Student Success Center Celebrates Five Years
By Catherine Duncan
A nursing school’s success is measured by its ability to educate and graduate highly knowledgeable, compassionate and confident nurses who are well prepared to care for patients, serve as leaders in the health care industry, and conduct evidence-based research.
However, students who are admitted to the School of Nursing come from myriad backgrounds with varied levels of educational preparedness and development of learning skills. And, even for those who already have a bachelor’s degree, the complex academic material coupled with clinical learning experiences can be overwhelming.
For 17 years, first-year nursing students, who were from disadvantaged backgrounds, received mentoring from second- and third-year students through the School of Nursing’s Juntos Podemos (Together We Can) mentoring program, which was created by Norma Martinez Rogers, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, professor of nursing. However, when the successful program’s grant funding ended so did targeted mentoring to nursing students who needed such assistance.
When David Byrd, Ph.D., associate dean for admissions and student services, arrived on campus in 2014, he brought with him a 16-page plan that he had already formulated but had yet to implement on a college campus. When he shared his idea for a Student Success Center (SSC) with Dean Eileen Breslin, Ph.D., RN, FAAN, she gave him the approval and support he needed to begin making it a reality for the School of Nursing.
The Student Success Center opened in September 2014 with three professional staff members. Vanessa Bográn Meling, Ed.D., assistant dean for academic enhancement, was hired that fall to get the center up and running. “It was slow going at first. We didn’t have a budget. We used students who were part of the work study program to be our first mentors. We also had students who volunteered to help us.”
In the spring of 2015, Drs. Byrd and Meling wrote a grant proposal with the goal of securing Title V federal funding. By October 2015, the SSC team had received a $2.5 million federal grant to fully fund the center. Since that time, the center’s growth has been continuous and impressive. The school recently celebrated the SSC’s fifth anniversary.
“After five years, we can evaluate the student experience and identify improved student engagement and interaction. Our nursing students know they are supported by fellow students, staff and faculty,” Dr. Meling said. “We created a safe space to welcome and engage all students.”
Services provided to students now include:
Coaches work with undergraduate and graduate students one on one to create customized success plans to help reach academic goals. Coaching provides the skills and strategies necessary to be a successful student and develop the intellectual and personal qualities necessary for lifelong learning.
During the fall and spring semesters, students can meet with prospective employers at a career fair. Employers meet with undergraduate and graduate students. Seminars are offered on resumé writing, job search and protocol.
Tutoring is available to B.S.N. students by appointment. Tutors assist students with subject knowledge and help develop academic skills and strategies.
Peer mentors welcome and support the transition of fifth-semester nursing students. These mentors work with new students and educate them on campus resources, academic support and co-curricular activities. Mentors play an active role during new student orientation and throughout the first semester.
The center helps students explore scholarships to help pay for tuition, books, fees, seminars, workshops and more. They offer access to both need-based and merit-based scholarships.
The center offers students opportunities to attain invaluable experience by becoming student leaders. The Nursing Student Council aims to enhance student life, promote collaboration, and provide students a voice. As elected student leaders, council members work to represent the concerns of the student body to the administration. In addition, students are asked to serve on School of Nursing and UT Health San Antonio faculty and student committees.
Student Success Workshops
Small group sessions are facilitated by center staff. These sessions provide strategies and best practices to effectively address a variety of topics and issues including resume building, test-taking, study strategies, time management, reading strategies, stress management, financial literacy, scholarship tips and more.
Supplemental Instruction (SI)
Sessions allow B.S.N. students to study in a supportive group environment. Sessions are peer-led and facilitated by current students who have mastered the course and have been trained to utilize interactive learning strategies. Regularly scheduled sessions give students the opportunities to discuss readings, develop organizational tools, compare notes, and learn to study strategically.
The Summer Undergraduate Nursing Research Immersion Experience (SUNRISE) provides opportunities for eligible fifth-semester traditional B.S.N. students to participate in two, eight-week summer research experiences mentored by faculty members. Students conduct cutting-edge research.
Julissa Del Bosque, who earned her B.S.N. in May, said although she had already earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from UT Austin, she greatly appreciated having a peer mentor when she began the nursing program.
“I found it so helpful to hear from a student who had just gone through the first semester of nursing school. I learned about navigating the process, test taking strategies, and the entire clinical aspect. That was all new to me,” she said. “I could text her if I had a question. My mentor had 11 mentees, and she would bring us together. They became my first friends in nursing school.”
Del Bosque became a peer mentor during her sixth semester. “I saw great benefits from being a mentor. I developed relationships with other students. I have my group of students who I still text and wish them good luck on tests,” she said. “Having that one person you can turn to is so important. I never felt alone.”
During her last three semesters, Del Bosque served as a supplemental instructor. “If you take a class and get an A, you can apply to be a supplemental instructor for that course. The review session meets once a week, and all students are welcome to attend. We have to make the lesson plans and create the worksheets.”
In her seventh semester, she served as the SI leader and decided to pilot an online session for students who cannot attend weekly meetings because of family responsibilities, jobs or other reasons. In her final semester, she transitioned into the SI mentor/champion role. “I really have gained a lot of great experience in teaching,” said Del Bosque, who has plans to one day be a nurse educator.
Christopher Armstrong, B.S.N. Class of 2017, RN, attributes his success now as a critical care nurse in the Surgical Trauma Unit at University Hospital with his experience at the Student Success Center.
“I was first introduced to the center at orientation and assigned a peer mentor. I really benefitted my first semester from the mentoring, tutoring and Supplemental Instruction. They were able to take complex material and break it down so I could understand it,” he said. “The experience inspired me to be a peer mentor during my second semester. I later became a SI leader.”
Armstrong said the skills he learned teaching fellow students help him to teach patients and their family members. “My patients are shocked when they end up in the ICU. No one leaves their house planning to be in an accident. I know how to break down the medical information into digestible pieces. My experience at the Student Success Center has helped me be a better nurse.”
Dr. Meling said the center’s team is now concentrating on expanding its academic support to graduate students. “We are investigating graduate student needs and are committed to supporting graduate students preparing for careers as faculty members, researchers, advanced practice registered nurses, and health care administrators, among other roles. Their academic and professional development needs differ from baccalaureate students.
“We are creating and delivering content using web conferencing and webinars for our graduate students,” she said. “We continue to seek extramural funding to expand our student services to graduate students. That will be the next phase of the center. We are excited about its next five years.”