CNHS First-Year Experience Creates Connection

On an afternoon in early fall, students in Erica Caloiero’s “NH 50: Applications to Health” class will spread across the UVM Green, arranged in groups like constellations. Led by their peers - sophomore, junior and senior CNHS students - the Class of 2021 will introduce themselves to each other, perhaps sharing where they’ve come from, why they’re here, or what their goals may be. These early introductions are no trivial exercise: They are planned steps on a trajectory to build community among a group of more than 200 students who have just met, and to create bonds that will facilitate conversation and mutually respectful relationships that extend well beyond UVM and into their careers.

In coming weeks, Caloiero, who is assistant dean of student services for the College of Nursing and Health Sciences and class lecturer, will guide the group in discussions of health-related case studies; and encourage them to consider the ways their future professional roles – as athletic trainers, speech-language pathologists, medical laboratory scientists, exercise scientists, radiation therapists, nurses, and health care administrators and educators – will work together to provide holistic patient care of the highest quality.

In just a few years, Radiation Therapy students will work with cancer patients in the Radiation Oncology Department. Medical Laboratory Science students will support diagnostic laboratory specialists. Nursing students will learn from nurses and physicians in obstetrics, pediatrics, and on medical-surgical floors, or in home health or primary care. Athletic Training and Exercise Science students will work with nutritionists, physical therapists, and surgeons. Communication Sciences and Disorders students will observe clinicians working with patients with acute and chronic speech, language, hearing, and/or swallowing conditions. And students studying Health Sciences will be assisting with health education and health care administration in settings that include health departments, hospital administration and non-profit organizations.

But right now, they’re learning to express their opinions and build relationships in simple ways: By swapping notes on their favorite treats – from chocolate to mac and cheese. Talking about home. Laughing together.

From Getting Involved to Getting a Job

The class is part of an integrated approach to student success in the College of Nursing and Health Sciences that is designed to meet best practices for high-quality advising and address challenges related to the college experience. Class discussion topics range from day-to-day concerns about how to get involved on campus, time management, and approaches to discussing a difficult issue with a roommate to big-picture thoughts about the importance of interprofessional communication, awareness of bias, and self-knowledge for health care professionals in their careers.

Research shows the greater the overlap between students’ academic and social experiences, the more successful they tend to be; so first-year students in NH 50 participate in a series of mandatory study groups and are assigned to an upper-class peer mentor who is essentially “on-call” throughout the fall semester to answer questions and provide guidance. These mentors, known as “Links” for their ability to provide a connection to UVM and the greater Burlington community, offer friendship, promote healthy habits, and facilitate interactions with campus resources.

Moriah Anderson, Exercise and Movement Science ’15, Doctor of Physical Therapy '18 and a former Links mentor, recalls that the time she spent in NH 50 offered a chance to make new friends in other majors and introduced the fundamentals of clinical decision-making in health care.

Summer Haverick, Nursing ’20, said she appreciated the opportunity to meet others in her own major through the class. Haverick is a current mentor with the Links program.

“NH 50 shows students that what is aspirational can happen today – or at least, it can start today. We go to great lengths to match the student who wants to become involved in research, or study abroad, or service, with a peer mentor in their major who already is. Planning and goal-setting can now take place within a social context. So working toward goals is just part of what students do together,” said Caloiero.

Learning to Make a Difference - Together

As part of the class, students hear stories from faculty and clinicians about the ways health care professionals can make a positive impact in a patient’s care by working as a team– known as an “interprofessional” approach based on clear communication and collaboration. They also consider case studies demonstrating times when care was delivered without a coordinated team approach and as a result created challenging circumstances that might have been avoided.

The students will also take hikes and study together – all part of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences’ intentional approach to creating a sense of community that helps facilitate the first-year transition and affirm each student’s sense of belonging. The students’ feedback indicates they appreciate the opportunity to connect regularly with others in their majors, particularly around the topics of career opportunities and planning.

The College has a historically high retention rate – most recently 92% - and seeks to continue to improve the tradition by helping students establish strong connections from the start. The College accepts about 230 total students each year into its programs in Athletic Training, Communication Sciences and Disorders, Exercise and Movement Science, Medical Laboratory Science, Medical Radiation Sciences, Health Sciences and Nursing. Many College of Nursing and Health Sciences alumni are accepted into UVM’s graduate programs in Communication Sciences and Disorders, Medical Laboratory Science, Nursing, Physical Therapy and Interdisciplinary Human Functioning and Rehabilitation Science.

A team of professional academic advisors provide an additional avenue of guidance and support, a structure that models professional relationships, self-advocacy and decision-making strategies and prepares students for eventual practice side-by-side with clinical professionals who provide health care of the highest caliber.

“Our first-year experience has transformed student culture in the College, and its impact on student success is unequivocal,” said College of Nursing and Health Sciences Dean Patty Prelock.

Caloiero agrees, adding that it’s difficult to discern the boundary between the customization of the class to meet students’ needs and the College’s integration of tailored advising and mentoring support into the first-year experience.

“My goal is to close the space between social time and academic time. When I walk into the classroom and hear the energy crackling, I know we’ve gotten it right,” said Caloiero.



Sara M White
In Their Own Words
College of Nursing and Health Sciences students reflect on their experiences and share future plans.