The UConn School of Nursing held its commencement ceremony at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts this past Saturday, May 6th, 2023. The School celebrated 120 Bachelor of Science graduates, as well as 55 Masters of Science, 15 Doctor of Nursing Practice and 8 Doctor of Philosophy graduates.
The School’s Certificate Entry into the Nursing Program commencement was held in December with a graduating class of 137 from Avery Point, Waterbury, Stamford, and the Storrs campus.
As the Class of 2023 set the stage to graduate, it was important to reflect back on their incoming to the University. After arriving at UConn, their lives were interrupted by the pandemic, shutting down the University and sending everyone to remote learning or hybrid for the next two years. Although the pandemic did change the expectations of many, it drastically changed the path for the School of Nursing students. Throughout the spring and summer of 2021, School of Nursing students and faculty participated in over 90 vaccination-related initiatives. The School partnered with community health centers, and assisted in administering nearly 1,600 vaccines. “This is a historic time, and they did not shy away from volunteering to help others become protected from the virus. Communities are safer and healthier now, and I am honored that the School had even a small role in making that happen” Dean Chyun commented in a November 2021 interview. Over 70 School of Nursing students took part in the vaccine clinics, along with 15 faculty members. Many said it was a life-changing experience. At Saturday’s commencement, Dean Chuyn reflected on this time “Today’s graduates have all faced challenges that none of us could have anticipated. They have seen pain and suffering and loss, both in the clinical setting and in their own personal lives. You are all a gift to the world. The gift of giving of self, of caring and of service.”
Despite the disruption to their college experience, these students prevailed. The graduating class of 23’ includes 12 Honors Students, one of which accomplished securing a prestigious recognition for the School of Nursing. Rachel Hage, along with her advisor Dr. Coffey, and seven other chapter members were in attendance to accept the National Student Nurses Association Stellar School Award on April 15th at the SNA 71st Annual Convention in Nashville, TN. Gabby Pawlak, UConn Nursing class of 23’, served as the schools’ delegate at the convention. The NSNA Stellar School Award is a prestigious recognition, one that students and faculty have been working towards for the past few years. Hage reflected “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.” All of their hard work will remain with the honorary distinction that the UConn School of Nursing will hold for the next five years. This year, out of the 12 Honors Scholar students, we had three who earned the distinction of Honors Laureate: Rachel Hage, Karla Palma, and Megan Russell and one as University Scholar, Leah Graf.
This year’s commencement honored two commencement speakers, Dr. Cesarina Thompson, PhD, RN, ANEF, FASAHP and Dr. Jessica Alicea-Planas, PhD, MS/MPH, RN, CHES. Dr. Cesarina Thompson is Dean of the College of Education, Nursing and Health Professions at the University of Hartford, a position she has held since 2018. She was previously Dean for six years of the School of Health Sciences at American International College (AIC) in Springfield, MA. Dr. Thompson has been involved in several state and national organizations and task forces focused on advancing nursing and other health professions. She serves as a site visitor/team leader for the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, served on the Board of Directors of the Association of Schools Advancing Health Professions and was inducted as a fellow in the organization in 2021, and is a member of Sigma Theta Tau International. Dr. Thompson holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Bridgeport and earned a Master of Science in Nursing and PhD in Adult Learning from the University of Connecticut. Dr. Thompon is the recipient of the Beverly Koerner Outstanding Alumni Award for Education in Nursing.
Dr. Jessica Alicea-Planas is Associate Professor at the Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies at Fairfield University, where she served previously as Director of the Undergraduate Public Health program. Dr. Aliciea-Planas has a distinguished record of service including being the current President of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses- CT chapter. She has also served as a board member for the Hispanic Health Council and as Communications and Networking Committee Chair for the Latina Researchers Network. She has served on AACN’s Essentials Work Group and their Diversity, Equity an inclusion Work Group. Dr. Alicea-Planas was a past recipient of Fairfield University’s Faculty Award for Excellence in Community Engagement. Dr. Alicea-Planas is the 2023 recipient of the The Marlene Kramer Outstanding Alumni Award for Research in Nursing.
The Josephine A. Dolan School of Nursing Distinguished Service Award was given to Captain Angela Martinelli who was unable to attend. Captain Martinelli is currently on staff at the Yale-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut. Prior to moving to Connecticut, she was a Science Officer in the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs, United States Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, U.S. Department of Defense. As a Certified Operating Room Nurse, Dr. Martinelli has worked in this clinical arena since 1975. Since 1993, she has been a nurse with Operating Smile International serving in a variety of countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, South and Central America, and the Caribbean. In addition, Dr. Martinelli is a nurse with Project Hope and was deployed to Puerto Rico in 2017 in response to Hurricane Maria. Dr. Martinelli is the author of several papers, textbook chapters, and is a reviewer of professional manuscripts. She is a member of the Connecticut Medical Reserve Corps, Region 5 and represents USPHS nurses on the Military Officers of America Association Nurse Advocates Virtual Chapter (MUSNAVC).
Amongst all of the award recipients the School had two Valedictorians, Jenna Joshi and Isabelle Ranaudo. The Senior Class Officers consisted of Jillian Rogers, President, Megan Mendoza, Vice President, Lillian Satlof, Secretary, Tiana Rojas, Treasurer, Catherine Cantelmo, Community Service Coordinator and Jose Rodriguez Fundraising. Carolyn Ladd Widmer Undergraduate Leadership Award went to Rachel Hage and The Clara Williams Holistic Nurse Award to Jillian Rogers. The Sigma Theta Tau Awards went to Jenna Joshi (UG), Danielle Rosenberg (MS), Thea Vo (PhD), Bliss DaSilva (DNP). The Regina M. Cusson Healthcare Innovations Award to Sandra Osei-Boasiako. Assistant Clinical Professor and Director of the Nursing Leader and Nursing Educator tracks Denise Bourassa was the recipient of the E. Carol Polifroni Scholarship of Praxis Award. The John McNulty Excellence in the Scholarship of Clinical Education Award was givento Laura Eiss, Clinical Instructor at the School of Nursing. All of these award recipients and more can be found on our Commencement website.
Congratulations to all of the graduates at the UConn School of Nursing and the rest of the UConn graduates who walked this past weekend. As Dean Chyun said in her closing remarks “As our ceremony ends and your life of learning continues, take the spirit of inquiry, that has brought you to us and fueled your academic success, out into a world that trusts you and needs you, now more than ever. You are the future. You are our best hope. I am confident that the nursing profession and the health of the nation and beyond is, indeed, in good hands.”
“Students Today. Huskies Forever.”
To become a member of the UConn School of Nursing Alumni Association please contact: Becky Salustri, Senior Director of Development, Schools of Nursing and Pharmacy at BSalustri@foundation.uconn.edu
*All photography provided by Lindsay Vigue Photography.