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Convocation Welcomes New Students, Celebrates Award Winners

  By Gianluca D'Elia
  Wednesday, September 6, 2023

The University of Rochester School of Nursing marked the first day of school for the academic year at its Fall 2023 Convocation Ceremony on Sept. 5.

The School welcomed nearly 200 new students to the school — including its largest accelerated bachelor's cohort in program history — and celebrated its annual student award winners.

“You are here today because of your potential to contribute to the nursing profession — and we couldn’t be more confident in that potential,” School of Nursing Dean Lisa Kitko, PhD, RN, FAHA, FAAN, told an auditorium full of new and returning students. “In this journey, you become part of a cohort of students at the School who are already spearheading meaningful and transformative initiatives that are shaping the very landscape of health care.”

This academic year brings major milestones: the incoming cohort of accelerated bachelor’s students is the largest to date, with almost 90 aspiring nurses. It’s among the most academically accomplished and diverse in the School’s history. About 42 percent of students are from underrepresented background, are 19 percent are men. Nearly half of them are part of the inaugural cohort of UR Nursing Scholars, and have committed to working at Strong Memorial and Highland hospitals after graduation. 

Students in the accelerated bachelor’s program — which is tailored to support non-nurses starting a new career — bring a wide range of professional backgrounds as educators, researchers, firefighters, attorneys, patient care technicians, marketing professionals, and more.

The School also welcomed more than 100 new students in its RN to BS, master’s and doctoral programs, including 13 new doctoral students from three countries who are beginning their journeys to advance nursing science and practice.

Across all academic programs, the School of Nursing’s newest students come from many points on the map, including other states such as California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Texas, and Oregon; and countries across the world, including Ghana, India, Jamaica, Serbia, Uzbekistan, and more. 

At the Convocation event, students were also greeted with welcome messages from University of Rochester President Sarah Mangelsdorf, Medical Center CEO and Dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry Mark Taubman, MD, and Provost David Figlio.

“Nursing is a role that makes an extraordinary contribution to the communities where you will live and work,” Mangelsdorf said, expressing her appreciation and respect for nurses. “As graduates of the School of Nursing, you will represent compassion, care, and commitment in ways that will make an enormous difference in the lives of your patients and their families.”

Lydia Rotondo, DNP, RN, CNS, FNAP, associate dean for education and student affairs, presented this year's awards to six returning undergraduate and graduate students. Awards were presented to the following students:

Clare Dennison Prize

The Clare Dennison Prize, which recognizes outstanding proficiency in general nursing care, was awarded to bachelor’s student Ward Kukol, who returned to school following his first bachelor’s degree in biology. Kukol previously worked as a patient care technician, and was inspired to become a nurse after working in acute care during the COVID-19 pandemic. He hopes to work either in an ICU or in psychiatric and mental health nursing after completing his bachelor’s.

Eleanor Hall Award

Master’s of Nursing Education student Erin Sabo, RN, BSN, CCRN, received the Eleanor Hall Award, which recognizes an outstanding master’s student. Sabo has been a cardiac ICU nurse at Golisano Children’s Hospital for 8 years, and has taught nursing courses at St. John Fisher and Roberts Wesleyan universities. Years of serving as a mentor to new hires, interns, and nursing students helped Erin discover a passion for teaching, and also earned her the Children’s Hospital’s 2022 Preceptor of the Year Award.

Michele Unger Leadership Award

Stacey Esposito, RN, BSN, nurse manager for vascular quality assurance at the University of Rochester Medical Center, received the Michele Unger Leadership Award. The award recognizes a Leadership In Health Care Systems master’s student who exemplifies the life character of Michele Unger, the former LHCS program director and a beloved nurse leader at Strong Memorial Hospital who passed away 10 years ago. Esposito has been a nurse at URMC for 24 years, and also serves as the lead data manager for the Vascular Study Group of Greater New York, a regional collaboration between 45 New York hospitals that seeks to improve the quality, safety, effectiveness and cost of vascular care.

Katharine Donohue Scholarly Practitioner Award

Nasim Hanif Hurd, MS, RN, received the Katharine Donohue Scholarly Practitioner Award, which is presented to a doctoral student prepared as a nurse practitioner who has undertaken research focused on improving the well-being of the population they serve. Hurd is a Loretta Ford Fellow and a combined MS-PhD student, pursuing the Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner specialty. He is a University of Rochester alumnus who earned an accelerated bachelor’s in nursing in 2015, and holds a master's degree in conflict resolution from Portland State University. Nasim currently practices as a psychiatric nurse at Strong Memorial Hospital.

Jill Thayer Dissertation Award

Sandy (Zhihong) Zhang, MS, RN, received the Jill Thayer Award, which is presented to a doctoral student whose research demonstrates a commitment to personalizing or enhancing health care encounters and access to health care. Zhang is a doctoral student who is interested in examining resilience in symptom trajectory in older adults with advanced cancer who are going through treatment. Zhang’s work has earned support from Sigma Theta Tau and the Oncology Nursing Society, and she is also an active member of both organizations. Since joining the PhD program, Zhang has already published seven articles as a first author.

George Spencer Terry Jr. B’49 Endowed Fund in Nursing

Alexis Munding, NP, received the George Spencer Terry Jr. B’49 Endowed Fund in Nursing Award. This award is given to a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) student who is developing innovative solutions to challenges facing nurses, health care providers, and students. Munding earned her master’s at the School of Nursing in 2017 and works as an adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner at the University of Rochester Medical Center. Munding is also an adjunct faculty member at the Wegmans School of Nursing at St. John Fisher University. She is a past recipient of the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Board Excellence Award. For her DNP scholarly project, Alexis will be looking at predictors of discharge against medical advice (AMA) to prevent poor outcomes and hospital readmission.

Loretta C. Ford Fellowship

Incoming doctoral student Jodi Lea Brown was awarded the Loretta C. Ford Fellowship. Named after the School’s founding dean, the Ford Fellowship recognizes a new PhD student demonstrating high potential for academic and professional success. Brown relocated to Rochester from Oklahoma to pursue her PhD this year, and brings a vast clinical background with experiences in the operating room, post-anesthesia care unit, and same-day surgeries. She has shown a strong commitment to advancing through the nursing profession through service involvement, participation in advisory boards, and professional development.

Categories: Nurse Practitioner Programs, Accelerated Programs, PhD, DNP, Nursing Education

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