Diversity and Mentorship Are Priorities for Rush University College of Nursing, as RWJF’s New Careers in Nursing Program Leaves Its Mark

    • June 1, 2015
Nursing students learning skills during a class.

A principal challenge of creating successful grant-funded projects is finding ways to sustain efforts after initial funding comes to a close. For Lisa Rosenberg, PhD, RN, associate dean of students at Rush University College of Nursing, that challenge has been a top priority as she guides the school’s New Careers in Nursing (NCIN) project through its final year of funding.

A nationwide program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, NCIN has supported scholarships for more than 3,500 nursing students from groups underrepresented in the field over the last seven years, supporting their studies at accelerated baccalaureate and master’s programs in more than 130 schools of nursing nationwide. NCIN scholars have already earned bachelor’s degrees in non-nursing disciplines.

NCIN has had a profound effect on Rush University’s diversity efforts, Rosenberg says. The school built a pipeline for students from underrepresented backgrounds, in part by creating relationships with historically black colleges and universities, and other schools with diverse student bodies. In addition, it overhauled its recruitment brochures and advertising, and produced new recruitment videos, including “Why Not Men in Nursing?”  and “A Culture of Inclusion.”  

Social media and online advertising also play a prominent role in recruitment. A recent push aimed at men featured online ads with sports themes, placed on the Chicago Tribune’s website.

Rush’s ‘Diversity Pyramid’

For Rosenberg, recruitment is one of several layers of a lasting push for a more diverse student body and faculty. As NCIN winds down, she believes the effort’s long-term sustainability depends on building strong internal support from within the institution, so that diversity efforts are more than one-off initiatives conducted to fulfill grant obligations. “Diversity goals are a part of everyone’s performance measures,” she explains. “So everyone on the faculty has a specific diversity goal that they need to accomplish. That could be adding course content that’s related to cultural diversity. Of course, what’s measured is what’s done, so the move reflects a real commitment to make change.”

A second layer of the effort is focused on funding. Rush has matched NCIN’s funding during each round of grants, setting aside dollars for scholarships for underrepresented students. With NCIN in its final year, Rosenberg says Rush will continue making such scholarships available, and this year increased the college’s funding for diversity scholarships to $300,000.

In Rosenberg’s view, only when those two layers—institutional support and funding—are in place can the third layer of the “diversity pyramid”—recruitment and retention—succeed over the long term. “Sometimes when a school wants a more diverse group of students, they might think, ‘we need to ramp up our recruitment efforts.’ But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.... If you build diversity into the fabric of the organization, you can institutionalize it.”

Mentoring Contributes to Retention

Among other supports, Rush provides students with a robust mentoring program. “It’s my pride and joy,” Rosenberg says. The program rests on a unique collaboration between Rush’s NCIN efforts and the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship, a national organization with chapters in 12 cities across the United States, including Chicago, where Rush is located. Schweitzer Fellows are health care professions students who provide direct service focused on health inequities and health outcomes in underserved communities. Rosenberg sits on the Chicago chapter’s board, and arranged for a group of nurses who had completed their one-year fellowships to mentor NCIN scholars at Rush.

“It has been phenomenal,” Rosenberg says. “The Schweitzer Fellows are great role models, people who want to give back, and they have connections with underserved populations in Chicago. Many of our students do community service, so it’s a great opportunity to connect them to service opportunities.”

The path between Rush and the Schweitzer Fellowships runs both ways. Two current NCIN scholars were recently awarded Schweitzer Fellowships. “They applied for the fellowship because they were impressed with the program as a result of their mentoring experience,” Rosenberg explains. “This is a great opportunity for them to engage in interprofessional community service learning and enhance their leadership skills.”

With the success of the NCIN mentoring program, a new mentoring initiative, THRIVE (for promotion of Transformation, Health, Responsibility, Independence, Values and Education), was implemented through a partnership with the Rush College of Nursing Student Council. In the second year of the program, Rush’s accelerated master’s students are matched to current doctoral students in a mentoring relationship. Much of what was developed and learned through the NCIN mentoring program has been applied to THRIVE and will live on long beyond the end of NCIN funding.

New Careers in Nursing is a national program of RWJF and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.