First Scholars Network Regional Meeting Is a Smashing Success

The NCIN Scholars Network – conceived, designed and implemented by NCIN scholars – recently held the first in a series of Regional Meetings. This first meeting, the NCIN Student Leadership Conference in Omaha, Neb, was organized by scholars and faculty at three NCIN grantee institutions based in Omaha: Creighton University, Nebraska Methodist College (NMC), and the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC). 
The idea for this first meeting came to Susan Ward, PhD, RN, director of Nursing, Special Programs at NMC and NCIN program liaison, during the 2012 NCIN Annual Summit.
“I listened to the students who presented the idea for their Scholars Network and then I realized that we had three grantee institutions in Omaha,” she said.  “I thought a conference that helped to strengthen and grow the Scholars Network would be a good idea and since Omaha has three NCIN grantees, it seemed like a great candidate for just such a conference.”
Ward contacted her counterparts at Creighton University and UNMC and they agreed that they should not let the opportunity slip away. Much like the Scholars Network, the Student Leadership Conference was driven by the interests and ideas of the scholars, themselves. 
Carli Culjat, a recent NCIN alumna, was instrumental in bringing the event to fruition. One of her advisors, Amy Cosimano, EdD, RN, assistant professor and assistant dean for Student Affairs at Creighton University, invited her to be part of the planning committee, along with other scholars and alumni from NMC and UNMC. Culjat jumped at the chance.
“I believe that networking is crucial for nurses,” said Culjat. “I think the Scholars Network will prove to be very useful to NCIN scholars and alumni. It will give us opportunities to share information that can help us in our careers, and even more importantly, improve patient outcomes. This is like joining a nursing specialty association – it will help us all strive for excellence.”
Culjat and her colleagues (fellow scholars and alumni) took full responsibility for the program of this first regional meeting. They selected the topics, brainstormed possible speakers, and – working with faculty – invited experts to speak at the conference.
The conference addressed some of the most important topics in nursing today, including HIPAA and social media, interprofessional collaboration, the Affordable Care Act, diversity in nursing, and disaster planning. The more than 120 participants also heard from influential nurse leaders about their journeys to leadership. NCIN Deputy Director Vernell DeWitty, PhD, RN, gave the keynote address on building a career path.
“Dr. DeWitty’s remarks really inspired all of us,” said Culjat. “She and the other nursing leaders talked about the fact that it doesn’t matter where you start, you can always establish yourself as a leader in nursing. “
To ensure that the maximum number of students could participate, Culjat and her colleagues arranged for students at three satellite locations to participate via interactive video. 
“We were all so pleased with the way the conference turned out,” said Cosimano. “The scholars created a program that really spoke to their interests as new nurses and  it was very successful. The participants were very engaged and the sessions were really more dialogues than lectures.” Cosimano also had some tips for faculty who will work with scholars to organize future meetings of the Scholars Network:
1. Start as soon as possible. It will take longer than you think.
2. Get the scholars involved and listen to them. They have a rich and vast history of experience.
3. It can be hard to give up control, but the scholars need to be in charge of the conference to ensure that it speaks to their goals and interests.
“I particularly want to thank NCIN for their support of this conference,” said Ward. “Not only did Dr. DeWitty come in specifically to share her thoughts and experience with our scholars, but the program office also provided crucial in-kind support to help us make this first Student Leadership Conference a success.”