Commencement Day 3: GCU is right prescription

Monday was a big day for nurses who were graduating from GCU's online program. (Photo by Darryl Webb)

GCU News Bureau Staff

From an early age, Toyin Lawal knew she was going to become a nurse. She imagined herself in a white uniform traveling around the world. Although she had this bright vision in mind, she could not imagine how rigorous the training would be once she started her education.

Lawal, 55, had taken several courses in her native Nigeria and the United Kingdom, had received her RN license in 1981 and had worked for more than a decade as a nurse in Kenya and Saudi Arabia, but she still had no luck transferring her credits to any college in the United States. Eventually, she discovered Grand Canyon University at a conference in California for Nigerian Nurses in North America.

“I remember there was a break-out session at this event, and I saw a vendor with a sign that read, ‘Find your purpose,’” Lawal said. “That’s what I had been looking for.”

Toyin Lawal
Toyin Lawal

She was quickly drawn to GCU’s online program and without hesitation pulled out the transcripts she had been carrying in her purse. That same night, the GCU representative faxed her transcripts, and one week later Lawal was looking at the number of units she needed to complete her degree.

“It was awesome — super!” she said.

Monday morning in spring commencement for nontraditional students in the College of Nursing and Health Care Professions, Lawal received her degree: Master of Science in Nursing with an Emphasis in Leadership in Health Care Systems. She completed the program while working as assistant director of ambulatory services at UCLA Health in Los Angeles, monitoring patient care services and clinical practices of more than 200 clinics throughout Los Angeles County, Orange County and North Valley.

She said she has felt blessed by her opportunity at GCU.

“I have the background, I have the experience, but the education is also very important to match the experience and that is how GCU has helped me in a much more professional manner,” Lawal said. “I am more confident and more competent.”

This year, Lawal received the Succession Planning Scholarship Award for her outstanding leadership and the Nurse of the Year Award at UCLA Health.

Lawal believes she is at a point in her professional career where she can thrive as a leader and progress as an educator within her field.

“If I didn’t go to GCU I wouldn’t have that level of potential, capacity, knowledge and skill to be able to implement changes in our modern-day clinics,” she said. “People want to listen to me when I train them,” she said.

Justin Willman entertained the audience with his wit and magic at both the Saturday and Monday commencement ceremonies.
Justin Willman entertained the audience with his wit and magic at both the Saturday and Monday commencement ceremonies. (Photo by Darryl Webb)

Authority. Rule. Power. Service. According to Lawal, those are the characteristics of a leader.

That is what the graduates who leave their mark at GCU are like — bold enough to fulfill their dreams, critical thinkers and well-trained to be servant leaders. And though they are challenged by paperwork, schoolwork and sleep deprivation, they have the energy to deliver a special level of compassion.

Fittingly, at commencement Monday, Dean of Students Pastor Tim Griffin offered a consolidating scripture, from Philippians 2:1-4: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

That's the trademark of GCU's online nursing students: They're always looking out for others. Here's how some of them have shined throughout their careers, along with a few scenes from what was happening Monday.

Jeannette Cruz

A balancing act

Ruth Anne Skinner, lead Acute Care Nurse Practitioner faculty in CONHCP, said she’s been amazed by what students are able to do.

The ACNP program itself combines core courses that cover patient assessment skills, the study of how chemical agents affect biological systems and pathophysiology. It is designed for students with an active RN license, which means students manage working full-time and studying to get their nursing degree.

Graduates react to Justin Willman's act. (Photo by Darryl Webb)
Graduates react to Justin Willman's act. (Photo by Darryl Webb)

It also includes 550 hands-on clinical hours and exams in person and in online discussions every week. In her classroom, Skinner engages students through discussion topics based on real-life scenarios and often will upload photos of a patient’s X-rays to provide a descriptive visual.

"It’s definitely rigorous, but I think that adds to the significance of their degree,” she said. “There's a certain amount of respect you get for someone who works in a hospital setting, gets married or has a baby during the program and continues to work hard.”

Jeannette Cruz

Comfortable at 100 mph

Shawn O’Haver was in the coal industry at a job that paid really well when one day he got laid off. It was the catalyst that took him back to school to be a nurse practitioner in the emergency room.

The Texas native is the director of surgical services at La Paz Regional Hospital in Parker, Ariz., and also just got promoted to captain in the Air Force. He said he’s found that he thrives when he’s got a full plate to handle.

“I like things to be thrown at me at 100 mph,” he said.

School was another way to propel him forward.

“I really want to make a difference to people within a system and nursing is one way to do such amazing things – a case manager, a doctor’s office, surgery, anything,” he said.

For O’Haver, the best part about his experience at GCU was being able to apply a classroom discussion at his job when he was prescribing medication to a patient.

“It was a great feeling because it gives you a lot of credibility when you are able to talk about certain things with the doctors,” he said. “Nurses don’t get that a lot.”

But the patients can make a nurse feel “better than anything else in the world,” he added.

“The one thing that will stick with you for the rest of your life is that ‘Thank you for making me feel better.’”

Jeannette Cruz

He has the heart of  a servant 

Dave Melbourne, 41, conducts surgery for a hernia repair — it’s one week before graduation and is one of his typical days. Melbourne currently performs open heart surgeries. His role is to follow up with patients in the Intensive Care Unit.

“It’s been a busy semester,” he said.

Melbourne works for Banner Baywood Medical Center and Banner Desert Medical Centers as a supervisor. He moved to Arizona from Loma Linda, Calif., in 2014 to network with other physicians and eventually applied to GCU.

Initially, he said being an online student was a challenge, but the online flexibility made balance a lot easier.

“You really take what you read and apply it,” he said. “My biggest accomplishment in the program was to immerse myself in as much clinical aspect as I could.”

Melbourne’s first career goal was to be a pilot, but an eating disorder in high school excluded him from military service. Instead, he became involved in emergency medical services as a technician and eventually as a paramedic.

“Everything happens for a reason, and going to the military obviously wasn’t the plan for me,” Melbourne said.  “When you hold a human heart in your hand, you’re excited and you are anxious because you know you are making a difference.”

Jeannette Cruz

Making grandma proud 

Tiffany Judges, 32, has been a nurse for 12 years and currently works at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix.

She is the only of 15 grandchildren who decided she would follow in their grandmother’s footsteps.

“My grandmother was a World War II Army nurse,” Judges said. “The idea of lending a hand and being a part of someone’s life sounded and is rewarding to me.”

However, with a family and a dog to care for, Tiffany said she knew an online degree would be her best route. After all, she couldn’t afford spending more on doggy day care.

“My grandmother passed away in February, but she loved having another nurse in the family,” Judges said. “I know grandmas can’t play favorites, but I was hers.”

Jeannette Cruz

One mission to the next 

Maria Chiotu has been a registered nurse for more than 30 years. While she completed he degree at GCU she also continued to serve as a missionary through a society of nuns formed in Africa and based in Washington D.C.

How did she do it? One, “God.” And two, “GCU.”

It was one hour before the ceremony and Chiotu was giggling with three of her sisters. How could they not? They had spent the weekend touring the city and had even visited the zoo and the Desert Botanical Garden. You couldn’t miss them in their long, royal blue veils and white habits as they posed for pictures.

“One thing I love about this school is its Christianity,” Chiotu said. “The first instruction they gave us was about keeping up your spiritual life while pursuing your education – that was beautiful.”

With her degree, Chiotu said she hopes to obtain an administrative position in health care and then eventually retire to Africa.

Before walking into the Arena, Chiotu added one final remark: “Education should be for everyone.”

Jeannette Cruz

They traveled 'the road to velvet'

Robin Schaefer and Amber Porter just met two days ago, but they bonded quickly.

After all, they are the same age, 47, around the same height and on Monday sported short, stylish blonde hair under velvet doctorate beanies.

But the common interest that binds them most is their area of study: Both graduated at the same time on the same day from GCU with doctorate in nursing practice degrees.

“This is my third GCU degree,” said Porter, of Phoenix, who works at Banner- University Medical Center Phoenix as a nurse practitioner. She previously earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a master’s of science in nursing-family nurse practitioner.

She proudly displayed the gold-trimmed purple patches on the sleeves and the velvet hood of her graduation garb.

“In our first class, I said that our goal was we all had to be ‘on the road to velvet,’’’ Porter said.

Schaefer is from North Carolina and practices nursing in the CarolinaEast Health System.

“This enhances my love of lifelong learning,” she said. “There is always new evidence in the research to do the same thing differently, which enhances nursing care.”

Both graduates spoke passionately about the benefit of continued learning but agreed that the road has come to an end now that they earned their doctorate degrees.

Porter put it simply: “I’m done.”

      —Laurie Merrill

Caring for people is what nursing is about 

Deane McFadden, 43, said that for her, nursing is simply a calling.

“You have to truly care for people,” she said.

On Monday, the Portland, Ore., resident became the proud recipient of a master’s of science in nursing from GCU.

The degree is a requirement, she said, for the position she already holds, assistant nurse manager in a Tualatin, Ore., critical care unit.

“I loved getting my degree,” she said. “It was very time consuming, but I loved it.”

—Laurie Merrill


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GCU Magazine

Bible Verse

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

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