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Partnership program graduates ‘first class’ nurses

Twelve graduates from UDMís joint BSN program with Aquinas College and St. Maryís Medical Center participated in UDMís Commencement ceremony, May 8 in Calihan Hall on the McNichols Campus.

Lynne Piccard had a life-long dream to become a nurse. She also had a passion for coaching gymnastics. “I didn’t think it would be possible to complete a nursing degree and coach, so I had decided to become a teacher,” she says.

But then she met Robi Thomas, assistant professor of Nursing and chair of the Grand Rapids campuses of the University of Detroit Mercy McAuley School of Nursing. Thomas told her about an innovative new nursing program UDM was developing in partnership with Aquinas College and St. Mary’s Mercy Medical Center. Thomas also told her that she herself had coached and judged gymnastics while she was earning her nursing degree.

“I knew this would be a program that would give me the flexibility to do what I love while getting an excellent education,” Piccard recalls.

On May 8, Piccard’s dream became a reality when she and 11 classmates became the program’s first graduates, earning Bachelor of science degrees in nursing from UDM. The new graduates were trailblazers in a sense, according to Thomas.

“They knew UDM, Aquinas and St. Mary’s had great reputations, but the partnership was something new,” says Thomas. “These students were taking a risk, and their willingness to do so was indicative of the leadership potential these women have shown throughout. Their inner drive was remarkable.”

Being part of the first class had its advantages, says Therese Caruso.

“I think we were challenged to a greater level than those who will follow us. We got an extra push,” says Caruso, who received the College’s first Sr. Maurita Sengelaub, RSM, Award for excellence in leadership and service.

The program was developed to help meet an increasing need for nurses in western Michigan. Aquinas faculty taught the students’ liberal arts and sciences classes; UDM provided the nursing instruction with hands-on clinical experience at St. Mary’s.

Thomas believes the program’s excellence stems from the strengths of its three partners, the leadership of the inaugural class and the decision to keep class sizes small.

“I know where my students are from, what they’re doing and how they’re feeling on any given day,” she notes. “The entire faculty has that kind of relationship with the students. The students know that if they need us, they can reach us. If they need help, they’ll get it. The faculty truly cares about the students and the students know it.”

All of the new graduates have had multiple job offers. Ten of the 12 have accepted positions at St. Mary’s, including Caruso and Piccard who are looking forward to the challenges ahead.

“As a new grad, I have the background I need to pursue my career,” says Piccard, who received a Catherine McAuley Award for outstanding leadership. “The foundation’s been laid. Now it’s up to me where I go from here.”