

At the UI School of Social Work’s graduation ceremony in Des Moines on Wednesday evening, the school and UI President Bruce Harreld presented Underwood’s family with her degree, along with a memorial and speech honoring her life and accomplishments.

“We miss her,” said Kassie Irwin Underwood, her mother. “It feels really good for us, but it’s hard because we’d rather have her walking across the stage.”

Kassie Underwood said Harreld reached out to her over the phone and said the UI would give them Nicole Underwood’s degree at Wednesday’s ceremony.

Her family received the diploma because of her academic performance, presence in the classroom, and leadership role at the UI.

“We truly want to thank the university, because they didn’t have to do this; but they chose to and it really means so much to us that we get to accept this on her behalf,” she said. “It makes us proud to be Hawkeyes.”

On Wednesday, an empty seat was left vacant in memory of Nicole Underwood, decorated with roses and a photo collage made by friends and classmates.

UI senior Bailey Cameron, who met Nicole Underwood on the first day of freshman Orientation, said it’s been hard to be excited about something that she was supposed to attend with her best friend.

“She would be so mad we were honoring her,” she said. “She didn’t like to be the center of attention, and I know she’s so happy she’s going to be a part of [the graduation].”

Nicole Underwood was an “entergetic and engaged” student who received good grades and was passionate about the field of social work, said UI Clinical Assistant Professor Stephen Cummings. She aspired to work in grief counseling, helping families and patients on life support in hospitals.

Shortly after her death, family, friends, and community members quickly rallied to start a fund to create the Nicole Underwood Scholarship, a $10,000 scholarship awarded to deserving students pursuing the field of social work, her mother said.

The scholarship is expected to be available this coming fall semester.

Her younger brother, UI sophomore Alex Underwood, said he would like to see the scholarship awarded in increments, so it can be ongoing and she will be remembered over time.

Cummings said he first put forward the idea to the UI that Nicole Underwood earned and deserved the diploma she was months away from receiving.

“She was a great student. She was exceptional in terms in the care she took in not just getting the work done, or by participating in class,” he said. “She was fantastic.”

Nicole’s mother said she thinks Nicole would have been honored by the actions of the School of Social Work.

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