Feature Stories 2024: UMassD's first-year MLS and nursing scholars take a "S.T.E.P. Up"

MLS students in lab
The College of Nursing and Health Sciences offers more than just hands-on learning in the classroom for MLS & nursing students.
Feature Stories 2024: UMassD's first-year MLS and nursing scholars take a "S.T.E.P. Up"
UMassD's first-year MLS and nursing scholars take a "S.T.E.P. Up"

A unique program for first-year College of Nursing and Health Sciences students pushes them to embrace their new identities as future medical professionals

Nursing major and Long Island native Elan BenYosef ’26 is quite familiar with the ups and downs of being a first-year student. Like others, he experienced a rollercoaster of emotions being in a college setting for the first time, but excitement prevailed once he started taking classes in the College of Nursing & Health Sciences (CNHS). “Once I really settled in, I remember feeling truly a part of the nursing program. At other schools, you feel like a number. Here, I feel like faculty and staff understand what incoming
students really need.”

First-year nursing and medical laboratory science (MLS) students focus on building a strong core knowledge in foundational classes in preparation for the remaining rigorous programs that yields some of the best medical professionals in the SouthCoast. To support them, CNHS introduced S.T.E.P. Up, a new student program to aid first-year scholars in beginning their healthcare career journeys at UMass Dartmouth.

S.T.E.P (Students Transitioning to Excellence & Professionalism) Up is a one-year bridge program that engages first-year students in forming a vision for their futures in the healthcare profession. The program addresses gaps in communication, critical thinking, leadership, professional development, and team building—all skills necessary for aspiring nurses and medical laboratory scientists in the industry.

“The S.T.E.P. Up program provides students with an important piece of the foundation they need to become who they want to be and who our community needs them to be,” said Dr. Rekha Rosha, PhD, program manager of Student Support Services in CNHS. “We remind students that our MLS and nursing programs are not hands on during the first year. Rather, it’s intentional and focused hard work that lasts a lifetime."

To kick off the academic year with a bang, the S.T.E.P. Up program held a Saturday Summit for students to attend workshops on proper studying techniques, the importance of self-care, and the value of belonging. First-year scholars also received their respective group assignments that will be led by the program’s previous students, encouraging students to guide and serve others.

CNHS student leaders
S.T.E.P. Up student leaders include (left to right) Mitch Messina '25, Elan BenYosef '26, Neisha Boiteux '25, Hannah Caouette '25, and Koryn Casmira '25.

The S.T.E.P. Up program is also making strides to instill leadership skills in older students as they dive into the deep end of their MLS and nursing studies. Elan BenYosef ’26, Hannah Caouette ’25, Koryn Casmira ’25, Neisha Boiteux ’25, and Mitch Messina ’25 are S.T.E.P. Up student leaders this year and will model professional behavior, practice effective communication, encourage students to meet academic standards, and share their experiences of success and failure as CNHS students.

Caouette has participated in this program for the past three years. “As leaders, we organize and host big study groups to help each other prepare for exams. We make ourselves available and conduct office hours every week in case someone wants to chat about a class or just life. We even help them fill out order forms for the scrubs they’ll need for their sophomore year. It’s like having a safety net of friends to fall back on when you need to.”

The S.T.E.P. Up program is funded in part by Southcoast Hospitals Group, a long-standing partner in helping UMass Dartmouth prepare future leaders in healthcare by serving as one of many clinical placements for students. With a vested interest in helping produce the best nurses and laboratory scientists, their support is a vital part of students’ career preparations.

“At Southcoast, we’re excited to sponsor this program because these students are the future of our workforce,” said Tonya Johnson, the SVP and COO of Southcoast Hospitals Group. “We need to invest in them for multiple reasons. It’s especially important to make sure these first-year students start their medical journeys off on the right foot and know that there is a wealth of support around them not just within UMass Dartmouth, but the entire SouthCoast community.”

At its core, the S.T.E.P. Up program is fostering a new generation of skilled nurses and medical laboratory scientists that will evolve to become influential healthcare leaders attuned to the greater community beyond the walls of their hospitals.