Caring for Students and Building Community
Since graduating as a licensed practical nurse at age 18, Jessica Varghese, Ph.D., assistant professor of nursing, has pursued a career centered on health and community-building.
From taking students abroad to work with refugees to inspiring other first-generation college students to pursue their dreams, Varghese continues to build community in her job in the School of Health Professions. Her goal, she says, is to create among New York Tech nursing students a feeling “that they are part of a community and have the skills they need to be successful.”
She sat down with The Box to discuss what motivates her work as a nursing educator.
What drew you toward nursing education?
My desire to come to education was so that students of color could see someone that looked like them in front of the classroom. Nursing education lacks diversity. My education experiences in nursing lacked that minority role model.
I want to tell all college students: You can reach whatever goals you set for yourself, regardless of the color of your skin or your parents’ ability to go to college.
I truly enjoy working with students. I like to see their eagerness to learn and their curiosity about all the different paths that they can take in nursing. I want them to know about the many things they can do as nurses.
And I love my administrative responsibilities in launching our RN-to-B.S. in nursing program. (This program is for licensed RN nurses with an associate’s degree to complete their bachelor’s degree at New York Tech.) I have worked with some great people on this program.
How does your research relate to keeping undergraduates engaged in their undergraduate education?
Part of my dissertation research focuses on structural empowerment, that is, what organizations can do to create an environment that fosters engagement for their workforce.
This topic relates a great deal to the academic setting. Students respond best when they know that faculty are invested in them.
What are some practices that help create this kind of environment for students?
Keeping students engaged involves crafting classroom time in a way that incorporates technology and critical thinking simultaneously.
Whether it’s using gaming platforms like Kahoot to create a fun but competitive environment in the classroom or using Canvas Studio to create videos, technology is a good thing if used effectively.
At the same time, the most important piece of creating an engaged student body is for students to know that I, as their professor, care about their success. And it’s not just when they’re in school, but beyond. I care for them as a holistic person, and I care for them even after they graduate.
What did you and your students learn from caring for refugees in Greece? Our future nurses need to be taught that good outcomes start with prevention of illness and disease. Prevention involves looking at social determinants of health.
As a nurse, I learned a great deal in Greece about how I can change my practices to “hear the unsaid.” We learned about “trauma-informed care.” This means that you understand that some of your patients come to you having faced traumatic events which can impact their health.
Furthermore, these types of service trips can be done domestically. We have a lot of need in our country, even in our local community on Long Island. For example, rampant food insecurity directly impacts health.
Sometimes we don’t realize how privileged we are. Community service offers students the opportunity to see life outside their comfort zones.
This interview has been edited and condensed.