College of Nursing C.O.N.N.E.C.T.S.

young students practice on patient model

by Valerie Garr, diversity coordinator, College of Nursing

An attentive and diverse group of 200 fourth, fifth, and sixth graders from Weber Elementary School’s Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program took part in the University of Iowa College of Nursing’s C.O.N.N.E.C.T.S. program in April 2018.

AVID is an Iowa City Community School District initiative to advance a culture of college readiness with a focus on secondary students who will be the first in their family to attend college. Weber is the second elementary school in Iowa City to have an AVID program. 

C.O.N.N.E.C.T.S. (College Of Nursing Networks and Engagement in Communities Through Service) is a pipeline pilot for targeted secondary schools and/or youth organizations serving underrepresented/underserved students to promote the importance of college and the profession of nursing. 

In partnership with the Iowa City Community School District, C.O.N.N.E.C.T.S. offers age-appropriate children book readings and discussion about nursing, hands-on science/health activities, and opportunities to learn about nursing careers and pathways to college. In addition, a diverse group of UI nursing and nursing interest majors that is passionate about sharing information, resources, and their personal stories serve as panelists hoping to inspire and empower children to complete the academic pipeline from elementary to high school. The ultimate goal is admission into college and ultimately, admission into the UI Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program to achieve careers in nursing. 

“By developing targeted school co-curricular partnerships with children early in their educational journey, the UI College of Nursing can promote nursing as a profession while emphasizing the necessary academic pathways of building a nursing career to underrepresented K-12 students who might not otherwise be in the academic and career pipeline for nursing,” says Valerie Garr, diversity coordinator in the College of Nursing’s Diversity Office and creator and coordinator of C.O.N.N.E.C.T.S. 

“AVID is perfect for C.O.N.N.E.C.T.S. because both programs are about helping kids use goal-setting to visualize and actualize dreams to achieve student success at every level of education they pursue,” Garr says. 

“My teachers and I absolutely loved the presentation provided by Valerie and the UI students,” says Weber Elementary School Principal Yaa Appiah-McNulty.  

Appiah-McNulty says C.O.N.N.E.C.T.S. was a wonderful and inspiring opportunity for Weber students to learn more about nursing, what nursing students do, and how attending college is similar to attending elementary school, thus helping students bridge the connection between elementary school and college. 

Appiah-McNulty says she especially appreciated that the C.O.N.N.E.C.T.S. sessions emphasized that students will need to take action for dreams to come true. This is one of the key lessons from the children’s book, “My Hero, My Dad, The Nurse,” which was read by the nursing students. 

Gabrielle Garcia, a junior BSN student from Morton, Illinois, volunteered with C.O.N.N.E.C.T.S. because she loves interacting with children and was inspired by the opportunity to talk about nursing and going to college. 

Kelsey Calomino, a sophomore nursing interest major from Wauconda, Illinois, who also is a pediatric inpatient unit volunteer at the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital and a research assistant at the College of Nursing, says she wishes her elementary school had a group like C.O.N.N.E.C.T.S. so that when she got to high school, she wouldn’t have been so overwhelmed with making decisions about her future. 

“I was most impressed with how the students at Weber responded to our comprehension questions about the book, “My Hero, My Dad, The Nurse.” They understood the main points that were conveyed such as you can be anything you want to be, and that age, gender, or ethnicity shouldn’t affect your dreams,” says Calomino. 

Orlando Hammond, a first-generation sophomore nursing interest student from Aurora, Illinois, says that when he was growing up, college seemed foreign in his Hispanic culture. Sharing his story through C.O.N.N.E.C.T.S. gave him a chance to encourage kids who might also come from environments where the concept of college is unknown. 

First-year nursing interest student Zilin Zhu, an international student from Hubei, China, saw C.O.N.N.E.C.T.S. as an opportunity to challenge her shyness while helping children believe that they can become whatever they want to be. 

“As an only child and the youngest of my cousins whom I played with, I was really shy and did not speak up very much,” says Zhu. “I know how much one can change when he or she is not limited by a fixed assumption that one has about himself or herself.” 

Still, the best part of the Weber C.O.N.N.E.C.T.S. day for Zhu was hearing many of the children say they want to be nurses and watching their faces light up as they looked at the germs on their hands under the ultraviolet lamp. 

“I think that surprise and curiosity is the beginning of studying anything! I hope they will keep it up and be motivated by it in their later studying process,” says Zhu. 

Not only does C.O.N.N.E.C.T.S support the UI’s Strategic Plan of engaging with Iowa to broaden education while increasing the UI’s statewide visibility, it also supports the College of Nursing’s Strategic Plan to develop targeted partnerships that expand learning experiences and collaborative relationships with educational settings in local communities. C.O.N.N.E.C.T.S. also reinforces the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s commitment to developing a future diverse nursing workforce with civic readiness and engagement. 

To learn more, email: VALERIE-GARR@UIOWA.EDU