Professor Paulina Van Honored for Excellence in Nursing Education
Nursing Professor Paulina Van has received the 2021 Excellence in Nursing Leadership Award for Education from the Nu Xi at-Large Chapter of Sigma, an organization committed to developing nurse leaders who transform global healthcare. She was honored for dedication to her students, mastery of her field, and for organizing engaging clinical learning experiences.
Van is esteemed in her field for her clinical work and research, which focuses on the wide range of issues concerning women and pregnancy loss. She has also left a lasting impact on the many students she mentors including many of those in SMU’s Nursing Workforce Diversity program.
“Paulina is a leader and a committed nursing educator who role models lifelong learning for students,” says Professor Emeritus Abby Heydman, former dean of nursing at SMU and one of Van’s nominators for the award. “She is diplomatic but direct, empathetic, and caring. She has positively influenced many students who will contribute a great deal to society as nurses now and in the future.”
Van entered academia after spending over 20 years in executive-level positions in acute care, home care, and public health. She has held faculty and administrative positions in schools of nursing at Samuel Merritt University; University of San Francisco; University of California, San Francisco; and California State University, East Bay. She has held leadership roles at three Bay Area chapters of Sigma, was awarded the Congressional Recognition for Outstanding Community Service by the U.S. Congress, and is a faculty associate for the Watson Caring Science Institute. She recently became a Caritas coach and HeartMath certified trainer to support her commitment to promoting self-care.
Since 2016, Van has been the principal investigator of SMU’s Nursing Workforce Diversity (NWD) grant, overseeing $1.835 million in federal grant funds to grow the number of African American and Latinx nurses. Each semester for the past five years, 10 African American and 5 Latinx students benefit from a menu of support initiatives that include weekly tutoring, monthly counseling, mentoring, scholarship funds, and a monthly stipend.
“We knew money alone wouldn’t promote the success our students are experiencing,” says Van, who is proud of the 55 NWD graduates. “Students of color often feel isolated and alone, and they have to deal with the exclusion issues of bias and race, not only in school but also in society. We created a support system to help them navigate going into the nursing profession.”
These feelings of isolation are familiar to Van, who has many “firsts” to her name. She was the first person of African descent to be the highest-ranking nurse administrator at what is now Alta Bates Summit in Oakland, the first academic leader of African descent at CSU East Bay Department of Nursing and Health Sciences, and one of the first two full professors at Samuel Merritt University with African heritage.
As a first-generation college student, Aariona Wysinger, BSN ’19, credits the support she received from the NWD program, and from Van in particular, for helping her succeed during nursing school and land her dream job at Johns Hopkins Hospital after graduating.
“Being part of the NWD program took away a lot of the stress and anxiety I felt as one of a few minority students in the nursing program,” Wysinger says, who is now a telemetry nurse at Kaiser Redwood City. “Having that supportive group of students and faculty made it a lot easier, and the financial stipends and grants meant I graduated with less debt.”
Van’s mentorship has given Wysinger a solid foundation that’s already bolstering her career. “Dr. Van helped me prepare for my Johns Hopkins interview, and she taught me to go into it with confidence and believing in myself,” Wysinger says. “She was so very helpful, and I’m grateful because getting that position opened up a lot of opportunities for me, both at Johns Hopkins and the other hospitals I’ve worked at since then.”