Graduates of the School of Nursing 107 Bachelor of Science, Honors students 91 Master’s and Doctoral candidates

For the first time since 2019, the UConn School of Nursing held its commencement ceremony in May at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday morning. The school celebrated 107 Bachelor of Science graduates, as well as 64 Master of Science graduates, six post-master’s certificates, 16 Doctors of Nursing Practice, and five Philosophy of Science graduates.

Although the start of the school’s nursing entrance certificate program took place at the Jorgensen in December and the The May 2021 start was held in person at Rentschler Field, Saturday’s ceremony marked a return to normalcy and the return of beginning traditions. Professors and graduates in full dress were once again able to move from Storrs Hall, on Glenbrook Road, to Jorgensen led by piper Tabitha Heavner.

“It was a special day for all of us,” Chyun says. “The Bachelor of Science class of 2022 has borne the brunt of the pandemic – two and a half years of disruption to their clinical hours and to their academic and social life. I am so proud of how they have served as an example for others, not only at school, but throughout the university.

Speaker and honorary degree recipient Sheila Dinotshe Tlou also lasted two years. Co-Chair of the United Nations Global Coalition for HIV Prevention and Co-Chair of the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Nursing Now Campaign, Tlou is also the United Nations Distinguished Person for Women, Girls and Childhood. HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa, and the International Council of Nurses Goodwill Ambassador for Girls’ Education. She was originally due to speak to the class of 2020, but was unable to make the trip from Botswana until this year.

“This is the 38th award I have received in my lifetime, but it will be the most memorable because it signifies recognition by colleagues that clearly says ‘you are one of us, we appreciate the work you have done and keep doing,'” Tlou said.

Tlou received the honorary doctorate of human letters, honoris causa, in recognition of his benevolence, his innovation and his advocacy on behalf of the citizens of the world.

“Few have better exemplified the School of Nursing’s mission to advance the health of individuals, communities and systems, both locally and globally, than you,” Chyun said at the ceremony. “You have raised the profile and status of nursing around the world and you have had an impact on the health and well-being of the world. Today, we have the privilege of honoring you.

The School also recognized Vernette Townsend ’85 (NUR), who received the Carolyn Ladd Widmer Outstanding Alumni Award for Leadership in Nursing. Townsend is vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at Trinity Health of New England’s St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center.

“A visionary and authentic leader who drives strategic and operational excellence in hospitals and specialty care facilities, Vernette is most deserving of the Carolyn Ladd Widmer Outstanding Alumni Award for Leadership in Nursing,” said Chyun. “She is truly a leader in our field – a practicing professional, an administrator, a mentor and an active member and citizen of the nursing community.

Faculty member E. Carol Polifroni, a professor at the School and director of the UConn Clinical Placement Coordination Office, was the grand marshal of the ceremony. She is retiring from the University this spring after 47 years of service.

The School of Nursing banner was presented at the start of the ceremony by the five valedictorians of the Class of 2022: Meghan Koenig, Jillian Rose Levesque, Rylee Parent, Vanessa Russo and Haley Wilt. Each had a perfect grade point average of 4.0.

Lévesque is also the first recipient of academic honors in the history of the School of Nursing. The designation recognizes students enrolled in the honors program who have deepened their major as well as the breadth of disciplines. To earn the title of University Laureate with Distinction, Lévesque had to show commitment and leadership.

Parent also received the Clara Williams Holistic Nurse Award, while classmate Donice Brooks received the Carolyn Ladd Widmer Undergraduate Leadership Award. Kelsey MarcAurele received the Regina M. Cusson Healthcare Innovations Student Award, which recognizes those who have demonstrated a demonstrable commitment and interest in being an example of healthcare innovation through the School of Nursing.

You are the future. You are our best hope. I am confident that the nursing profession and the health of the nation and beyond are in good hands. — Dean Deborah Chyun

The Vice-Rector for Faculty, Personnel and Student Development, Michael Bradford, was on hand to congratulate the graduates and confer the Bachelor of Science degree. While candidates graduating from the School of Nursing were recognized at the ceremony, their degrees will be awarded at the Graduate School master’s and doctoral ceremonies on Monday.

A moving moment was when wife and husband Jill Alsgaard and Trung Le walked through the early stage together. Alsgaard completed her post-master’s certification as an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner, while Le completed her Master of Science in the Primary Care Nurse Practitioner specialty in Adult Gerontology.

The School also distributed awards to several Masters and PhD candidates: Ph.D. candidate Adwoa Gyamfi received the Carolyn Ladd Widmer Award for Outstanding Research, DNP candidate Sarah Loschiavo received the Josephine Dolan Award for application scholarship and master’s graduates Samantha Gagliardi and Nicole Larson received the Eleanor K. Gill Award for Excellence in Clinical Practice.

UConn’s Mu Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International, the Nursing Honor Society, recognized several graduates at the ceremony. Ph.D. Candidate Lisa Garvey Harrison, DNP Candidate Andrea Moran, MS Graduate Erick Mercado, and BS Graduate Peyton Cortese were all awarded the Sigma Theta Tau International Award in honor of excellence, leadership potential, and for exemplifying the spirit of caring in nursing.

Several faculty members were also recognized at the ceremony, through new and established annual awards. Tiffany Kelley, Frederick A. DeLuca Foundation Visiting Professor for Innovations and New Knowledge in Nursing, received the Regina M. Cusson Healthcare Innovations Faculty Award. Dawn Sarage was selected by the class to receive the John McNulty Excellence in the Scholarship of Clinical Education Award.

Louise Reagan was the first recipient of the E. Carol Polifroni Scholarship of Praxis Award, established in honor of Polifroni’s retirement. The award will be presented annually at the start to a faculty member of the School of Nursing who has demonstrated an exemplary integration of theory, philosophy, research and practice.

This year, the School also established the Pellegrina (Peggy) Lacovella Stolfi Clinical Teaching Award, in honor of Stolfi’s retirement from the School. Stolfi has embodied clinical teaching excellence in traditional and accelerated CEIN/BS nursing programs for the last 21 years. She has built strong relationships with clinical partners including the Hartford Public School System and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. The first recipients of the award were faculty members Monika Nelson, Sophia Sopczneski and Hsinfen Tu.

Chyun closed the ceremony, inspiring the new graduates of the School of Nursing as they embark on a profession that badly needs their help.

“As our ceremony ends and your life of learning continues, bring the spirit of inquiry that brought you to us and fueled your academic success, into a world that trusts and needs you, now more than ever,” Chyun said. “You are the future. You are our best hope. I am confident that the nursing profession and the health of the nation and beyond are in good hands.

The commencement ceremony of the UConn School of Nursing was also streamed live and is still available for viewing.

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