It had been a question for years: why weren't there more ways for students to transfer into UVA's School of Nursing from other schools?
For philanthropists Joanne and Bill Conway, it was clear that more on-ramps for new nurses were needed. Their transformational $20 million gift to the UVA School of Nursing in 2020 allowed faculty and administrators to dream up, develop, and deploy a host of new BSN pathways, including two options for transfer students that will support the enrollment and education of 1,000 new nurses by 2030.
The new transfer programs debuted last fall and had their first-ever call for applicants last summer. And in May 2022, the first-ever cohort of Accelerated BSNs arrived, 25 students strong.
Assistant professor Ashley Apple said this is no ordinary group. They are diverse in ways that show—36 percent are nonwhite—and ways that don't—one-third are the first in their family to attend college; many speak multiple languages, have previous healthcare experience, and compelling backstories.
"Fast-paced, but also endlessly interesting. "Milo Penzell, ABSN student
For example, student Elise Nganou came to the program from Frederick, Md., and worked in a nursing home throughout high school. After watching her father die of stage IV cancer in her family's native Cameroon, Nganou observed that gaps in screening, diagnosis, and treatment options severely hindered citizens' lifespans, compelling her to "want to make that change."
"What better field to do that than nursing?" she said.
Similarly, student Milo Penzell grew up in Charlottesville observing the ravages of health disparities, and transitioned to nursing from a job in admissions and advising at Piedmont Virginia Community College.
"Our cohort is beautiful, everyone comes from different places, and the diversity blew my mind. Other places aren't like this."Elise Nganou, ABSN student
"I had always admired nurses and the impact they could have on a patient's experience advocating for their health," Penzell explained. "Growing up half Mexican, I always knew about inequities in healthcare, especially those that impacted immigrant communities, and as nurses, we play a large role in establishing equality through advocacy."
Other students were drawn to the profession differently. Julissa Rodriguez, of Midlothian, Va., was just six when her baby sister, born prematurely, died at seven months of age. The experience compelled her to become a certified medical assistant during high school, and gain experience working in a pediatric clinic to boot. Rodriguez visited UVA during her second year of high school and just knew: "It stood out to me. UVA is so prestigious and is known for its nursing school, and I fell in love. No other school compared to it. I felt so at home.”
Though they're just a few months in, the cohort is intensely cohesive, and supported from the outside in.
“From day one, from the interview onward, everyone has shown us we’re in this together," said Nganou. "There’s no way I can freak out about anything because I have a ton of people to talk to. Our cohort is beautiful—everyone comes from different regions, and the diversity blew my mind. Other places aren't like this.
"I absolutely love it.”