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Nursing School Made Affordable: ASPIRE Nurse Scholars Program Grants Scholarships to Increase Ranks of Minority Nurses

Originally published on the website

While her peers spent Saturdays during the school year chilling with friends, Bedford Heights High School student Ranique Rhoden was busy practicing chest compressions and starting IVs on a nursing school mannequin at the Cleveland Clinic.

That experience cemented Rhoden’s desire for a medical career. Now she is working on a nursing degree at Ursuline College, with a big assist from the Aspire Nurse Scholars Program. The scholarship program helps underprivileged teens become nurses in order to increase the ranks of nurses who are people of color.

The Aspire Nurse Scholars Program is a partnership among the Cleveland-based Howley Foundation, the Cleveland Clinic and Ursuline College Breen School of Nursing in Pepper Pike. It is funded by a $10 million gift from the Cleveland-based nonprofit Howley Foundation, which works to make education affordable for the underprivileged.

“It’s a great opportunity to go to college without being in debt,” said Rhoden, 19, a freshman at Ursuline who enjoys reading research papers on AIDS/HIV, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases.

The program seeks to create a pipeline of nurses from diverse backgrounds, said Patricia Sharpnack, dean of the Breen School at Ursuline College.

While registered nurses have become more diverse in recent years, only about 8% of registered nurses are non-Hispanic Black, and 10% are Hispanic, according to the most recent National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses from 2018.

“Nursing is not diverse, and we take care of a diverse population,” Sharpnack said.

A review by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that providing minority patients with a nurse or doctor from their own racial group improves communication and trust.

The program, which began during the 2016-17 school year, now includes nearly 80 students attending Northeast Ohio high schools, Cuyahoga Community College and Ursuline, said Howley Foundation chairman Nick Howley.

Aspire program participants receive:

  • A $500 stipend during their junior year, and another $500 when they complete the senior year of the program.
  • Academic assistance at Ursuline College
  • All college tuition, room and board at Ursuline
  • Parttime nursing assistant jobs at the Clinic once they complete the high school portion of Aspire.

Fifteen program participants became the first Aspire students to attend Ursuline when they arrived on campus in fall 2020, Nick Howley said. Students work toward a four-year nursing degree from Ursuline.

“Ursuline does an outstanding job of graduating lower-income kids in its nursing program,” Nick Howley said.

After college graduation, Aspire students are strongly encouraged to apply and expect to be offered nursing jobs at the Clinic, but they can seek employment anywhere, he said.

Pipeline runs through Clinic, Tri-C and Ursuline

A new crop of 2 high school juniors is set to start the program this month. The students will take part in a 12 weeks of “Simulation Saturdays” held at the Clinic, where they will learn to take vital signs, listen to lungs and perform other nursing tasks by practicing on mannequins.

“We try to give a real experience,” said Lisa Baszynski, Senior Director of Ambulatory Nursing Education at the Cleveland Clinic. She oversees the Clinic’s portion of the Aspire program. “We know we are making an impact on their lives. You can see the growth, and it’s phenomenal.”

In the Aspire program’s early years, all students attended Tri-C after high school to work on a three-year nursing degree, Nick Howley said. The Howley Foundation provided a monthly stipend.

“For a little more money, we could get them all the way to a bachelor of science nursing degree in close to the same time,” he said.

Now the foundation has moved the entire program to Ursuline. The college provides discounted tuition and free room and board, the Clinic provides some assistance, and the Howley Foundation covers the balance, Nick Howley said.

Annual undergraduate tuition is about $35,000, and the average room and board is $11,580 a year at the private liberal arts college.

While at Ursuline, Aspire students can receive special academic support as part of their scholarship.

College-level Aspire students entering the patient care nursing education program at the Clinic draw on the training they received during “Simulation Saturdays” to step into part-time jobs as Patient Care Nursing Assistants at the Clinic. Nursing assistants help with patient care such as bathing, eating and moving around while in the hospital.

Hands-on experiences at the Clinic also reinforces classroom learning, Rhoden said.

“I actually understand the terms we are learning in class,” said Rhoden, who is interested in dermatology. “I’m getting first-hand experience to help me in classes.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, activities will consist of virtual meetings and online simulations when the program begins this month, Baszynski said.

“The thought of postponing (the program) never occurred to us as a team,” Baszynski said. “It is such as important program. We have to diversify our nursing workforce. We need to get these kids in nursing school. We want to keep the pipeline going.”

Students from all Northeast Ohio high schools can apply to the scholarship program. Teens apply in the fall of their junior year. See the Clinic website for details.