Providing a stepping stone to college / April 20, 2015

USF nursing student Tracy Tran, left, meets with high school students in the Mission

USF nursing student Denise Burns thrives on helping others find their paths to college.

“I wish I had had someone to ask about college,” says Denise, reflecting on her own journey from high school to USF. “No one tells you what to do. That’s why I love meeting younger people. I love to see how much it helps them and makes a difference.”

Denise is part of a new donor-funded initiative that connects USF with students at the all-girls Immaculate Conception Academy in San Francisco’s Mission district. The goal: to provide a stepping stone to college for first-generation students in the underserved neighborhood and encourage them to explore careers in nursing and health care.

During the nine-month program, USF provides instruction in the School of Nursing and Health Professions simulation lab, matches USF student mentors with the ICA girls and provides the training needed for them to become certified nursing assistants.

The year-old program was developed by USF’s Fr. Tim Godfrey, S.J., R.N., a member of the university faculty who created the curriculum, and supported by donors Gloria and Dennis O’Brien. All 10 students in the first class at ICA are preparing for their certification tests.

“We like the idea of this opportunity for young women to experience the connection with USF and to experience the connection with nursing to see if it was a career they would be interested in,” says Dennis O’Brien.

“That’s how we like to support USF — in a way to offer pathways to college,” he says.

The ICA girls, all juniors, work every Saturday at the Jewish Home of San Francisco, where they practice the skills they learn in the USF program. They have just moved from a floor of Russian-speaking patients to a floor where the patients speak English. They learned some Russian – including davleniye, which means blood pressure – and grew to care about their patients, says high school junior Nina Caton.

But the relationships with patients aren’t the only ones the girls develop during the program. By working closely with their mentors, the girls get to ask questions about college and about USF’s nursing program.

“That made me want to go to USF even more,” says high schooler Jerianne Barrion, who will apply to colleges this fall.

The program, Fr. Godfrey says, reflects the mission of USF to be part of the community, and provides a bridge to university life that the girls might not otherwise have.

“We’re making link-ups between the two groups,” he says. “The ICA students continue to think about going to college. And for our own USF students, it gives them an opportunity to mentor others.”

For nursing student Kristine Nguyen, being a mentor is an opportunity to make a difference.

“I love service and playing a role in the community,” says Kristine. “This is also the reason behind my desire to pursue nursing as a career. Being the influential change in another person's life is a rewarding experience. I hope to spread that passion for service and care to others through this ICA partnership as well.”

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