Category: School of Nursing

23 students, faculty, and staff gathered for a group photo outside of the nursing building
Students, faculty, and staff gathered from the School of Nursing's Connecting Future Caregivers program. The program was created to help prepare students that are either first-generation or Black, Indigenous, and People of Color for their academic careers in nursing.

Connecting Future Caregivers

December 19, 2023 Written by Colin Heffinger | Photos by Ashley Larrimore

The School of Nursing recently launched an event series to welcome and prepare new Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) as well as first-generation students for their academic careers in nursing. This program titled Connecting Future Caregivers (CFC) that was originally designed to be a one-time event has swiftly evolved into a full program to include multiple gatherings with faculty and peers, mentoring, and opportunities for students to feel truly connected on campus.

Sparked from ideas shared during strategic discussions after the COVID-19 pandemic, the CFC program is intended to help provide students with a sense of belonging and access to valuable connections that enhance their academic success. Events were planned and hosted by Jennifer Saylor, associate dean of faculty and student affairs, as well as Zachary Jackson and Shayla Crawford-Hymon, academic advisors, all in the School of Nursing (SON).

“Research continues to show a lack of diversity in the nursing profession yields inequities in health outcomes,” said Crawford-Hymon. “It’s more important than ever to make sure we are effectively retaining students from minoritized backgrounds.”

For the introductory event, freshmen students and their families started by sharing dinner with SON faculty, staff, and upperclassmen BIPOC nursing leadership students. The first group of upperclassmen BIPOC nursing students were hand-selected as mentors in a new cohort for the freshmen, providing additional guidance and support throughout the academic year. In future years, mentors could be any interested upperclassmen who are either a first-generation student or BIPOC, ensuring that future freshmen will be able to learn from their lived experiences.

“The goal is to create a diverse community that can sustain on its own throughout their years at UD,” said Saylor. “We’re aiming to build a workforce that matches the diverse populations they will be serving in their nursing careers.”

After dinner, freshmen attended inspirational speeches from Katie Boston-Leary, director of nursing programs for the American Nurses Association, and Melissa Minor Brown, House Representative for Delaware and clinical coordinator for graduate services at SON. Both Boston-Leary and Minor Brown shared their career stories and provided insights on how a career in nursing can tie together politics and other fields to fit a student’s unique passions and goals.

The following day, students joined together for facility tours, mental health discussions, and an innovative simulation presented by the Healthcare Theatre team. Students met with Cynthia Diefenbeck, director, psychologist, and advanced practice psychiatric nurse, and Aroya Griffin, a mental health clinician, from The Center for Counseling and Student Development (CCSD), to voice their challenges and learn more about the importance of managing mental health. At the end of the day, Healthcare Theatre leaders Javonte Perry, program coordinator, and Heather Mekulski, program manager, recreated a potential nursing facility scene to show students different ways to provide the best care for patients. 

A man with crutches walks to meet a student acting as nurse at a desk as part of a presentation for new students
As part of the Connecting Future Caregivers program, students attended a performance led by the Healthcare Theatre team including Allan Carlsen, Javonte Perry, and Heather Mekulski. The team recreated a nursing facility scence, allowing students to see different ways to best provide care for patients in a safe environment.

Kabmata Kargbo, a sophomore student serving as a mentor for the CFC program, explained how the event helped her “feel more excited and inspired” in her career choice. “We were able to see what we would be working on throughout our four years here and share that experience with others who look like us,” said Kargbo. “Having this extra boost of encouragement helps us feel less alone in our journey.”

Kargbo chose to pursue her degree at UD because she was amazed by the simulations, abroad learning opportunities, and nursing programs. “The CFC program serves as a growing platform to help students meet collectively and best learn how to take advantage of these incredible opportunities on campus,” Kargbo continued. “Being involved on campus with a nursing class schedule can be challenging, so attending these events is a huge plus to feel more connected with faculty and other students.”

A month later, the CFC program organized a second event, bringing students back to learn effective studying methods. Led by academic success coaches Anthony Carbone and Joanna Martin-Granger from The Office of Academic Enrichment, students were introduced to methods for using their calendar to plan out the semester, reading their syllabus, taking handwritten notes, attending office hours, and beginning exam studies well in advance to avoid the stress of cramming, among a variety of other study tools specifically designed for college courses.

“The School of Nursing faculty puts so much focus on guiding students to become the best possible nurses,” said Nicole Perez-Rangel, a junior student mentor for the CFC program. “There’s an effort to aid students outside of the classrooms, providing access to mental health support and additional resources that have helped all of us.”

“Even as a junior, this program is a huge help as we’re also learning techniques from the freshmen we are mentoring,” said Perez-Rangel. “It’s a shared learning experience. I’m honored to be there for someone younger than me and lend a helping hand.”

Looking forward, the CFC program team is excited to engage students further with additional events. The next is focused on explaining ways students can position themselves professionally on social media.

“Programs like these can have an enormous impact on students’ experiences for the long-term,” said Jackson.

“We’re determined to provide an environment for all students to learn and create meaningful interactions organically,” reflected Saylor. “We’re going to continue these efforts and explore ways we can help students financially, like introducing them to job opportunities on campus.”

The Connecting Future Caregivers program was funded by a UD Faculty Senate Committee of Cultural Activities and Public Events grant and a UD Faculty and Staff Career Services Innovation grant. 

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