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DNP student Jacqueline Mbugua serves as role model for nursing peers in new GSN teaching associate program

Air National Guard staff sergeant and former community college biology teacher among the first GSN students to serve as leader in new initiative

By Kylee Denesha

UMass Medical School Communications

January 29, 2021

A new Graduate School of Nursing initiative is putting Doctor of Nursing Practice and PhD students at the head of the class to serve as role models for their peers.

Jacqueline Mbugua

Jacqueline Mbugua, a student in the GSN Graduate Entry Pathway program, is one of the first to serve as a teaching associate and she is bringing her unique perspective to the role. The Kenya native is a staff sergeant in the Air National Guard and previously taught biology at Bristol Community College in Fall River as an associate professor for 10 years.

“Nurses are educators. When my instructors told me I’d be teaching my patients, I realized I would be a lifelong teacher. This is a great way for me to gain more experience teaching in a field that I love,” said Mbugua.

The teaching associate role offers DNP and PhD students the opportunity to teach a didactic or clinical course for a semester under faculty guidance. The new program is supported by Terence R. Flotte, MD, the Celia and Isaac Haidak Professor, executive deputy chancellor, provost and dean of the School of Medicine, and Joan Vitello, PhD, dean of the GSN.

Teaching associates are employed by the Medical School and serve as advanced level graduate teaching assistants, having primary responsibility for their courses, including grading. Priority is given to students from underrepresented populations.

“We’ve always wanted to have teaching associates. They’re serving as role models and are an integral part of the educational process,” said Maureen Wassef, PhD, RN, associate professor of nursing and director of continuing education and nurse educator specialty. “This is a great way for students to be recruited and encouraged toward faculty roles.”

Teaching associates develop their own course syllabi, modules, objectives and instructional materials, all of which are reviewed by a faculty supervisor. In the fall, Mbugua collaborated with a faculty member to teach an online nursing concepts course focused on understanding patient-centered care and health literacy.

“This opportunity has allowed me to hone my teaching skills at the graduate level,” said Mbugua. “I also feel I can help influence our nursing education and help create more education on diversity, specifically assessments of patients of color.”

Her current concepts course prioritizes family- and community-centered care, while incorporating diversity into the curriculum in unison with the institution’s DRIVE (Diversity, Representation and Inclusion for Value in Education) initiative. Her goal is to integrate social injustice issues and racial discrimination and their effects on health outcomes into the nursing curriculum.

Mbugua said her teaching experience at Bristol Community College has been key.

“It was a wonderful foundation to lead my nursing and education career,” Mbugua said.

In 2015, she joined the Air National Guard and is now a staff sergeant at Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod. Mbugua hopes to commission as an officer once she earns her DNP, continuing to serve military families and the community.

“I may not be able to change everything, but just being able to make a difference is a huge inspiration for me on a daily basis,” she said.

“This is our investment in the students; this is our investment in the future,” said Dr. Wassef. “We see these individuals’ great worth as they will be the nurses making our society a better place.”

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