Over two days before the start of the fall semester, nearly 120 first-year nursing and medical laboratory science students could be found throughout the UMass Dartmouth campus wearing matching t-shirts while preparing for their studies in life sciences.
Instead of poring over their laptops and books, they attended workshops, played Capture the Flag, completed a scavenger hunt, and became CPR certified. While this sounds like a typical orientation weekend, these students were immersed in a program specifically designed to prepare them for their future majors and careers.
In an effort led by 15 student volunteers and 11 faculty, staff, and administrators, the College of Nursing & Health Sciences (CNHS) 2022 Student Leadership Academy (SLA) was off and running for the fifth consecutive year.
A total of 56 workshops was presented; seven different workshops were each delivered a total of eight times over two days. Topics included reading comprehension, self-care, leadership development, first aid/CPR, diversity & inclusion, and professional & academic preparedness. All students completed CPR training delivered by GMEC-EMT staff, who provide medical services education in Dartmouth.
On their first day, CNHS Dean Kimberly Christopher warmly welcomed the new students and Provost & Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Dr. Hanchen Huang, also brought greetings.
SLA designed to promote student engagement, retention, and success
Established in September 2018 by the college’s Student Support Services (SSS), the academy aims to increase CNHS students’ commitment to the highest academic and professional standards and assist them in achieving a greater understanding of their roles and responsibilities as life sciences majors and young professionals. The academy’s curriculum focuses on communication, critical thinking, leadership, professional development, self-care, and team building.
The academy is based on the Jeffreys Nursing Universal Retention and Success (NURS) Model, a pedagogical framework used to promote student engagement, retention, and success. Throughout the year, students will progress through five academy benchmarks and participate in advising meetings, along with other SSS-sponsored programming.
After the academy weekend, first-year nursing and MLS students will be paired with another first-year CNHS student, who will serve as their “wingman.” The wingman concept, where students are randomly paired with each other, is designed to expand their network and provide meaningful support through the demanding first years of their curriculum. By communicating with and supporting each other—from freshman year through the conclusion of their sophomore year before they begin clinicals—the wingman experience is expected to promote a sense of community and establish accountability for academic success, professional development, and healthy social interactions among CNHS students and their peers.
Students experienced sense of accomplishment and camaraderie
According to Academic Advisor Rekha Rosha, who led the academy this year, “SLA Weekend is the beginning of a year-long effort to guide CNHS students in cultivating their abilities to be successful in their academic course work and clinical training. Our larger goal is to help inspire each student’s vision of his/her/their own future in the healthcare professions. We do this through peer-to-peer supports (team leaders), as junior and senior nursing and MLS majors model the immediate future for first-year students, and through academic and professional networking events (guest speakers, chapter meetings, conferences), which expand all the ways students might imagine the future of healthcare for themselves and for all of us.”
At the conclusion of the two-day academy, students felt a sense of accomplishment and camaraderie they didn’t have two days before. “With everyone telling me all weekend that ‘I got this, I got this,’ I had to believe them,” said nursing major Jesseley Gomes ’26.
"I learned that the nursing program has a community aspect to it, and I think that the support the college offers to students is outstanding. I really feel like the program stands out because of the support and the effort they put into it," said Elan Ben Josef ’26, a nursing major and member of the Honors College.
“The biggest highlight for me was at the end after the Scavenger Hunt," said Anna Vrahliotis '26. "As my team gathered outside the Campus Center, which was the last meeting of the weekend, I thought about how, over the course of the two days, I had met so many people and made so many connections. In that moment, I thought, ‘Now, I’m a nursing major.’”
CNHS students serve as leaders and role models
The SLA Student Leadership volunteers are: Savanha Laroche, senior student leader (NUR '23); Leah Burrell, vice senior student leader (NUR and WGS Minor '23); Hannah Morrison, wingman experience coordinator and team leader (NUR and AGH Minor '24); Kevin Valentine, team leader (NUR '24); Eric Le, team leader (NUR '25); Hannah Caouette, team leader (NUR '25); Sarah Huretau, SLA social media influencer and team leader (NUR '24); Caitlin Leonard, team leader (NUR '24); Madison Docca, team leader (NUR '24); Colin Soares, team leader (MLS '23); Paige Bernier, team leader (NUR and Honors College, '24); Adriana Fernandes, team leader (NUR '24); Martin Dafov, team leader (NUR and Honors College '25); Melanie Rea, team leader (NUR '25); William Tuttle, workshop leader (NUR '25); and Kateyn Feeney, CNHS alumna (NUR '22).