Gator Nursing students know the value of hard work. Completing the rigorous nursing program takes intelligence, perseverance and time management, but Gator Nurses go the extra mile tacking on extracurricular activities, student organization memberships and community service to their already-full plates.
Ten years ago, a small, select group of undergraduate students chose to participate in the newly created Gator Nurse Ambassador Program. The program allowed the students to volunteer as liaisons for the Office of Development and Alumni Affairs and the Office of Student Affairs, assisting with special events, college tours for alumni and prospective students and faculty, and interacting with key donors, alumni and health care professionals.
“I decided to apply to become a Gator Nurse student ambassador because I really wanted to be more involved within the College of Nursing,” said Casey Vera (B.S.N. 2009), who was in the inaugural group of ambassadors in 2007 and is now a pediatric nurse practitioner in Atlanta. “I was president of the nursing student organization and felt like being an ambassador was another great opportunity because it was a new group, and I wanted to help set a foundation for years to come. Plus, I loved the idea of serving as a liaison between present, past and future students.”
Student ambassadors complete a detailed application and interview process to be considered for selection. Each year, the program continues to grow in number and in responsibilities. As the Gator Nurse Ambassador Program celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, there are more than 25 active members from the B.S.N., D.N.P. and Ph.D. programs on the Gainesville and Jacksonville campuses.
Chioma Echeazu, who will graduate this summer, joined the Gator Nurse Ambassador Program last year and was in the first cohort of Accelerated B.S.N. students on the Jacksonville campus. Her first interaction before starting the B.S.N. program was with a Gator Nurse ambassador, who told Echeazu what to expect in nursing school and the opportunities as an ambassador.
“I am so fortunate to have the opportunities and experiences as an ambassador,” Echeazu said. “In the fall, I volunteered with the College’s 60th anniversary Donor Recognition Event, where I met Evelyn Mickle, who was the first African-American nursing student at the University of Florida. I was so amazed to meet someone who paved a foundation for me as a student. I also attended a Gator Nurse Gathering for alumni in Jacksonville, where I met Lyndsay Holmes (B.S.N. 2002, M.S.N. 2005), who allowed me to shadow her in Walgreens Health Clinic for months.”
From that shadowing experience, Echeazu decided to apply to the UF D.N.P. program’s Family Nurse Practitioner track and will begin this fall. Holmes even wrote a letter of recommendation for her application.
“Being an ambassador has enhanced my experience as a student because it allowed me to gain community service experience and show my gratitude to the College of Nursing,” Echeazu said. “The ambassador program also allowed me to see a side of UF that other students may not have the opportunity to see, like the alumni who continue to support UF’s mission.”
Vera said that being an ambassador gives students a glimpse into what they can expect as Gator Nurse alumni and how to stay involved after graduation.
“Working with alumni and hearing their stories gave me an idea of what I should do when I graduated,” Vera said. “Helping meet new students allowed me to share in their fears and give advice of my own to help them on their path. I think that’s what being a Gator Nurse is – it’s love and compassion for what you do and showing that to others. Being an ambassador helped instill even more school pride – if that’s even possible! ”