University of Virginia School of Nursing
"It can be challenging for nursing students to have study abroad experiences...but we're thrilled that our invigorated approach to sustained global partnerships is changing that," says prof. Mitchell.

Fresh from receiving an award for "Excellence in Global Education" from UVA's provost earlier this winter, prof. Emma Mitchell, with Global Initiatives' co-director Anita Thompson-Heisterman, has again been recognized for exceptional international programming with an $87,000 Jefferson Trust Award grant.

"It's wonderful," says Mitchell, during a recent gathering for nursing students who were heading to and returning from Nicaragua that featured fragrant Central American foods like fried plantains, chilero (picked onions and hot peppers), shrimp and coconut rice, and freshly limed pico de gallo. "It can be challenging for nursing students to have study abroad experiences, given the volume of didactic courses and clinical rotations, but we're thrilled that our invigorated approach to sustained global partnerships is changing that - and the Jefferson Trust grant will take us even further."

"I think it was a unique experience to go to Bluefields and really see how the sense of community was different and also how a lot of the health problems and difficulties that people face are very similar to in the United States."

Annika Rhinehart, 3rd year nursing student

The Jefferson Trust grants - an initiative of the UVA Alumni Association which funnels more than $700,000 to community-focused programs around UVA - aim to encourage creativity, innovation, leadership, community and, as always, enhance the UVA student experience. Mitchell was one of 19 grantees awarded.

With the funds, Mitchell's project - "Community Resilience and Global Engagement: Disaster Preparedness in Nursing" - will examine within a global context the increasing need for community resilience after natural disasters like hurricanes, floods, and rising sea waters, exact a toll on communities. Mitchell's global program wraps students' educational and research experiences around sustained research project overseen by nursing faculty, further enhancing the already robust partnership between UVA School of Nursing and its nursing student, faculty, and community organization peers in Bluefields, Nicaragua.

Bluefields - on the Caribbean side of the Central American nation, is home to Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University (BICU) and its popular school of nursing - is the site of UVA Nursing's reimagined global initiatives offerings, and the model for the way the School aims to conduct itself globally with study abroad opportunities. Rather than a "parachute in, parachute out" approach, explains Mitchell, the new model of study abroad "is a thoughtful and intentional way to engage with our Bluefields partners in a manner that's bilateral, respectful, productive and truly based on a respectful partnership."

Built around a core of research projects that are mutually beneficial - including disaster preparedness and emergency response needs, and projects focused on novel delivery methods of cervical cancer screening in areas where incidence and mortality is high from this preventable cancer - students’ educational experiences are centered on locally determined needs and priorities. By offering student experiences several times a year, relationships and initiatives will be nurtured across time without the connectivity gaps that sometimes plagued the old model.

Thanks to the Jefferson Trust grant, undergrad and grad nursing students will have several opportunities to study and conduct research in Bluefields throughout the year, including a popular J-Term course co-led by Mitchell focused on coffee growers and public health, a week-long spring break opportunity, and a month-long summer experience. All UVA nursing students studying in Nicaragua will assist Mitchell - who studies the feasibility and acceptability of cervical cancer screening tests via telemedicine - to collect and analyze data and interview participants.

“When you have the opportunity to go abroad and expand your knowledge, it’s absolutely wonderful,” enthuses Clinical Nurse Leader master's student Shernai Banks, of Philadelphia, who travels to Nicaragua with Mitchell this July. “And while we have great ideas we can bring to them, learning about their culture and being open are skills we can bring back which will make us more impactful nurses, and able to care for patients from different backgrounds, making us more competent and humble.”

“Nurse leaders should be culturally competent, open and respectful, and sometimes we lose that, when we see someone so different from ourselves,” adds Banks. “When you have the opportunity to study abroad, it changes things, and opens up your perceptions. I’m excited to learn, to know the people in Nicaragua, and bring what I learn from them back to the U.S.”

Nursing students interested in study abroad opportunities are urged to apply early. More information is available through the Global Initiatives site. Application for spring break study abroad is in Sept. 2018.


Established by the Alumni Association in 2006, the Jefferson Trust has invested in 179 initiatives, representing over $7 million, brought forth by students and faculty representing all 11 schools and a myriad of programs and organizations at UVA. With grant awards ranging from as little as $2,500 to as much as $100,000, all of these seed-funded projects add exceptional value to the UVA experience. Many evolve to become a permanent part of the fabric of the University’s life and legacy.