Student Nurse Leadership Academy prepares nursing students for leadership roles on health care teams

Academy provides support and camaraderie for first-year students

3 first-year nursing students standing outside during the obstacle course
Prior to the start of the fall semester, first-year nursing students enjoyed a day of outdoor activities, workshops, and camaraderie in the first Student Nurse Leadership Academy.

Navigating your way through a timed obstacle course with a team of your peers while carrying a 10-foot long wooden plank doesn’t seem to have a lot to do with nursing. Yet, it requires communication, critical thinking, problem solving, and teamwork, some of the same essential skills that are needed to lead a health care team.

The obstacle course was one of many activities for 141 first-year nursing students who participated in the first daylong Student Nurse Leadership Academy (SNLA) held on campus just before the start of the fall semester. The day included several workshops instructed by university and community professionals to prepare students for their nursing studies and careers.

Academy bridges the high school experience to the rigorous college nursing curriculum

Developed by Jason Campagnone, program manager for the College of Nursing & Health Sciences, the academy is designed for first-year nursing students or those who have changed their major. It was created to bridge students’ high school curriculums to that of a rigorous nursing program by addressing gaps in communication, critical thinking, leadership, professional development, self-care, and team building.

Workshop topics included developing your professional identity, safety and hygiene practices, interpersonal skills, coping strategies for college life, and applying content beyond the classroom.

“Nursing is a rigorous program that requires a lot of work and study. You have to be committed to wanting to be a nurse,” Campagnone said. “We want to focus on the person behind the scrubs and where they are in life so that the whole class is starting on the same page and given the same chance to succeed.”

Student holding a wooden plank during the obstacle course
Completing an obstacle course requires some of the same skills needed to lead a health care team including communication, critical thinking, problem solving, and teamwork.

Students leading students

Integral to the success of the SNLA is the organizational structure. Students are grouped into six teams named for prominent figures in nursing and humanitarian work. The teams are led by trained sophomore nursing students who will communicate regularly with the freshmen throughout the year. Each freshman is paired with a wingman, who will partner with them to study together and provide support and encouragement during their first year of nursing studies.

“We want to teach them how to work together. There is a lot of teamwork involved in this field,” Campagnone said.

“Students need to learn to work with people different from who they are,” he added. “This is where they learn to practice their soft skills. You can leave nursing school with knowledge, but if you can’t communicate with your team, patients, and families, you’re not going to succeed as a professional nurse.”

The academy is also designed to encourage student leadership. Team leaders will be expected to model professional behavior, practice effective communication, and maintain positive teamwork.

Transformational leadership is the driving philosophy in the transition from a college student to a professional nursing student. “Transformational leadership is an ideal approach for nursing students that requires consistent diligence and ownership of patient care delivery. It’s the ‘service before self’ that enables a professional to provide the best possible care while respecting the standards of the organization they work for,” Campagnone said.

The motto for this year’s SNLA, Fulfilling a Promise, is based on the book, Rise: A soldier, A dream, and A Promise Kept, by Daniel Rodriguez and was chosen to mirror the value of a promise to others and self.

“A typical high school student has learned to follow instructions. Using transformational leadership, we want them to take a leadership role to make choices for themselves, to become more proactive, and to further develop as a team leader.”

The Student Nurse Leadership Academy evolved from last year’s pilot. One result, Campagnone said, was that students were more likely to lean on each other for support. 

The yearlong program will incorporate five benchmarks. Students will also write a 500-word reflection on how the academy will help them become a more efficient nurse and how it changed them personally.

“This model allows time for students to adapt and adjust to new demands and expectations of college life. At each benchmark, students achieve a sense of accomplishment and ownership of their education, motivating them to continue to strive for success,” said Campagnone.

Sophomore year is considered the toughest year for nursing students as they are juggling more difficult science courses, labs, and field work, so it’s important to develop a good foundation during their freshman year, he added.

Full group of students in Student Nurse Leadership Academy
Nearly 150 first-year nursing students participated in the Student Nurse Leadership Academy that was designed to bridge the high school experience to a professional college nursing curriculum.

Developing nurse leaders

“By the end of the year, the students should have a different perspective on school and nursing. We want them to be engaged with their peers, proactive, and not afraid to take risks. We are changing perspectives to develop nurses as leaders of the health care team.”

Kenney Maxfield ’22, team leader of the Barton Group, has a great deal of confidence in the students on his team. “If anyone in my group of 30 was going to take care of one of my family members, I would have complete confidence in them based on how they handled themselves throughout the day. The freshmen are a great group of people and, one day, they will make excellent nurses.

“At the very least, they are not walking into freshman year without understanding the expectations,” Maxfield added. “Hopefully they have the broader understanding that it take grit, attention to detail, teamwork, and critical thinking to do well in this program.”

While summer bridge programs can be found at other nursing schools, Campagnone said, “We felt students needed a program that matches the academic and professional intensity of nursing school. We are the only school that has done anything like this.”

His office, located in Trailer 3 has been renovated to offer support services to nursing students and will house the Diversity Nursing Scholars Program. Students can meet with their advisors or find a quiet area to study in the renovated building where meetings, trainings, and workshops will also be held.


College of Nursing Health Sciences