Project PRIDE: Preparing Registered Nurses through Inclusivity, Diversity, and Empowerment
A small but mighty team of nursing students, professors, and mentors are celebrating a big win for the new Project PRIDE program as its first cohort of students prepares to complete their freshman year at Widener.
Project PRIDE: Preparing Registered Nurses through Inclusivity, Diversity, and Empowerment welcomed its first class of six students—affectionately dubbed the Cubs—in fall 2021 into a program designed to ultimately increase diversity within Widener’s School of Nursing and the field overall. Funded by a federal grant of approximately $1.6 million over four years, the program reflects the university’s ongoing commitment to creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive community.
As Project PRIDE’s student support director and the academic advisor for all the Cubs, Dr. Jawanza Bundy, who is Black, sees the relational work of mentoring her students of color as fundamental to the program’s success.
“It’s important that the students have a faculty mentor who looks like them and who they can identify with overseeing their academic path,” she said. “Diversity within our nursing school is excellent as compared to other schools in the nation, but we can always be better.”
A 2017 survey conducted by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing and The Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers found that less than 20% of registered nurses in the United States identify as BIPOC. Considering that a 2019 report by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing showed that students of color make up 34% of those in entry-level nursing programs, Bundy’s dedication to closing the gap between getting to college and succeeding there is well served. (Source for statistics)
In addition to regular meetings with Bundy, Project PRIDE students have a host of other mentors to meet with. Two junior nursing students—the Lions—act as peer mentors for the group, and a graduate student mentor also checks in with the Cubs weekly.
Students are also paired with mentors in Chi Eta Phi Sorority, Inc., an organization founded by Black female nurses, which now represents members across culture and gender. Along with networking events, Chi Eta Phi also partners with the program for many requisite community service events.
Another major success of Project PRIDE has been the stipends provided to help students cut back on working hours. While all Cubs agree to work less than 20 hours per week, some work half of that and most don’t need to work at all.
“That’s huge for us because often students from the underserved communities we’re recruiting from need to work to pay for school but that cuts back on the time they have to study nursing,” Bundy said. “These stipends relieve a lot of that burden for students and affords them the time to get a nursing externship or just focus on their studies.”
One of the major goals of Project PRIDE is to reduce financial barriers to student enrollment and retention, and, so far, no students have dropped out of the program because their financial needs couldn’t be met.
While the Cubs have a lot in common, Bundy says being able to address their unique needs is what makes the program so special. Some students are commuters seeking guidance on getting involved in extracurriculars, and others need help with the campus housing process. From navigating financial aid to connecting students with academic support and counseling resources when they need it, the Project PRIDE team ensures their Cubs know they’re never alone.
“We’re developing greater trust with the students as the year progresses,” Bundy said. “They know they can come to us, and we’re available pretty much around the clock for them.”
Program retention and recruitment co-coordinator Diane Jones has taken this to heart. Along with co-coordinator Victoria Brown, she’s become an invaluable resource to the Project PRIDE students when they need help accessing campus resources.
“Figuring out how to navigate life as a new student is challenging, so we’re here to take care of their holistic selves,” Jones said. “I think our greatest success is showing students how to handle the barriers they will come across in school and in their lives and careers as nurses.”
Jones would know; she’s juggling a lot right now as a Widener student herself, currently in the Doctor of Nursing Practice program.
“I have a familiarity with the ebbs and flows of the academic year here,” she added. “I think going through the process of the semester with the students has given them a unique perspective they appreciate.”
Now that some COVID-19 restrictions are relaxing, the Project PRIDE team is looking forward to amping up their recruitment efforts and getting more local high school students interested in nursing, especially those in communities facing socioeconomic challenges.
The next few years of the grant are sure to see the program expand and change, but this first group of Cubs has already proven the success of the multifaceted support system that is Project PRIDE.