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William F. Connell School of Nursing

Flourishing in its fourth year: With Price Foundation help, KILN expands

by michael prager

Clinical Associate Professor and Department Assistant Chair Colleen Simonelli and Tiffany Maxwell, M.S. ’14, work with a computer-programmable mannequin in one of the Connell School’s simulation labs. Photograph: Caitlin Cunningham
Clinical Associate Professor and Department Assistant Chair Colleen Simonelli and Tiffany Maxwell, M.S. ’14, work with a computer-programmable mannequin in one of the Connell School’s simulation labs.

Tiffany Maxwell, M.S. ’14, was working as an electrical engineer, weary of spending most of her days sitting in front of a computer, when she decided to switch careers. She settled on nursing because “every nurse I talked to loved her job,” she says. She chose the Connell School of Nursing (CSON) based on the reputation of its master’s entry program for students with degrees in non-nursing fields.

Fortunately for Maxwell, a first-generation university student from a multicultural Florida family, she was also able to take advantage of Keys to Inclusive Leadership (KILN), a four-year-old program that recruits and prepares students from nursing backgrounds that are traditionally underrepresented in the profession to become future nurse leaders. The Price Family Foundation last year pledged $540,000 to help CSON expand and enhance KILN—and open it up to 10 graduate students as well as 40 undergraduates. Each student works with one of 20 faculty mentors, who play a critical role in KILN’s program of services and supports. Those include intense tutoring and mentoring, stipends, scholarships, and grants for expenses such as exam review courses and conference registration fees.

KILN mentors meet with students, guide them in curricular decisions, encourage their involvement in faculty research, and link them with resources. They introduce students to professional organizations, activities, and other opportunities in which they can meet and engage with nurse leaders.

Maxwell, who speaks Spanish and hopes to work in underserved communities, was eager for guidance from an experienced professional. She found that and more in her mentor, Colleen Simonelli, a clinical associate professor and assistant department chair. Simonelli was drawn to KILN because of her own experience as a student with influential mentors. She meets with each of her charges individually, and has brought them together, she says, “so they can develop their relationships as well.”

“She has been very encouraging to me to seek out other opportunities in the field, to attend lectures and conferences,” says Maxwell. Simonelli, she adds, is “a real motivating force. It’s been nice to have regular meetings, to really get into how the program’s doing for me, what I need to focus on, what I want after graduation—helping me to think ahead and plan for my future.”

KILN’s goal is to help diminish obstacles that its students encounter in nursing school, according to CSON Associate Dean Catherine Read, who spearheaded the program in 2009. Its overarching ambition is to reduce health-care disparities by educating and encouraging nurses who are “culturally competent,” and capable of caring for patients in diverse communities. That involves more than recruiting students whose racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic backgrounds reflect those of underserved patient populations, Read observes. It means making sure students are prepared to take advantage of programs and services they need to pursue professional careers.

Maxwell, who left the workforce to pursue her nursing degree, supports herself and relies on loans to finance her education. She has taken advantage of the advanced study grants KILN provides students who participate in workshops and seminars on topics such as congenital heart disease, which she attended at Massachusetts General Hospital in February. She is appreciative, she says, that the KILN program sponsored her membership in the International Society of Nurses in Genetics, whose national conference she hopes to attend in October.

Sustaining and expanding KILN fits securely within the mission of the New York-based Price Foundation, whose priorities include trying to reach underresourced populations in need of better health care, and providing opportunities to economically disadvantaged young people in New Jersey and New York, said Joanne Duhl, executive director.

The foundation’s firsthand involvement with young people gave it strong motivation to support KILN, said Duhl, who noted, “It’s always good to continue something that’s working.”

KILN certainly seems to be doing that. The program calendar of activities is jam-packed. A KILN blog is replete with upbeat, newsy posts from undergraduates who’ve traveled to professional conferences such as the National Association of Hispanic Nurses Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and taken part in events such as last fall’s Training for Advanced Leadership in a KILN weekend retreat at Boston College’s Connors Family Retreat Center in Dover.

Meanwhile, KILN appears to be making progress in nurturing a new generation of nurse leaders. This year, for example, the Massachusetts Student Nurses Association has a particularly strong Boston College flavor: Andrea Lopez ’14 is president-elect, Yesenia Japa ’14 is treasurer, Chenille Morrison ’14 is secretary, and Yvonne Shih ’15 is legislative chair. All four are part of KILN. So was Anna Diané ’12, who is now a consultant to the student association. ✹