The NSNA Stellar School Award is a prestigious recognition, one that students and faculty have been working towards for the past few years. It is an honorary distinction that the UConn School of Nursing will hold for five years. The title was conferred at the NSNA 71st Annual Convention in Nashville, TN. SNA advisor, Dr. Jean Coffey, UConn School of Nursing Chapter President Rachel Hage, along with seven other chapter members were in attendance to accept the award. Dr. Coffey stated, “As we prepare our students to begin their career in nursing, leadership skills are a key component of their successful transition to practice and ongoing contribution to the community and the profession. The students who participated in our SNA have demonstrated leadership at the school, state, and national level. Working with students from Sacred Heart University they have begun to revitalize the state-wide SNA chapter.”
Gabby Pawlak, UConn Nursing class of 23’, served as the schools’ delegate at the convention. Gabby worked with fellow students from Drexel to write up a resolution, similar to crafting a bill, titled, Increasing Awareness on the Impact of Supportive Nurse Leadership on Nursing Job Satisfaction and Retention. This was approved unanimously by the 335 delegates present. Gabby reflects that “NSNA was a really interesting experience for me. I had never really been interested in the judicial side of things, so it was totally different for me. We were able to do a combined resolution with Drexel University and we also received pro-statements from other schools supporting our resolution, which was passed. It was really fulfilling to receive that support from other schools. It was also cool to see everyone debate different resolutions and whether they should be passed or not to represent NSNA. A lot of them were education based in prevention of future illnesses. Coffey herself said that it was an “incredible honor to spend time with these students to represent the school.”
The Stellar School Program recognizes NSNA school chapters that display a strong commitment to shared governance and professional development of students and faculty across NSNA. Membership requires that an applying chapter provide documentation of its competency in five distinct areas: maintaining constituency status with NSNA for at least the five previous years, professionally developing students through NSNA, facilitating participation in NSNA, being involved with NSNA committees’ work, and engendering school support of NSNA membership. Current Chapter President Rachel Hage reflects, “I am very grateful for the experiences being President of SNA has brought me, of which include attending the NSNA Convention. While reflecting on my time in Nashville, I see great importance in getting involved at both the state and national levels. This is truly something that I wish I had been able to participate in sooner. Activities at the convention included NCLEX prep, inspirational speakers, various focus sessions, pharmacology-made-easy courses, and networking exhibit halls. The House of Delegates, where we presented an evidence-based resolution along with multiple schools across the country, was very informative on ‘hot topics’ in the nursing profession. My favorite part, however, was leading our first CT Caucus meeting. I think being able to connect with your peers from around the state is incredibly beneficial to furthering our professional development. We have so much to learn from each other, which was evident in my very short time at the convention. I am excited for the future of our state chapter as well as the big things UConn is going to do as a newly recognized Stellar School. Attending the convention allowed me to further develop my leadership skills and I hope UConn will continue to send representatives each year. I would love for other students to have the opportunity to continue the projects I have diligently worked on in my two years in this role.”
Our students, many of whom have graduated, have been working hard to make this goal a reality for the School of Nursing since 2018. Jacqueline Santos, former president of our chapter, remembers when she and then-Vice President Justin Pedneault first “got the ball rolling” on the application process. It all started by “sitting at round table discussions with Dr. Bourassa,” the School of Nursing’s Stellar School’s previous advisor, “and my fellow students brainstorming as to how we could make this possible,” says former student Emily Mankus. Current Vice President Abby Mullen reflects that attending the convention “was an experience that I will carry with me throughout the rest of my nursing career. It was an absolute honor to represent the University of Connecticut at the national level during the convention, and the opportunities I was exposed to will make me a better nurse because of them. It was such a pleasure to plan and coordinate the ins and outs of the trip, and I’m so proud of the final product! Becoming an NSNA Stellar School and working to have our Resolution passed within the House of Delegates was such an incredible experience. The opening and closing ceremonies and their speakers were so inspiring, and I was in awe to see the sheer amount of well-established and awarded nursing students from all across America in the room with me!”
Santos and Pedneault, alongside fellow chapter members, realized the importance of utilizing the “resources, such as scholarship programs and presentations,” that NSNA provided, the former said when learning of the school’s admittance into the Program. Pedneault attended the annual conventions three years in a row and knew instantly that further integration into NSNA was imperative. The forum allows students a space to present their research, network with other schools, and “attend educational sessions,” he said.
Over the ensuing five years, students carried on the desires of these early leaders. Now officially a stellar school in the eyes of NSNA, our chapter has been recognized through the awarding of a plaque and a place on NSNA’s website. However, material honors such as these would mean nothing without the opportunities that this development provides for our students now and in the future. “Celebrating the SNA award is a testament to what we can do as nurses, as we carry the torch for each other” said Dr. Bourassa.
UConn is one of 42 universities in the nation to have attained membership in the NSNA Stellar School Chapter Recognition Program. “The UConn SNA went above and beyond the past two years under the skillful leadership of Rachel Hage. Her work and dedication brought the school to recognition as a Stellar School, a process that has taken many years to achieve. The UConn SNA is an amazing group of individuals who bring energy and passion to the work they do. The future of nursing is bright because of them” -Dr. Coffey.
Student Writer, Zachary Rowe contributed to this report.