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Maria Krol, associate professor of nursing and BSN director

The new BSN program director at Southern Connecticut State University, Maria Krol, has witnessed life at its most fragile. But Associate Professor of Nursing Krol, who has been a nurse for almost 30 years in the field of maternal child health — and in the neonatal intensive care unit — has seen some of those dire cases grow into the most healthful, and she plans to bring the knowledge, strength, and humanness needed to navigate those situations to her new role.

“I’ve been a nurse since 1990,” Krol said. “In the NICU, I always feel that parents are so courageous and that babies have such a battle. Sometimes we think it’s going to be the worst outcome, but they end up having the best life. Being able to help and give parents the ability to take home their babies is an honor.”

At the same time, she acknowledged that it isn’t always easy.

“When you think your life is bad,” she said, “you see these babies who have to undergo so much.” The parents, doctors, and nurses who care for those babies in critical condition undergo their own trauma as well and Krol is frank when people tell her, “I couldn’t do that.”

“It’s true, not everyone could do it,” she said. “There’s a lot to being a nurse. I’m current in my nursing practice. It makes me a better educator.”

Maria Krol

Krol was born in Peru and has lived in the United States for more than 30 years. She began her nursing career at Bridgeport Hospital School of Nursing in the 1990s, and then her teaching career at BHSN in 2006. She knew from the beginning that the field of maternal child health was where she wanted to be, in a most-encompassing way: She didn’t just want to care for babies but rather, she wanted to help families learn the best way to care for those babies.

“When the nurse lets a family participate in care, you help parents gain confidence and trust themselves,” she said. “They touch and care differently. The babies grow and heal differently.”

She started teaching at Southern in 2012 and now works as a nurse at Stamford Hospital, where she has been for 17 years. It was there, in Stamford, that Krol’s work in the NICU took on extra urgency. The city recorded more than 2,300 cases of COVID-19 — the highest in Connecticut — and some of those cases were new mothers.

“For any pregnant woman who was positive, the baby went to NICU right away,” Krol said. “Was it scary? Yes. But does it stop us from going to work? No. These babies are separated from their parents, and no one else can visit. It was up to us, the nurses, to provide loving care to our tiny patients being affected by this virus.”

To Krol, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed society not just to the sad realities of the illness, but to troubling inequalities in the healthcare system.

“More and more, you see the disparity in healthcare with minorities,” Krol said. “One of things people don’t understand is that some people have to choose between feeding their families and possibly infecting their families because they can’t work from home. COVID has brought a light that there are health disparities. We need to address that. We can’t go on thinking that we’re a nation that provides equity when we don’t even provide health equity.”

More specifically, Krol feels that the field of nursing, too, suffers from imbalances.

“While I’m grateful for the free lunches and gratitude, nursing has a lot of problems and COVID has shown the light on how nurses are treated in hospitals and how important it is for us to advocate for nurses,” Krol said. “And Latinos are less than 10 percent of the nurses in the workforce. I want to bring them to Southern, where they can see themselves in this role.”

As a teacher and nurse and now, as BSN director in the nursing program, she has been and will continue to advocate for just that.

“Ten years ago, I started a National Association of Hispanic Nurses chapter at Bridgeport [Hospital School of Nursing], while working there, encouraging students to join,” she said. “When I came to Southern, I started a student chapter, but this year I encouraged students to select a title that was much more diverse. We needed to be more inclusive. This year we are the Multicultural Healthcare Leaders. I want there to be representation.”

An incident that stands out to Krol is particularly telling of her capabilities both within the hospital and the classroom. In the early 2000s, she was able to visit a NICU baby who had been in her care months earlier. In the NICU, the newborn hadn’t been able to breathe independently; he was inflated by high calories and steroids so he would have the protein needed to breathe. It was a difficult sight to see, but within six months of being home, he was sitting up on his own.

“It was so rewarding,” Krol said. “Every time I take care of a baby, I feel like I’m helping a family get there. So they can achieve on their own. So they don’t need my help anymore.”

In Krol’s new role, that same philosophy — of helping one grow and achieve — will continue to inspire nursing students for years to come.

Dr. Maria Krol is president and founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses; a member of the National Engagement Committee; President of the MuBeta Chapter of the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing; a member of the President’s Commission on Social Justice-Recognition Committee; and Advisor to the Multicultural Healthcare Leaders.

 

✉️ Deliver to:

Dr. Barbara Aronson
Professor of Nursing & Ed.D. Coordinator
Department of Nursing


Dear Professor,

This past semester I was faced with a very stressful family event. While on campus to see my dissertation chair, you happened to see me waiting and inquired how I was doing. I am sure youdid not expect to hear the story I told youBut you listened with kindness and understanding. You offered some supportive suggestions to help me not only manage this time in my life, but to put my educational goals into perspective. Throughout this semester you have been a source of guidance. When faced with a decision to possibly withdraw from the program, you took it upon yourself to seek out a solution that I was not able to see. You have been a source of guidance during a time of darkness in my personal life. I find that I look to you for help, but also find that I want to prove to you that I can make it through this challenging time. I am grateful to have you as my advisor. You have gone out of your way to show me that having balance is essential. It is so apparent that you truly care.

Thank you,
Deborah Morrill


About Barbara Aronson

Favorite Teaching Moment(s):

Some of my most favorite teaching memories happen after the long process of helping my students write, conduct and defend their dissertations. As I watch them on the podium during the defense, nothing can match the pride I feel for my students, knowing how hard they have worked and the many obstacles and frustrations they have overcome. Being a part of their dissertation journey, and watching them transition from novice researchers to emerging scholars, is one of the most rewarding experiences I have had as a faculty member at SCSU.

Teaching Philosophy:

I believe good teaching is student-centered and grounded in evidence-based teaching practices and theories of teaching and learning. Excellent teachers set high expectations for students and encourage students to be active partners in their own learning and development as a practitioner or teacher/scholar. Providing prompt feedback to students and opportunities for ongoing student/faculty interaction and collaborative problem solving will prepare students to be innovators in their future practice. Active teaching practices encourage students to be self-directed and accountable for their learning. Teachers who role model professionalism, caring, curiosity, respect and humility in their teaching and interactions with students prepare students to extend the same virtues to their patients or students in their future practice.

Favorite Course to Teach:

One of my favorite courses to teach is Theories of Teaching and Learning in Adult and Higher Education. This is one of the very first courses our Ed.D. in Nursing Education students take in the program. While they are understandably overwhelmed by the amount of work in the course, they quickly come to realize how helpful learning about educational theories can be to them in their role as academic nurse educators. What is most gratifying to me as a teacher is to hear how they are using what they are learning each week to improve their teaching. As one student said, “The knowledge and understanding of adult learning theory I gained in this class has had a tremendous impact on my teaching and course design. I have begun to incorporate the different theories into my class presentations. I now see the students as a unique, multi-generational, multicultural set of learners. This course has also shifted my framework from my teaching to student learning.”

Recent Courses Taught:

  • NUR 432: Adult Responses to Complex Health Problems
  • NUR 443: Nursing Capstone
  • NUR 801: Theories of Teaching and Learning in Adult and Higher Education
  • NUR 803: Curriculum Development, Implementation, and Evaluation in Nursing
  • NUR 813: Dissertation Seminar I
  • NUR 814: Dissertation Seminar II
  • NUR 817: Continuing Dissertation Advisement

Karen Reyes Benzi, RN

Described by her mentors as exemplifying Florence Nightingale’s vision of nursing, Karen Reyes Benzi, RN, was named Yale New Haven Hospital’s 2019 Magnet Nurse of the Year on July 3 for her outstanding contributions to the field of nursing. Benzi is a Navy veteran, an infusion nurse at Yale New Haven Hospital’s Smilow Cancer Center, and a student in Southern’s RN to BSN online program. Benzi has helped many patients who are also veterans access services from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and other organizations.

Benzi began the BSN program uncertain if she would have the self-discipline to complete a course load fully online, but she was quick to find her footing. She has gained a new level of courage, she says, as she has submitted a clinical nurse II package this past October. “It was tough writing it all up but I could see how school was helping me see things differently,” Benzi wrote in an email voicing her gratitude to her professors at Southern. She also expresses her desire to mentor others, and she has been succeeding at it. Benzi writes, “Two women I mentor via the Literacy Volunteers of Greater New Haven successfully finished their first semester at Gateway Community College.”

Benzi’s latest accolade is one of many, according to Dr. Kim Lacey, RN-BSN program director. “In May 2019, Karen received the Immaculata Alba Excellence in Nursing Award,” Lacey says, “which was recommended by SCSU nursing faculty for her demonstrated high degree of excellence in nursing, and she was also the recipient of the Nightingale Award for Excellence in Nursing, a prestigious award that recognizes nurses who have demonstrated exceptional nursing practice and strive to advance the profession.”

Lacey recognizes Benzi’s unique, hardworking, and compassionate approach, explaining, “The effort that [Benzi] puts into her work is beyond expectations and not achievable by all students. Her level of commitment to nursing and her advocacy, especially for her patients, is exceptional.” Regarding Benzi’s status as a Navy veteran, Lacey comments, “She is able to bring a perspective to the classroom unlike others in her peer group. Be it her experience in the military, a woman in the VA system, or as a nurse, she offers insight into nursing and healthcare that is eye-opening at times, but at the very least, makes one pause to consider.”

SCSU Nursing Department Chair Cheryl Resha comments, “Karen is a shining example of the benefits of an RN to BSN program. She has not only applied her learning to advance high-quality patient care, but she has shown how furthering her education can advanced her career and leadership potential.”

The RN to BSN program at Southern is dedicated to offering individualized attention to students and considers the rich background of experience of the RN in terms of both clinical and classroom settings. The faculty and staff recognize the unique experiences that these nurses bring to the program and build on these experiences through leadership, informatics, evidence-based practices, and advanced clinical concepts.

Members of the class of 2018 in the BSN nursing program

The Nursing Department has been informed by the State Board of Nurse Examiners that the traditional BSN degree program graduates of 2018 had a 100 percent first-time pass rate with NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses). Although Southern’s pass rate last year was remarkable at 95 percent — the highest of all public nursing programs in Connecticut, including UCONN — this is the first time since 2008 that graduates of the 4-year traditional program have achieved 100 percent.

The 2018 first-time pass rate for ACE (Accelerated Career Entry) program graduates was 96.77 percent and first-time FNP (Family Nurse Practitioner) certification pass rate was 91.7 percent, also excellent results.

Associate Professor of Nursing Lisa Rebeschi, department chair, says, “I could not be any more proud of the students and my faculty colleagues. The success of the SCSU Nursing Department is a true testament to the commitment and talent of our students and the dedicated faculty who are privileged to learn with and from them. I must also recognize the incredible support from University administrators who have provided the Department with the necessary resources required for academic excellence in nursing education.”

In light of the stellar performance of Southern’s nursing grads, the website RN Careers has written: “Congratulations to @southernct for being one of the best ranked nursing programs in the country and the #1 best ranked nursing program in Connecticut for 2019 with an impressive overall ranking of 99.26%.

“Our 4th annual competition looked at 1,949 nursing programs and ranked them on metrics such as first-time NCLEX passing rates, accreditation, and more.

https://www.rncareers.org/rn-programs/connecticut/

“Share and Like this accomplishment earned by Southern Connecticut State University for preparing some of the best nurses in the country.”

 

 

 

 

Southern nursing students and community health workers from Project Access join forces at DESK in New Haven. (Photo courtesy of Community Foundation for Greater New Haven)

At the Downtown Evening Soup Kitchen (DESK), students from Southern’s Department of Nursing, along with community health workers from Project Access, participate in Know Your Numbers, a partnership that provides screenings, referrals, and patient navigation in the form of follow-ups. DESK is the first agency in New Haven to pilot the program, as a partnership with Yale New Haven Health and CARE (Community Alliance for Research and Engagement), which is based at Southern’s School of Health and Human Services (HHS). Because the people who come to DESK are often dealing with multiple problems related to living in poverty, DESK has established partnerships with other organizations to offer additional services during the mealtimes.

Learn more here:
https://www.cfgnh.org/About/NewsEvents/ViewArticle/tabid/96/ArticleId/1793/More-than-a-meal.aspx

SHARK TANK - "Episode 1008" - First into the Tank is a husband and wife team from Newtown, Connecticut, who pitch their simple and brilliant rooftop assistance design that helps access your vehicle's roof with one easy step. SUNDAY, JAN. 6 (9:00-10:01 p.m. EST), on The ABC Television Network. (ABC/Eric McCandless) LORI GREINER, ALYSSA BROWN AND ZACHARY BROWN (MOKI DOORSTEP)

Alyssa (Weskolowski) Brown, ’11,  is singing a very different shark song than the rest of the world. The SCSU nursing graduate and her husband, Zach, walked away from ABC’s shark tank as newly minted millionaires after pitching their invention on the show last week.

According to CNBC.com,  “Zach, a firefighter, and Alyssa, an emergency room nurse, always enjoyed outdoor activities, like kayaking. There was just one problem: When they’d transport their kayaks (or bikes or snowboards) on the roof of their car, 5-foot-tall Alyssa would struggle to reach the roof to help take the gear down.

It inspired the couple to create the Moki Door Step, essentially a small step that attaches to the u-shaped latch in your vehicle’s open door so you can reach the roof. It currently sells for $44.95.”

Go Owls!

    Three SCSU nursing students working together in nursing lab

    A new agreement between Southern and the state’s community colleges will make it easier for those with an associate degree in nursing to earn a bachelor’s degree in that field.

    Students who are accepted into the nursing program at one of the community colleges will automatically be offered admission into SCSU’s R.N. to B.S.N. program.

    This agreement – which was launched during the fall — comes at a time when hospitals and other health-care providers are placing increasing emphasis on bachelor’s degrees when hiring nurses. It also is designed to address a national push for 80 percent of all registered nurses to have a bachelor’s degree.

    “We have 75 students who accepted this invitation this fall,” said Lisa Rebeschi, chairwoman of the SCSU Nursing Department. “These students started this semester at one of the community colleges. Upon completion of their associate degree and passing the test to gain a license as a registered nurse, they can begin taking classes at Southern. In the meantime, they are welcome – even encouraged – to use our facilities and resources, such as use of the library.”

    While credits earned at the community colleges already were accepted at SCSU, there had been no guarantee the students would be admitted into the nursing program at SCSU. And although students always could apply to SCSU after obtaining an associate degree, relatively few did.

    Rebeschi also said studies show that patients who are treated by nurses with a bachelor’s degree tend to have better treatment outcomes.

    In addition, the new program will increase the number of nursing students at SCSU. In turn, that will help boost SCSU’s enrollment, as well as address the national nursing shortage.

    SCSU – a statewide leader in the field of training nurses – offers a variety of programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

    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.”