Feature Stories 2024: Queyka "Kayeekuh" SaintLouis '24: First-generation nursing major aspires to become a nurse educator

Honors Nursing major
Feature Stories 2024: Queyka "Kayeekuh" SaintLouis '24: First-generation nursing major aspires to become a nurse educator
Queyka "Kayeekuh" SaintLouis '24: First-generation nursing major aspires to become a nurse educator

Working at a camp for children and teens with diabetes impacted her career goals

Honors College nursing major Queyka "Kayeekuh" SaintLouis '24 has fully immersed herself in UMass Dartmouth's academic and extracurricular offerings, working as a research assistant on a grant-funded nursing project, a supervising tutor in the writing and multiliteracy center, and a student leader in the Honors College. She has been named to the Dean’s and Chancellor's lists several times and received the STEMing While Black Academic Excellence Award last spring.

Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, SaintLouis immigrated with her mother and younger brother to the United States just 8 years ago when she was 12 years old. They first settled in Georgia before moving to Randolph, MA, in 2017 to be closer to her family when SaintLouis was in 10th grade.

"By the time I started living in Massachusetts, I had already mastered the English language, thanks to my reading habits, but I was still getting acclimated to the U.S. culture," she said. "By the end of 8th grade, my English level was the same as other English-speaking childen of my age."

SaintLouis is the social chair of the New England Regional Black Nurses Association and a senior representative of the Chinese Student Scholar Association. She has worked at a camp for children with diabetes, where she honed her leadership and nursing skills and found her calling in caring for children and teens.

Why UMassD?

"The short distance from home, the generous financial aid package, and the reputable nursing and Honors programs," said SaintLouis.

Her decision proved to be a fruitful one as SaintLouis has thrived and succeeded at UMassD despite living in the United States for less than a decade. 

In addition to her current activities, SaintLouis was previously involved with the Honors Student Council, the Lusophone Student Union, and CRU, an interdenominational Christian student organization. During the academic year, she works as a supervising tutor at the Writing & Multiliteracy Center on campus.  

Juggling her activities, nursing studies, clinicals, and job is carefully planned. "I always make nursing my priority so whenever I make my weekly plan, I schedule my study and clinical time and limit myself to strong involvement with only two extracurricular activities per academic year, said SaintLouis.

Applying to nursing school was "an act of defiance"

SaintLouis admits that she applied to nursing school to prove she could do it. "My guidance counselor warned me against going into the field because she felt I couldn't handle the pressure of the program. So, I applied to the nursing program and when I told her I was accepted and got a merit-based scholarship, it restored my confidence."

That confidence was also built during SaintLouis' summer job as a healthcare counselor at the Barton Center for Diabetes Education in Oxford, MA, for campers ages 6-16 with diabetes. She administered insulin, managed low blood sugar, provided first aid, and consulted with the on-site medical provider as she helped care for the overnight campers. Based on this experience, SaintLouis hopes to work with children and teens in her future career.

"I was 19 years old when I started working there. Being adventurous, I wanted to try it out," she said. "I had previous experiences working at summer camps and wanted to gain nursing experience outside a hospital setting. I had two weeks of training and lived there all summer. Living on my own taught me a lot of independence."

As the only staff member who did not have diabetes, SaintLouis also learned the importance of empathy for others. "I would not have reached the level of empathy that I have now if it were not for the Barton Center for Diabetes Education. I built a lot of that empathy caring for the holistic health of diabetic children while collaborating with coworkers, most of whom were diabetic. It's very important to have empathy as a nurse.

"The camp also really helped me with leadership, how to work as a team, and how to overcome conflict," she added.

How has your experience been in the College of Nursing & Health Sciences (CNHS)?

"One of my favorite things about CNHS is the concept-based curriculum where concepts from lower-level classes are clearly explained as the foundation for more advanced classes later in the nursing program. It makes things easier to learn and memorize. It's something only a few nursing schools do with classes building upon each other.

"I also believe that the academic and clinical experiences within the program solidify my strengths such as memorization and multilingualism while also giving me the tools to buffer my weaknesses such as public speaking and critical thinking. Because of CNHS, through my clinicals and projects, I have practiced prioritization, open-mindedness, and a willingness to understand from a multicultural perspective."

Last spring, SaintLouis worked as a research assistant on the NO STIGMA research project with CNHS faculty where she helped to recruit and schedule participants and set up the physical space of the study. The grant of nearly $600,000 will help to train students in addressing stigma towards patients with opioid use disorder.

"From the first time I met Queyka, I was impressed by her intelligence, insight, and passion for making a difference—especially for people who are burdened by systemic racism and stigma," said CNHS Assistant Professor Shannon Avery-Desmarais, director of the Doctor of Nursing Practice Program and a member of the NO STIGMA research team. "I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with her as a part of the NO STIGMA study and can't wait to see her make her mark on nursing science. "


"I enjoy clinicals a lot. I like to learn from other nurses. I'm learning things I haven't learned yet in class and seeing them in action. It's helping me decide the kind of nurse I want to be in the future."

With Prof. Shannon Avery-Desmarais
Honors Nursing major Queyka "Kayeekuh" SaintLouis '24 with Dr. Shannon Avery-Desmarais, assistant professor and director of the Doctor of Nursing Practice Program.

Honors College boosted her confidence and provided leadership opportunities

SaintLouis has found her peers in the Honors College inspiring. "I am always impressed with the ingenuity of the students in the Honors College. I like hearing how they think, and how they got to UMassD. I like that I can communicate with this group of super-smart, supportive, interesting students. I absolutely enjoy meeting students from other colleges and majors. Through the Honors College, I've met some of my closest friends on campus.

"I'm so glad I enrolled. It helped me with my confidence and introduced me to a whole new group of faculty who provide additional academic and professional support. I really like how caring the staff and faculty are. I like the leadership opportunities the college has offered me such as joining the Massachusetts American Nurses Association at an advocacy day at the State House last semester.

"Dr. (Kristen) Sethares and Dr. (Elizabeth) Chin are two professors that I admire a lot. They were my biggest supporters when it came to choosing research for my APEX Project and considering a graduate degree in nursing. Their wisdom has helped guide my career plans."

For her APEX Project, a senior project required for all Honors College students, SaintLouis is researching the experiences of nursing faculty of color. Not surprisingly, her research has revealed that the diversity of the nursing workforce and faculty is not increasing at the pace of the patient population.

"I am learning how race affects nurses' academic and professional opportunities," SaintLouis said. "As the nursing workforce diversifies, nursing faculty will follow."

Sethares has enjoyed working with SaintLouis. "Queyka is an extremely talented and engaging student. She has taken full advantage of all that the college has to offer. I have no doubt that she will meet her future goal of obtaining a Ph.D. in preparation for a future faculty role."

What would you like to do after you graduate?

"I am open to any opportunity, but I would like to work with children and teenagers. I'd like to try adolescent psychiatry since I really enjoyed my mental health nursing clinical rotation. I am also interested in pursuing a graduate nursing degree to fulfill the roles of a nurse educator and nurse researcher later in my career like some of my current professors." 

Advice for future Corsairs: Say "yes"

"Enjoy and say 'yes' to new opportunities. Your mind needs to be open to learn and to have a good time. Staying in your comfort zone can quickly get boring."