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High school valedictorians 2016

When Miguel Diaz was 7 years old, he moved with his family from Puerto Rico to the U.S. He spoke only Spanish and was taught in a bilingual classroom for two years. But by fourth grade, his lessons were entirely in English — and, in 2016, he delivered the valedictory speech at the graduation ceremony for Bullard-Havens Technical High School in Bridgeport, Conn. Today, Diaz is a talented, hard-working member of Southern’s Class of 2020 — on track to become the first in his family to earn a four-year college degree.

A fellow member of the Class of 2020, Kyley Fiondella — the valedictorian of H. C. Wilcox Technical High School in Meriden, Conn. — shares his commitment. “I’m also a first-generation college student,” she says. “My parents have always been very driven. ‘Do your best in school. Go to college. Make your life better,’ they told me. It was a big motivation.”

Fiondella — a student in Southern’s Honors College — has wanted to be a nurse since childhood. She enrolled in her high school’s Health Technology Program and, at the age of 15, became a certified nursing assistant. Today, she works at Montowese Health and Rehabilitation in North Haven, in addition to answering phones at a pizzeria and attending school full time. With her pre-acceptance into Southern’s Nursing Program, she moves one step closer to realizing her dream. “I almost cried when I received the letter,” says Fiondella, who hopes to work in pediatrics.

Diaz also plans to work with youth — as a high school Spanish teacher. It’s an aspirational shift for the polite young man who, until recently, envisioned a career in automotive technology. “My parents are my mentors,” he says of his father, a janitor at another nearby university, and his mother, who cares for children for a living. “They left Puerto Rico in search of more opportunities,” Diaz explains. “They inspired me to get an education.”

In high school, Diaz interned at BMW. Today, the full-time student helps finance his education by working 30 hours a week at Pep Boys, an auto parts and services retailer. Automobile technology remains a strong interest, and he speaks with pride of his brother who attended Gateway Community College and works at Nissan.

But for Diaz, the promise of a teaching career has taken hold. “I grew up in a low-income community. Some of my friends weren’t focusing on their studies, especially in middle school. They would get in a lot of trouble, surrounded by violence and negative influences,” says Diaz. “As a teacher, you support students — give advice and help them to keep moving forward. Education is the key to success.”

 

Kyley Fiondella, Class of 2020

On her High School Valedictory Speech

“It went well. I’ve always been super-nervous when speaking in front of people — but I’ve also been pretty good at hiding it. . . . My main message was about the importance of finding your passion, and then, if possible, following through and turning it into a career.”

The Road to Southern

“During my application process, I decided that Southern was my first choice, primarily because I am extremely close with my family and wanted to study close to home. I also have a job and volunteer with my church, which I didn’t want to give up. I was able to keep doing all the things I loved and still go to a great school.”

Best Part of Being an Owl

“I like all of the activities. It’s so easy to get involved. Southern really focuses on student involvement.”

Well Rounded

On campus, she’s joined the Intervarsity Southern Christian Fellowship and the Program Council, which organizes entertainment and educational activities for students and the community. She also is active at her church, serving as a teen leader and a lead singer.

Advice to Students

“Find the reason behind what you’re doing . . . something that motivates you. Then all of the hard work — the studying, the note taking, the homework — becomes easier.”

 

Miguel Diaz, Class of 2020

On his High School Valedictory Speech

“In the beginning of the speech, I was really nervous. But as I went on, I felt more comfortable. It was basically inspirational . . . to keep moving forward. You never know what you’ll be able to accomplish in life.”

The Road to Southern

“I wanted to major in Spanish secondary education, and I heard that Southern was a great school for teachers. It also was close to me, and I wanted to commute.”

He’s looking forward to ____________:

“Joining a club or organization at Southern . . . perhaps, OLAS [Organization of Latin American Students].”  He also is active at his church, serving as a teen leader, and playing guitar and piano.

Advice to Students

“I would say to really focus on school. In the end it will definitely pay off — and always remember that you can do more than you think can.”

Southern’s nursing program is ranked among the top 10 percent in the country, according to a prominent online resource for future nursing students.

NursingSchoolsAlmanac.com lists SCSU among its ranked programs, a distinction granted to only about one in 10 nursing schools that it assessed throughout the nation. A total of 3,200 such programs were evaluated.

It ranks SCSU 23rd in New England – which places the program among the top 20 percent of schools in this six-state region.

NursingSchoolsAlmanac.com lauds SCSU for its 90-percent pass rate on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), the test that a nursing student must pass to attain a license.

It also notes that the university’s Accelerated Career Entry (ACE) program students garnered a pass rate of between 93 and 100 percent on the NCLEX since 2010. ACE is geared toward students who are looking to make a career change into nursing.

“In addition, the most recent graduating class of the family nurse practitioner M.S.N. (Master of Science in nursing) program displayed a 100-percent pass rate on the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners exam,” the publication states.

Lisa Rebeschi, chairwoman of the SCSU Nursing Department, said she was pleased to learn about the report and ranking of the program.

“The recognition from an outside organization speaks to the quality of the program at SCSU,” Rebeschi said. “Our student outcomes — including our first-time NCLEX-RN pass rate, program completion, and employment rates, have remained strong over the years.”

In addition to success on the NCLEX exam, criteria used by NursingSchoolsAlmanac.com include an institution’s academic prestige and perceived value, as well as breadth and depth of nursing programs offered.

SCSU’s nursing program began in 1969, when about 20 students were taught by two faculty members. The first 13 graduates of the program got their diplomas in 1973. Since then, the program has grown exponentially. Today, it averages more than 200 students, awarding both undergraduate and graduate degrees. Southern – in partnership with Western Connecticut State University – began offering an Ed.D. in nursing education in 2012. At the undergraduate level, more than 850 students have declared themselves nursing or pre-nursing majors.

 

 

Nursing Grads

A half dozen Southern students have received their doctoral diplomas in nursing education – the first group of students to earn that designation from the university.

The students participated in the winter graduate commencement exercises at the Lyman Center for the Performing Arts. The undergraduate commencement ceremony was held earlier in the day.

The Ed.D. (Doctor of Education) in nursing education program was launched in 2012 as a collaborative effort with Western Connecticut State University in Danbury. The six SCSU contingent is among a group of 14 students who have completed their degree requirements at the two universities.

“It is exciting to have our first graduates receive their degrees,” said Lisa Rebeschi, chairwoman of the Nursing Department. “Each has worked diligently in their pursuit of developing the science of nursing education. The students have completed dissertation studies that add to the body of knowledge with regard to teaching and learning in nursing education.

“Our faculty are extremely proud of their significant accomplishments,” she said. “We are confident that these alumni will continue to have a significant impact within higher education.”

The program is geared toward individuals with a master’s degree who would like to teach nursing. It typically takes students about three years to complete the 51 credits needed. The students take the classes part time so that they can continue working while they pursue their degree.

Rebeschi said enrolled students come with varied professional backgrounds and have previously demonstrated clinical expertise in nursing practice.

“The structure of the program allowed me to continue working as an advanced practice registered nurse while completing my degree, thus lowering the financial impact on my family,” said Philip Martinez, who works at Middlesex Hospital in the Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine. He also serves as a specialty coordinator for the Graduate Entry Prespecialty in Nursing (GEPN) program at the Yale School of Nursing.

“I am quite proud of being in the first cohort of graduates and plan on using my degree to continue teaching in the university setting, while continuing my research on the academic needs of second degree nursing students in accelerated nursing programs,” he said.

Rebeschi said Linda Roney, who became the first student to complete the degree program when she successfully defended her dissertation in August, is another example of someone with valuable clinical experience. Roney served as the pediatric trauma program coordinator at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital from 2009-2014. She currently serves as a full-time faculty member in the Fairfield University School of Nursing, while maintaining her practice as a clinical nurse at Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital Bridgeport campus.

Most nursing doctoral programs in the country fall under the Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) or D.N.P. (Doctor of Nursing Practice) designations. The former focuses on research, while the latter centers on clinical skills.

But the Ed.D. program is geared toward developing nursing teachers and was one of only a handful in the country when launched. It is designed to address a state and national shortage of nursing faculty. With such a shortage, it is difficult for colleges and universities to maintain or expand their nursing programs, even though there is both a serious need for more nurses and increasing student interest.

“I want to congratulate the faculty of both (SCSU and WCSU) nursing programs, particularly those faculty who have been engaged in the development and implementation of this program from its inception,” said Greg Paveza, dean of the School of Graduate Studies. “I also want to express my appreciation to my fellow deans and provosts both here and at Western, past and present, for the time and energy also devoted to ensuring the success of this program.”

 

Barbara Aronson (left) and Lisa Rebeschi (center) of the Nursing Department are recognized by the Connecticut Nursing Collaborative Action Coalition for their efforts to improve the quality of nursing education in Connecticut. Also pictured is Marianne Kennedy, former associate vice president for academic affairs.

Two nursing faculty members at Southern were honored recently by the Connecticut Nursing Collaborative Action Coalition (CNC-AC) for their effort to eliminate the gap between academia and real world practice.

Lisa Rebeschi, chairwoman of the SCSU Nursing Department, and Barbara Aronson, coordinator of SCSU’s nursing doctoral program, were presented awards at the CNC-AC’s Education Summit held at the Yale School of Nursing.

A recent initiative, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, seeks to minimize the divide and better prepare students to be nurses. Nurses and nursing faculty at SCSU, Gateway Community College and Yale-New Haven Hospital worked collaboratively on the project.

The project enabled faculty to analyze their curricula, as well as real world patient care, leadership, technology, communication and teamwork, safety, quality improvement and evidence-based practice. The goal is to better prepare nursing students with the knowledge, skills and attitudes to provide high quality and effective care.

The analysis also assists in identifying the educational needs of associate degree nursing students who begin baccalaureate nursing degree programs.

More than 175 recommendations were made and an action plan developed to implement many of these strategies during the next several years.

Sandra Bulmer, interim dean of the SCSU School of Health and Human Services, said Rebeschi and Aronson have made substantial contributions that will have benefit the future of nursing education in Connecticut.

“Their wealth of experience as nurse educators in public institutions added important perspectives to the work of the CNC-AC,” Bulmer said.

“Their leadership positions at our institution uniquely position them to take immediate action to begin implementation of curricular changes that will benefit our students and improve the quality of patient care in our healthcare settings.”