May 5, 2014
East Carolina University students who are pursuing a nursing major and want to get involved outside of the classroom need look no further than the East Carolina Association of Nursing Students, or ECANS. The group, which was honored as ECU's Organization of the Year at the Student Activities and Organizations banquet on Sunday, May 4, is moving full steam ahead with its mission of promoting leadership and professional development for students studying to become nurses.
"We are so proud of the leadership our students have demonstrated," said College of Nursing Dean Sylvia Brown. "They exemplify excellence that is characteristic of Pirate Nurses."
One example of the group's tremendous leadership: It gained 129 new members over the past year, enough to bring its total head count to nearly 300 and win it grand prize in the National Student Nurses Association's annual membership recruitment contest. The award came with an expenses-paid trip to the NSNA annual convention in April, including airfare, accommodations and registration.
"These students are ambitious," said Clinical Associate Professor Dr. Gina Woody.
Woody, who advises ECANS together with Clinical Assistant Professor Mark Hand, explained that the growth is due to the group's concerted expansion efforts. Organizers changed the ECANS bylaws to allow membership for pre-nursing students. It also created committees – including a pre-nursing committee – to encourage greater involvement for all members.
"This change reflected our desire to develop leadership skills for pre-nursing students before entering nursing school, increasing the likelihood of assuming state and national leadership roles," said ECANS President and graduating senior Rachel L'Esperance.
Also increasing the likelihood of state and national involvement were the multiple opportunities ECANS students had at those levels this year. More than 20 ECANS members attended the National Student Nurses Association Convention in April, with several of those presenting posters or being honored as awardees. In March, the organization hosted the North Carolina Association of Nursing Students Annual Convention. More than 170 students attended, and 48 of those were ECU nursing students.
But, said L'Esperance, that kind of involvement is just one of the group's overall goals.
"Our mission for this year was to increase community outreach and participation to help nursing students better impact the community," she said.
With its members participating in a variety of recurring volunteer opportunities, the organization met that objective handily. Efforts included monthly visits to the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge to prepare meals and provide donations for patients and families. ECANS members assisted with Habitat for Humanity and the local Food Bank. The group also had a presence at events such as the College of Nursing's Pirate Nurse 5K and collaborated with other ECU health care disciplines to promote health education activities at Operation Sunshine, an after school program for young girls.
The volunteer efforts, together with the networking and leadership opportunities, leads to students' professional development.
"It shows how important professional organizations are to their growth once they get out in practice," Woody said, adding that involvement with student organizations is equally beneficial for faculty members.
"Faculty members that are involved with student organizations demonstrate servant leadership, which aligns with the university's mission," she said, "Beyond that, it's a fantastic opportunity to mentor and nurture the future leaders of the nursing profession."