My Greatest Reward: Watching High School Seniors Grow into University-Level Nursing Students

May 28, 2014, 9:00 AM, Posted by Kelly Andrews Cleaton

Kelly Andrews Cleaton, MAEd, is a Student Success Advocate (SSA) in eastern North Carolina for Regionally Increasing Baccalaureate Nurses (RIBN), which aims to improve the health and health outcomes of North Carolinians by increasing the educational preparation and diversity of the nursing workforce. RIBN is supported by Partners Investing in Nursing’s Future, a partnership of the Northwest Health Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to support the capacity, involvement, and leadership of local foundations to advance the nursing profession in their own communities, and by Academic Progression in Nursing (APIN), an RWJF-supported initiative to advance state and regional strategies to create a more highly educated nursing workforce.


I began my career as a first grade teacher because I love working with students and watching them grow over time. The next stop in my career was at East Carolina University (ECU), where I worked with students who wanted to become teachers. During my work there, I decided that I really enjoyed watching older students develop into their professions.

Quite by accident one day, I saw an online advertisement for a position as an SSA for RIBN, and it seemed like the perfect fit for me. I absolutely love traveling to high schools in eastern North Carolina and being able to talk to students about the RIBN program. The excited look in their eyes when I tell them there is an affordable way to get their bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree is priceless. I enjoy working with five community colleges and putting everything together like the pieces of a puzzle.

My role as an SSA is critical to the success of the Eastern North Carolina RIBN program. I recruit students and, once they are in the program, I serve as their advisor throughout the four years it takes them to graduate with their BSN degrees. I meet with the students on a regular basis and make sure they have all of the strategies in place to be successful.

The students know that I am always available to them. On the first day of orientation I give them my cell phone number and ask them to call or text when they need anything—whether it is to talk about a class or something else that has come up in their lives. I think the students appreciate having someone they can contact when they need to. My greatest reward is watching my RIBN students grow from high school seniors into nursing students at the community college and then at the university.

The RIBN students benefit by having me on their side at all times. Whether it is to answer questions about their schedule, financial aid, or just how to navigate college waters, I am there to help. The RIBN students also know if they are struggling in a class, they can call me and I will help them find assistance. This personalized help is valuable because it allows them to concentrate on their schoolwork and not on the other extraneous variables that might take up their time.

Another role I have as an SSA is keeping the RIBN students connected. Eastern North Carolina RIBN is spread throughout five community colleges, so it is critical to keep the students connected. I plan activities such as seminars, ropes courses, nurse panels, and luncheons to allow the students to get to know each other. They are also invited to activities at ECU College of Nursing so they can be involved with their fellow ECU “Pirate Nurses.” Building a RIBN "community" is another important component of our support strategy.

For me, working for RIBN is a perfect fit. I enjoy the interaction with students on a daily basis. I love that I am helping to create a more highly educated nursing workforce, one nursing student at a time.

Read more about how the RIBN program is advancing nurse education in North Carolina.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.