Nursing students at Alverno College can join not one, but four, student nurse organizations: the Alverno College Student Nurses Association (ACSNA), the Black Student Nurses Association, the Hispanic Student Nurses Association, and the Alverno Asian Student Nurses Association.

The diverse student groups not only celebrate and reflect the diversity of Alverno’s student population; they help nursing students connect in deeply meaningful ways.

“Alverno College has a long and rich history of attracting both international and non-traditional nursing students to its programs,” says Stephanie Bruce, MSN, RN, assistant professor of nursing and ACSNA faculty advisor. “We have one of the largest, most diverse student populations in the state of Wisconsin.” The various student nurse groups are designed to meet the needs of Alverno’s nursing students, while giving students multiple opportunities to serve the city’s diverse population.

“It’s really been student-driven,” Bruce says. While both ACSNA and the Black Student Nurses Association have been around for a long time, the Hispanic Student Nurses Association was founded two years ago, after a student expressed a desire to organize a group to address health concerns in the Hispanic community. The Alverno Asian Student Nurses Association was founded a year later by a group of nursing students who wanted to serve the Asian community.

ACSNA acts as an “umbrella” group to the other nursing organizations. Nursing students must be a member of ACSNA to join any of the sub-groups; the leaders of each group meet monthly, and groups take turns sponsoring monthly ACSNA meetings.  By working together in this way, the student nurses have increased student involvement. Overall membership and meeting attendance is up, and students are sharing their knowledge and experiences with the community in ways the benefit both the students and the community-at-large.

The Hispanic Student Nurses Association, for instance, has presented educational sessions at both Mexican Fiesta and Latin Expo. The Asian Student Nurses Association has partnered with the Milwaukee Christian Center to serve the Hmong population. Community members gain valuable health information and services delivered in a culturally-sensitive manner; student nurses develop expertise in culturally-sensitive care and make important connections. “The previous president of the Alverno Asian Student Nurses Association actually got a job at Milwaukee Christian Center through her volunteer work and setting up the partnership,” Bruce says.

The groups may contribute to the success of Alverno’s student nurses in other ways, as well. “Research has shown that students who make cultural connections through social groups that reflect their cultural origin are more than likely to persist in higher education,” Bruce says. And while nursing students of any ethnic background are welcome to join any (or all) of the student groups, the groups can be an important source of support for students. “A lot of our students commute, and the student groups help them meet new people and create strong support systems at Alverno,” Bruce says. “They then have other people to push them forward and keep them going.”

Alverno’s student nurse groups have been so successful that they’ve garnered the attention of the Wisconsin Student Nurses Association (WSNA). In fact, Alverno College won WSNA’s 2013 Breakthrough to Nursing award, an award designed to recognize nursing schools that promote transcultural awareness and community engagement while supporting the education of students of diverse backgrounds.

“I think what stood out to them is our outreach and the partnerships our student groups have formed,” Bruce says. “We were able to dramatically increase the activity of our members while increasing awareness of the cultures we’re serving.”