JANUARY 17, 2018 – During their sophomore year, human science seniors Jaclynne Nader (NHS’18) and Jacy Neczypor (NHS’18) got to talking while taking a break from studying. The topic: developing experiential learning opportunities for students.
“We wanted our education to incorporate more experiential and community-based learning that would promote opportunities to expand one’s worldview, cultivate empathy, and further the understanding of intersectionality between social justice and medicine,” Neczypor recalls. “Our hope was to empower and educate Georgetown’s students by developing socially conscious future health care professionals.”
The two brought their initial ideas to their professor, Joan Burggraf Riley, MS, MSN, RN, FNP-BC, FAAN, assistant dean for educational innovation at the School of Nursing & Health Studies. And a new program was born.
A Pre-Orientation Program
Under the guidance and mentorship of Riley and Justin Smith, MS, an assistant dean, and through the generosity of BSN alumna Dee Harrison-Garvin (NHS’75), RN, a member of the school’s Board of Advisors, Nader and Neczypor launched CURA: A Health Care Pre-Orientation Program. (Pictured here are Neczypor, Riley, Smith, and Nader.)
The program, which occurs in partnership with Georgetown’s Office of Mission & Ministry, features a vision to “empower and educate incoming students by virtue of Georgetown’s Jesuit, Catholic identity resulting in transformative experiences in the health care setting through immersion, dialogue, and reflection.”
For six days this past August, CURA – which derives its names from the Latin phrase cura personalis (or care of the whole person: mind, body, and spirit) – ran for the first time with 15 incoming first-year Georgetown students, five student leaders, and Nader and Neczypor acting as the two coordinators.
“This program plants a seed,” says Nader, who will attend medical school next year. “It provides incoming freshman with resources and experiences that will drive them forward over four years to engage in meaningful work motivated by our Jesuit Heritage. From dynamic seminars on identity and inclusion to conversations around health disparities, CURA fostered an environment that allowed students to grow in empathy as part of a community that will continue over their entire undergraduate career.”
Neczypor calls the program’s impact “unbelievable,” featuring “staggering results” related to the assessment the leadership team conducted with participants before and after the program.
“At the end of each day, we all had the opportunity to process, dialogue, and discuss our own experiences,” says Neczypor, who plans to serve in the Peace Corps in Cambodia before going to medical school. “I have never been more moved than seeing these incoming students be able to talk about real, difficult experiences and issues with such depth, compassion, and respect for each other – often having diverse backgrounds and opinions to draw upon. To see these young men and women grow was both wonderful and humbling.”
Catholic Charities Collaboration
The experiential portion of the program occurred in collaboration with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington. Students visited and interacted with care providers, individuals, and families at the organization’s Behavioral Health Service, Community Companions, and McCarrick Family Center.
Additionally, CURA students had the opportunity to have dinner with and hear reflections from the Rev. Monsignor John Enzler, the organization’s president and CEO.
“The potential of the program resides in its ability to foundationally shape future leaders in health care,” says Neczypor. “The crux of CURA has been to provide dialogue and experiences that expand one’s worldview and foster growth in empathy. If students become more aware of the intersection between social justice and health care and are instilled with a sense of commitment to provide excellent care regardless of any social categorization, then to me, it’s successful.”
‘Phenomenal’ Undergrad Experience
Both Nader and Neczypor, with graduation on the horizon, say they have gained a great deal at Georgetown. “My time at Georgetown these past four years has been phenomenal,” says Neczypor, who minored in music in the College. “I feel so fortunate to have developed wonderful friendships with such incredible individuals.”
Regarding CURA, he notes, “I am extraordinarily grateful for the opportunities I’ve had at Georgetown and the innumerable individuals who have supported and invested so much into me, so it’s extremely gratifying to contribute something material to the community that I have been so proud to be a part of these past four years.”
“I love Georgetown,” adds Nader. “I have met the most caring, passionate and driven friends who inspire me to be and want to be a better person every day. I am so humbled by the opportunity I have to be educated here.”
She calls CURA “the highlight of [her] undergraduate experience.”
“It was surreal to witness two years of planning become a reality as CURA unfolded,” she says. “Seeing the students respond to the speakers and programming with genuine passion and curiosity was incredible. . . . Authentic and vulnerable relationships and conversations are what I will remember most from CURA.”