Nursing Students Engage
They’re at free COVID-19 testing sites and packing meals inside local nonprofits. You can spot them presenting legislative resolutions and chatting with marginalized populations about their greatest needs. Just as they have since the school’s earliest days, Penn Nursing students are consistently bringing their skills out of the classroom and into local communities, while learning more about those communities in the process. Whether they choose service-focused classes, student clubs, paid work, or volunteer opportunities, Penn Nursing students today are more tapped into the city around them than ever before. Here’s what that engagement looks like for nine current undergrads.
By Molly Petrilla
Academically Based Community Service (ABCS) Courses
Early traces of ABCS courses at Penn date back to the mid- 1980s. By 1991, the University was offering four official service- learning classes. Today more than 200 have been developed, with about 75 running each year through Penn’s Netter Center for CommunityPartners.
Penn Nursing currently offers a dozen ABCS courses, split evenly across the graduate and undergraduate levels. Each class sends students out into local communities and balances those experiences with related research and classroom learning.
Nursing’s ABCS offerings range from the broad-based Nursing in the Community (NURS 380), a required class, to more niche courses like Health Education for Incarcerated Women (NURS 555). The through-line is deep community involvement.
“And we make it clear to students who are engaged in ABCS courses,” says Terri H. Lipman PhD CRNP FAAN, the Assistant DeanforCommunityEngagement,“that our support of and collaboration with the community is based on the priorities and needs of our community partners. The knowledge gained through ABCS courses helps students become active, creative, contributing citizens of our society.”
Daisy Arizmendi Nu’24
Student in Obesity and Society NURS 313
Daisy Arizmendi Nu’24 was compiling a list of ABCS courses as part of her summer job when a title popped out at her: NURS 313: Obesity and Society.
“I started looking into taking it,” recalls Arizmendi, who is planning to minor in nutrition. “There’s a lot of stigma around obesity, and I really wanted to understand the treatments, the different causes, and how it impacts children and adults—even pregnant mothers.”
While learning those answers in-side the classroom, students in NURS 313 also engage in a related program through the Netter Center. Arizmendi signed on as a social-emotional learning coach for Young Quakers Community Athletics, which pairs Penn athletes with kids from West Philly public schools.
Though not a lacrosse player herself, Arizmendi still helped kids who were learning the sport. “Whenever they were getting a little too emotional in the game”—something that happened fairly often—“it was my job to take them out, ask if they were okay, and help them work through their emotions,” she says.
It wasn’t Arizmendi’s first time connecting with the broader Philly community. She’s engaged in various ways throughout her time at Penn, from helping to perform COVID-19 testing in Kensington to working at the Netter Center’s summer camp.
For Arizmendi, helping marginalized kids is highly personal. “I grew up in a very low-resource community in Chicago,” she says. “A lot of the things these kids are going through, I relate to. Access to healthy food, access to after-school programs—I did not have that.”
“And for other [Nursing] students,” she adds, “I like that ABCS courses are an eye-opener to what kids who attend low-resource schools go through and how important it is to have these programs.”
Luz Elena Pérez Méndez Nu’22
Student in Innovation in Health: Foundations of Design Thinking NURS 357
Last fall, Luz Elena Pérez Nu’22 spent the entire semester de- signing a project that could serve people in Philly who are experiencing homelessness.
As her group took time to listen to podcasts, read articles, watch docu- mentaries, and speak to local stake- holders, they landed on an unexpected issue. “We heard someone share their experience of being turned away from the pharmacy because they weren’t able to prove their identity,” Pérez recalls,“and that really stuck with us. We won- dered: is there any way you can bypass this bias?”
While Pennsylvania law doesn’t re- quire people to show ID when picking up prescription medications, pharma- cists may ask for it at their discretion. The problem, Pérez says, is that some people without housing don’t have IDs or proof of address to show—and they’re often the same people who pharmacists flag. “We wanted to create a prototype that would make prescription pick up easy and streamlined, while keeping in mind the challenges specific to home- less individuals,” she adds. “The result was an idea that any patient could ben- efit from.”
Pérez and her group developed an in-store locker system, with a check-in screen that allows patients to confirm their name, date of birth, insurance information, and the medication they are receiving. A pharmacist would then place the medication inside a dou- ble-sided door, and the patient would retrieve it, no face-to-face encounter required.
“Even though design thinking can be thought of as separate from nursing, there are ways to implement it across settings and units as a nurse,” Pérez says. “I look forward to applying these concepts to my future practice.”
Isabel Martinez Nu’22
Student in Nursing in the Community NURS 380
Growing up with parents who were both nurses, it wasn’t unusu- al for Isabel Marie Martinez Nu’22 to hear her dad “casually talk about mas- saging a heart” during dinner, she says. Now Martinez is en route to her own set of kitchen-table tales, with plans to become a women’s health nurse practi- tioner working in community nursing.
Her interest ignited through an internship at Puentes de Salud in the summer of 2020. But Martinez says that taking Nursing in the Community (NURS 380)—a required clinical course that places Penn Nursing seniors into local public health roles—helped solidify her plans to work in a commu- nity setting.
For Martinez, NURS 380 meant re- porting to a senior center in Roxborough each week. Along with six other Nursing students, she performed blood-pres- sure screenings, became familiar with the regular participants, and organized presentations on relevant health top- ics. “The overarching goal was to get involved, see what they need, and hope- fully provide that,” she says.
One of her classmates spoke to the group about depression and anxiety in older adults. Another discussed first aid and safety. Martinez presented on nutri- tion for the aging body.
“One of the biggest takeaways I had was continuing your role as a nurse after your shift,” she says. “Providing knowledge that some communities may not have can be really powerful and even improve their long-term health.”
Community partnerships are at the core of Nursing’s ABCS courses and other service-learning opportunities. They’re born in any number of ways: sometimes an organization approaches the school about a specific need, other times professors pass along a connection they’ve already forged, or often it’s as simple as someone in the Nursing school hearing about something in the community and wanting to get involved.
The partners are equally varied—from a local barbershop that sought out hypertension screenings for its clients, all the way to the country’s top public health agency. Last year the
CDC contacted Penn to join its Mask Adherence Surveillance at Colleges and Universities Project (MASCUP). The School of Nursing became the project’s leader on campus, with students tracking and recording some 4,000 observations of mask usage across campus over 10 weeks.
Other ongoing community partnerships connect the Nursing School with Puentes de Salud, a nonprofit clinic that serves Philly’s Latino population; the School District of Philadelphia; the People’s Emergency Center in West Philly; and the Philadelphia Nurse Family Partnership, among many more.
Meghan Wenzinger Nu’22
Volunteer with the Philly Counts Vaccine Champion Program
It’s easy to lose sight of vaccine resistance when you’re a student at Penn, sitting inside classrooms in which “everyone is vaccinated and has their booster and we all sort of have a similar mindset around the pandemic,” says Meghan Wenzinger Nu’22.
That’s partly why she decided to vol- unteer for the Philly Counts’ Vaccine Champion program this year. After completing an in-depth training that covered everything from common mis- conceptions around the COVID-19 vac- cines to strategies for approaching the vaccine-hesitant, Wenzinger began vol- unteering at vaccination clinics around the city.
While most people were excited to receive their shot, one person sticks out in her memory. When they told her ‘I’m only here because my job is making me,’ “I was sort of caught off-guard,” she remembers. As she explained that she was happy to answer any questions or flag down a provider for the person to speak with, it was a reminder of how important it is, as a nurse in the age of COVID-19, “to have difficult conver- sations with people who may not be enthusiastic about getting vaccinated,” she says.
“It’s definitely not the same as a class- room experience, where we’re learning about numbers and hypotheticals,” adds Wenzinger, who also volunteers with Alzheimer’s patients at the Penn Memory Center. “It’s different to actual- ly engage with people who are living in the community and hear their thoughts.”
She plans to pursue either psychi- atric or community nursing after grad- uation. “I think both of them are sort of under-appreciated or not given the spotlight a lot of the time,” she says.
“And at the same time, I think the pan- demic has underscored how important mental health, public health, and com- munity nursing really are.”
David E. Álvarez-Sánchez Nu’24
Research Assistant for the COVID Testing, Resources, and Community Engagement (TRACE) Project
In the past year, David E. Álvarez-Sánchez Nu’24 has spent at
least one day each week traveling to Philly’s Kensington neighbor- hood to help offer COVID-19 testing to underserved populations.
The area is known as the center of Philly’s opioid epidemic, and its poverty levels and rate of violent crimes soar above the city’s averages. But Álvarez-Sánchez quickly learned that there is nuance within those statistics. After surveying hundreds of people who have shown up to the Kensington site for free COVID testing, “my biggest takeaway is that you can never judge a book by its cover,” he says. “There are people with graduate degrees who are un-housed. It’s not just a one-dimensional population—and it’s so important that you treat everyone the same in terms of the care you provide to them.”
Led by Assistant Professor Antonio Dávila Jr. PhD, the COVID TRACE Project team includes a student from the School of Medicine, a regis- tered nurse, a few post-baccalaureate students, plus Álvarez-Sánchez and several other Nursing undergrads. “It’s been really nice to meet these different people whom I wouldn’t have met otherwise in my nursing bub- ble,” he says.
That extends to the people getting tested, too. “It’s a different popula- tion than I see in University City,” he says, “and it’s been really rewarding and enriching to get to know a little more about them.”
“I don’t know where I’m going to end up in my career and what popu- lation I’ll serve,” he adds. “But wherever you work, you will come across diverse individuals who are going through certain things. As a nurse, it’s super important to be cognizant of what those communities face.”
Hayley Siegle Nu’23
Volunteer and Site Leader at The Common Place
So when the opportunity arose in Fall 2020 to work with a group of kin- dergartners through
eighth graders at Philly’s The Common Place—an organi- zation that serves West Philly students— Siegle was eager to get involved. Since then, she’s continued to help Nursing students share their skills there through ongoing weekly presentations.
Topics have included mindfulness and meditation, the importance of phys- ical activity, the functions of the brain and heart, and the basics of COVID-19. “I think the most challenging part was figuring out the level at which we should be teaching and how specific we should get,”Siegle says. “With time, we’ve really gotten more comfortable and can see what’s worked and what hasn’t worked.”
Now as the site leader for Community Champions’ partnership with The Common Place, Siegle meets with the organization’s program director and program coordinator to hammer out all the logistics.
“I think it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day life of being a Penn student,” she says, “but I found it su- per impactful to work with the larger community—and there’s a need for our help.”
Nursing students also connect with nearby communities as members of student organizations. For many groups, community engagement is a part of their broader goals. For Community Champions, it’s their entire mission.
Founded in 2014 as a service-learning organization for Nursing students, Community Champions now consistently matches up to a hundred students with sites throughout the local community. In the past year alone, students have volunteered with an education program for new parents at HUP; engaged with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients at the Penn Memory Center; connected to broader vaccine efforts through Philly Counts’ Vaccine Champions; and worked on a “Diversity in Nursing” initiative to educate high school students in West Philadelphia about nursing as a career.
You’ll find students out in the community as members of other groups, too. Student Nurses at Penn, the Asian Pacific American Nursing Student Association, and the Minorities in Nursing Organization all dedicate time to people off campus— whether it’s spearheading fundraisers, volunteering, or sharing their nursing skills.
Sarah Badlis Nu’22
Co-leader of Community Champions
Sarah Badlis Nu’22 isn’t much of a dancer, but when an elderly woman in the Dance for Health program where she volunteered got up one day and held out her hand, Badlis happily accepted the invitation.
“I made up a few moves and everyone was smiling and clapping along,” she recalls. “Once the music started, there was so much joy in a room that had pre- viously appeared so gloomy.”
Now that moment sticks out as one of the most beautiful among the four years she’s spent volunteering in the community through Penn Nursing’s Community Champions group. “It was having that opportunity to make some- one’s day and put smiles on people’s fac- es,” says Badlis, “That’s something I will cherish for a long time.”
This year, she’s leading Community Champions along with two other students. That means ensuring that Nursing students are matched up with the sites they’re most interested in, and at the same time, that the group is truly responding to the community’s needs.
“I’ve lived in the Philadelphia area my entire life, and yet I didn’t really know my community” before getting involved with Community Champions, Badlis says. “I know I’m just one person and I can’t solve everything, but my service work has definitely made me realize how important it is to understand the needs of a community if you want to live and work in it. You can’t just swoop in and try to save the day.”
Linda Jiang Nu’23
President of the Asian Pacific American Nursing Student Association (APANSA)
Some Nursing students say that Penn can feel sheltered from the larger city, but getting involved across Philly comes naturally to Linda Jiang Nu’23—she’s been doing it all her life.
Jiang grew up in South Philadelphia, “so I’ve been very inclined to give back to my community,” she says. And she’s found many ways to do it while also pursuing her Nursing degree.
She’s packed meals at a local church as a member of Alpha Phi Omega, Penn’s coed service fraternity. She designed a new hospital gown for survivors of sexual assault as part of Design Thinking Case Study (NURS 357). And last fall, she began working with Philly CEAL—a collaboration between Penn Nursing, the School of Medicine, the Annenberg School, and the City of Philadelphia.
“We try to gather information from underserved Philadelphia communities to find out what barriers they have in accessing the COVID-19 vaccine,” she says. “The goal is to find a solution to minimize disparities in the vaccination rate.”
Jiang is also president of APANSA, a group for Asian Pacific Nursing students at Penn. While APANSA’s main goal is to foster community among those students, the group also engages in service around the city. They’ve packed meals with Philly’s Metropolitan Area Neighborhood Nutrition Alliance and fundraised for the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC).
As she begins her term as president, Jiang plans to seek out more opportunities for APANSA to connect with the city around them—from deeper involvement with the PCDC, to helping at a local public garden, to collaborating with Nursing’s own Community Champions.
John Palmer Nu’23
President of Student Nurses at Penn (SNAP)
As the current president of SNAP, John Palmer Nu’23 helps steer the group’s peer advising program and community service efforts—from fundraisers and blood drives to making meals for those in need.
But Palmer says his deepest community involvement has taken an unexpected form. Each year, SNAP’s legislative committee develops a resolution that they propose at state and national student nurse meetings. If passed, those resolutions help set the policy agenda for student nursing organizations around the state and country.
Palmer became SNAP’s legislative coordinator his freshman year and has been involved in the group’s legislative efforts ever since. In that time, he’s helped pen resolutions that focus on increasing awareness of the disparities in access to donor breast milk; on teaching more nursing students about equity issues, including the social de- terminants of health; and on increasing nursing education around the positive impacts of doula care.
“When you think of community engagement or service, [legislation] is probably not the first thing that comes to mind,” he says. “But a lot of the topics we choose are directly related to problems in Philadelphia, so by educating future nurses and advocating for change and progress, you are serving the community.”
Palmer is also more directly embed- ded in West Philly through his role as a certified nursing assistant at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, where he works on the trauma floor.
“I walk through the halls of the hospital and have people asking me how I’m doing, how my day is,” he says. “I feel like I’m part of this community, even though I’m just a student here.”