Nurses Alumni Organization Honors Outstanding Members of Class of 2023

School of Nursing pin

The University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Nursing is proud to honor 17 incredible nursing graduates with traditional nursing pins, presented by the Nurses Alumni Organization (NAO).

Customarily presented at the annual NAO Graduation Celebration and Pinning Ceremony prior to commencement, this year’s commemoration was held through a virtual celebration on April 26.

Jordan Langer, alumni relations officer for the School of Nursing, notes the significance of the pinning ceremony, explaining, “The pin of the UW–Madison School of Nursing embodies a proud tradition of service. Each year, select pins are passed on from an alumni to a new graduate as a sign of the recipient’s achievement and promise. This year’s honorees are an exceptional group, and we are excited to see them become leaders in the profession and society.”

Established in 1927, the NAO includes School of Nursing graduates from degree and certificate programs. The organization works closely with the School of Nursing to promote fellowship and recognition among school alumni, advance school programs, further high standards for nursing education and practice, and support students in various ways, including scholarships and awards.

This year, 14 graduates received pins donated by alumni, including a mother passing her pin down to her daughter. In addition, one received a pin from the Board of Visitors (BOV), one received a legacy pin from the Class of 1997, and one received a pin from Dean Linda D. Scott, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FNAP, FAAN, marking the fifth year the Dean’s Pin has been presented to a graduate for their leadership and service to the school.

Of the 17 total recipients, 15 are graduating from the traditional bachelor of science in nursing (TBSN) program, and two are graduating from the accelerated bachelor of science in nursing (ABSN) program.

Cassandra BauerCassandra Bauer, TBSN > Class of 1997 Legacy Pin

A consistent member of the Dean’s List, Cassandra “Cassie” Bauer will graduate from the traditional BSN program with honors. Her path to nursing was influenced by her love for learning and a strong family tie to the profession. “Since I’ve been young, knowledge has always intrigued me,” she said. “Biology, physiology, and anatomy have academically challenged me, leading to my interest in health care. Nursing is both a science and an art. Seeing the passion, sacrifice, dedication, and love that my Aunt Nora brought into nursing led me to this career path. Following in her footsteps, she is a UW–Madison nursing alum, has given me the ability to go out and show my same passion for nursing!”

Megan Miller, PhD, RN, assistant professor at the School of Nursing, notes that Bauer has been a great addition to her research team, adding, “She brings creativity, passion, and integrity to her work. Cassie and I have worked together since the summer of 2022 during her undergraduate honors experience. She has thoughtfully designed a project to explore spirituality over time among people with cancer.”

Cassie recently earned the UW CIPE Badger Leadership Badge for achievement in gaining basic leadership knowledge and experience in facilitating interprofessional practice and education.

“Cassie has been working on an Honors thesis project to explore qualitative data in a new way, looking at transcripts from interviews I had conducted as part of a larger study, to examine how people with cancer describe changes in spirituality across their lifespan (before, during, and after cancer diagnosis),” said Miller. “I am impressed with the care Cassie has brought to analyzing qualitative data, developing themes, and selecting representative quotes. Cassie’s commitment to representing the participants’ accounts of their lived experiences is clear, and she is dedicated to applying results to impact nursing.”

In addition to her academics, Bauer has been working at multiple jobs throughout her academic journey to gain experience in nursing and support herself, working as both a nurse extern and a nanny.

Bauer received the Class of 1997 Legacy Pin, which was donated on behalf of the Class of 1997 as a way to honor their 25-year reunion milestone. “Last year, several of my 1997 classmates and I came together to celebrate our 25-year reunion,” said Suzana Zamecnik ’97, who presented the pin at this year’s pinning ceremony. “The School of Nursing welcomed us back with open arms, and we were able to reconnect and look back on all the paths life has led us. During our time back on campus, our group decided to sponsor a legacy pin that could be included in the pinning tradition because our nursing pins mean the world to us. I can’t imagine a more deserving student than Cassie to receive our legacy pin.”

“The NAO pin symbolizes the achievement and future of nursing. Being a pin recipient, I want to acknowledge the nurses that have come before me. UW Madison nursing alum, along with all nurses, have carved the path for the future of Nursing. Their commitment to clinical practice, research, and innovation have guided the education and practice I have received. Thank you for your perseverance and devotion to the evolution of nurses.”

Bauer is thankful for the honor of receiving a pin and will take that Badger nurse pride with her as she begins her nursing career. “Upon graduation, I will be working at an inpatient psychiatric hospital in Middleton,” she said. “I am beyond grateful for my time at UW–Madison, the School of Nursing, and the honor of receiving a NAO pin. On, Wisconsin!”

Judy Chen, TBSN > Shari Paulus Diehl ’78

Judy Chen has had plenty of academic success while pursuing her nursing degree, earning Dean’s List honors for three out of the four semesters of nursing school. A member of the Sigma Beta Eta at-large chapter, she has been involved as an undergraduate researcher, new member educator, treasurer, volunteer, nurse extern at Northwestern and the Shirley Ryan Ability lab, as well as a tutor for anatomy.

A first generation Chinese-American student, Chen aspires to be a family nurse practitioner. Her path to nursing began when she graduated in 2021 with a Human Development and Family Studies degree. “This was my bridge between humanities and science through its holistic approach to understanding the human experience; a perspective I will apply as a nurse,” she said.

Chen discovered her passion for nursing when a family member was diagnosed with brain cancer and she became their primary caregiver. As their caregiver, Chen learned to appreciate the social-emotional aspect of caring for someone in their most vulnerable state. It is something she can envision herself applying to her future patients.

Classmates note that Chen is a good student who has a passion for learning and a positive attitude. She has faced challenges to get to where she is today, but recognizes that those challenges have helped shape her into the person she is today. “I was often bullied for not knowing how to speak English, but I never let others’ words stop me from reaching my goals,” Chen said. “My strength of perseverance allowed me to advocate for and be a leader in my community. My ethnicity and socio-economic class has shaped me to be the person I am today. Pursing my second degree was not easy, but the value of education is highly emphasized in our family. Because of financial hardships I have had to overcome to pursue this degree, it motivates me to work hard and take any opportunity I can to foster my growth.”

Shari Paulus Diehl '78
Shari Paulus Diehl ’78

Chen’s pin was donated by Shari Paulus Diehl ’78, who donated her pin because she wants it to be treasured by someone who will appreciate it.

She chose to pursue a career in nursing because she feels that she has a great deal of empathy for people of all ages, and a career in nursing provided her with an opportunity to help others.

Diehl has fond memories of the School of Nursing, noting, “As an older student, I was just grateful for the new experience and all that the Madison campus had to offer.” She took a non-traditional path, graduating first from St. Mary’s Hospital School of Nursing in Madison in 1973, which was a three-year diploma program.

She then worked at St. Mary’s on the adult medical-surgical floor before making the decision to earn her degree. “I decided I wanted to earn a degree and enrolled in UW–Madison,” Diehl says. “I was able to focus on community health rather than Hospital nursing. I feel that I experienced the best of both worlds!”

She went on to work in home health, which was an experience that she loved. “Seeing people in their homes is so valuable, and I felt so appreciated by them,” she says.

As Diehl raised five children, she had the opportunity to work as a substitute teacher in the school system. “My degree allowed me to do that,” she notes. “That experience opened my eyes to the education system and their challenges. Recently, I worked with our hospital as a vaccine nurse. It was an amazing experience!”

Diehl’s advice to new graduates is to stay open to education. “Keep on learning, as it never stops,” she says. “A nursing degree can take you wherever you choose.”

Chen will take the advice to heart when she graduates and begins her nursing career. She is honored to be chosen as a 2023 pin recipient. “To be receiving this nursing pin is an honor as this pin is passed from alumni for their dedication and passion for the field of nursing,” Chen said. “As a proud recipient, I plan to uphold the standards of this pin through my future work as a nurse when providing culturally competent care for all. Nursing school has challenged me in many ways I never thought I could be challenged, but it was through these challenges that I discovered my passion to be a nurse even more. This pin represents my hard work, commitment, and devotion as a student that will continue with me as I embark on the next chapter of being a licensed nurse.”

Yesenia GameroYesenia Gamero, TBSN > Elaine Stecker-Kochanski ’69

Yesenia Gamero’s passion for nursing began when she realized the impact she can have in diminishing barriers to help improve the health care quality for her family and those in her community. “As a first-generation Latina student, my education is not only a representation of my efforts, but also of those of my parents and family,” Gamero said.

She became a published author in her work with Dr. Maichou Lor, “Understanding Attitudes, Beliefs, Behaviors, and Barriers to Hearing Loss Care Among Hispanic Adults and Caregivers.” Gamero presented at the Midwest Nursing Research Society conference for her research projects in both 2022 and 2023, and was the pre-nursing speaker in 2021 and 2022.

Outside of her academic endeavors, Gamero has hosted drives and fundraisers through Sigma Lambda Gamma in efforts to help various philanthropies, increase breast cancer awareness, and help promote TRiO, a federal outreach program designed to identify and provide services for individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. As president of the Multicultural Student Nurse Organization (MSNO), she has guided many nursing students of color through workshops on the application process and program.

She has displayed a passion for women’s health care needs as she has worked on her honors thesis, working alongside Dr. Madelynne Greene. Her research has focused on the implementation of perinatal regionalization by combating barriers to mothers’ care and the lack of policies regarding levels of obstetric care.

Gamero hopes to promote positive change in vulnerable populations through improving the quality of health care services. Her unique identity as a Latina student from a low-income population allows her to create connections with patients as she incorporates a holistic nursing approach.

Gamero’s pin was donated by Elaine Stecker-Kochanski ’69, who chose to donate her pin because she appreciates the symbolism of passing along the pin to a new Badger nurse.

Elaine Stecker-Kochanski '69
Elaine Stecker-Kochanski ’69

Stecker-Kochanski found her way to nursing after spending two years at UW–Madison. “I entered college wanting to pursue a career in science of some sort,” she says. “After two years of classes, as well as working as a nurses’ aide at UW Hospital, I chose the nursing program.”

Upon graduation, she worked in Michigan in medical-surgical and obstetrics. “Adjusting for family needs, I also worked part-time in a single doctor medical office, and then in a county public health department,” she says. “Around that time, Medicare started covering home care visits. I moved back to Wisconsin, and for the next 23 years worked in home care and hospice agencies. The experience I had in hospital work and outpatient settings proved to be invaluable to home care and hospice services.”

Her advice to new graduates is to be observant. “If you did not grow up in a large family, read advice columns about family problems,” she says. “Observe and listen before you question and instruct patients and their families.”

Gamero will be able to apply Stecker-Kochanski’s advice when she returns to Los Angeles after graduation to begin work in the emergency department to help vulnerable communities. She notes that her nursing education is not finished, adding, “In the future, I hope to pursue a graduate degree in nursing and apply my experiences to create research that will improve the quality, access, and comfortability in healthcare for minority communities.”

Gamero is grateful to be receiving Stecker-Kochanski’s pin, noting, “Receiving this pin is such an honor as I become a part of a valued tradition at the UW–Madison School of Nursing,” she said. “This pin reflects my resilience, passion, and experiences, and represents the successes of me and my family.”

Annaly GarciaAnnaly Garcia, TBSN > Jane Weinstein Rosenfeld ’68

Annaly Garcia was inspired to be a nurse after watching the care her older sister received during an illness. “The nurses took great care of my sister, helped her through a difficult time in her life, and supported our family,” she said. “As a result, I strive to be a nurse who listens, understands, and advocates for my patients and their families. I hope to make a difference in the way people see the medical field by being a trusted figure for patients and colleagues. I also hope to inspire other young Latina girls to join the nursing field!”

Peers note that Garcia has overcome challenges that have come her way through hard work, perseverance, and determination. Her tenacity has helped her excel academically and become a leader among her classmates. She is recognized as someone who has an excellent academic record, and as someone who strives to enrich her nursing education through active participation in class, often taking advantage of opportunities to advance her critical thinking and nursing judgement skills.

As a student ambassador for the School of Nursing, Garcia exemplifies leadership through representing the School in outreach events on and off campus while helping to build and foster alumni relations. Her leadership extends even further as she mentors prospective nursing students as a peer advisor.

Her leadership extends beyond the classroom as she is on the Multicultural Student Nursing Organization’s executive board as the Nursing Academic Liaison. In this role, she works to ensure that students do not face their academic struggles alone. She offers her time to be a resource for many students seeking assistance during their nursing educational paths, and offers guidance to students on their nursing applications and interviews while also spending her time providing compassionate care to her patients.

Jane Rosenfeld '68
Jane Rosenfeld ’68

Garcia received her pin from Jane Weinstein Rosenfeld ’68, who chose the nursing profession because she wanted to be able to support herself in a way that would benefit society.

While Weinstein Rosenfeld had no previous experience in health care before entering the nursing program at UW–Madison, her early experiences in the program were positive. “The initial classes at UW made it feel as though it would be a good fit for me and that there would be many opportunities in different settings for practice and ongoing education.”

She chose to donate her pin because she cherishes the meaning behind the pin and wanted another Badger Nurse to experience wearing the pin with pride. “I wanted to get this out of my jewelry box and on to another shoulder,” she says.

As a new graduate, Weinstein Rosenfeld felt that she needed more hospital experience to put into practice the basic learning and skills that she obtained from the School of Nursing. Her early career path led to both public and private positions in urban city hospital and small public health settings. She has worked in medical-surgical, adult, pediatrics, labor and delivery, as well as in outpatient clinics. Later, after moving to a small mountain town, she worked in an adult clinic, served as a school nurse, dabbled in home health, and provided childbirth preparation classes. After a refresher for RN classes, she returned to the hospital setting in a step-down acute care unit. While she has retired, she continues to volunteer in hospital and community health settings.

Some of Weinstein Rosenfeld’s favorite memories from the School of Nursing are about the mentoring she received from professors, especially Val Prock and Karen Pridham, as well as guidance from graduate nurses.

Her advice for new graduates? “Take your time to figure out what interests you. Try different things; you’ll be able to use everything eventually.” She also urges new graduates to be welcome to mentorship in any form, adding, “Seek and treasure good mentors in all levels of health care.”

No stranger to knowing the value of mentorship having been a mentor herself, Garcia is thankful to be chosen as a 2023 pin recipient. “I am grateful to be a part of this tradition that honors the hard work and dedication that we have undergone in nursing school,” she said. “I look forward to being part of the next generation of Badger nurses!”

Danielle Nicole Harris, TBSN > Karen Breitzke Walter ’60

Danielle Harris admits that she initially had the desire to pursue a career as a physician in obstetrics and gynecology, but later changed course. “Nursing resonated with me more because of the specialized approach to care that nurses provide to patients,” she says. “Nurses have the opportunity to treat more than the illness. We help patients get through their experience of the illness and have the privilege of being at the core center of patient care to ensure we can advocate best for our patient’s values and concerns. I chose to pursue nursing because of my keen interest in obstetrics and gynecology and my desire to tackle the numerous racial and ethnic health care disparities that exist in health care—more specifically, the Black maternal and fetal mortality rates.”

A two-year student ambassador for the School of Nursing, Harris has been actively involved in making a positive impact on both the School and her peers throughout her nursing school journey. Noted by her peers as being compassionate, hardworking, and a tremendous leader, Harris has also dedicated time as an active member of the Multicultural Student Nursing Association (MSNO), most recently serving as president.

The traditional BSN student is noted by her peers as being an “amazing individual” who has “pride and passion” for her work. One peer noted, “She has inspired me and shown me what it truly means to be a kind and compassionate Badger nurse.”

Karen Breitzke Walter '60
Karen Breitzke Walter ’60

Harris received her pin from Karen Breitzke Walter ’60, who knew she wanted to be a nurse from a young age. “It was my only career of choice from the time I was a child. I love caring for others,” she says.

That passion for nursing carried her though an impressive career that saw her working until she was 76 years old. “I worked in a variety of disciplines, but most of my career was spent in infection control (IC),” she says. “I first began in that position in the early 1970’s when IC was in its infancy.”

Thinking back to her time at the School of Nursing, Walter fondly remembers the small class she graduated with. “We lived together in the nurses’ dorm, and are still in contact with each other today,” she says.

Walter chose to donate her pin because she was always proud to wear it and wanted its legacy to live on. When asked if she has any advice for new nursing graduates she said, “Be proud of your UW–Madison education!”

Harris is extremely grateful to receive the pin from Walter. “I have always strived my hardest to succeed in my nursing education while ensuring to mentor and serve others along the way who will walk in the same shoes I once wore as a UW–Madison nursing student,” she said. “Knowing that this pin is given to students who exemplify perseverance to overcome challenges and devotion to the nursing profession reinforces in me of why I have come this far in life, and that I have so much more to learn and accomplish. Thank you for this honor.”

Harris is looking forward to everything that will come her way once she embarks on her nursing career journey. “After I graduate, I will work as a postpartum mother/baby nurse at Northwestern Medicine Hospital,” she said. “I look forward to making an impact through advocating for all of my patients, and ensuring that patients’ voices from marginalized and underserved backgrounds are being heard and respected in order to provide equitable care during their obstetrics journey.”

Paige Danielle Henry, TBSN > Sandy Laedtke ’71

Paige Henry’s decision to pursue nursing was largely influenced by the experiences she has gone through as her family navigated her grandfather’s dementia diagnosis. “Although I was too young to assist with his medical care at the time, I quickly noticed how the compassion of his nurses put him at ease,” she said. “I realized that I had a desire to become a similar source of comfort and support for others.”

In pursuit of her goal to become a compassionate nurse, Henry has dedicated herself to academic excellence throughout her undergraduate career. She was inducted into the National Society of Leadership and Success in 2020, and into the Sigma Nursing Honor Society in November of 2022.

Her hard work has extended beyond the classroom. As a member of Badger Volunteers, a semester-long program that pairs teams of students with community volunteers to help foster meaningful and consistent connections between community partners and students, Henry was responsible for assisting older adults with household chores. She also volunteered at the Waisman Whirl and Ronald McDonald House through the Aspiring Nurses Association. In addition, she mentored two pre-nursing students after her own acceptance into the nursing program.

Henry is currently completing her clinical rotation at an organization called Reach Dane, which helps change the lives of underserved children and families through education and supportive services in Dane County. “Every month, I create Health Spotlight infographics for children and their families to view,” she said. “These publications are available in both English and Spanish, and they aim to educate and improve health outcomes.”

She is passionate about forming global nursing partnerships and engaging in cross-cultural research. “I decided to complete a summer study abroad program in Dublin, Ireland during the Summer of 2022,” said Henry. “This allowed me to identify the type of practice I would like to have in the future.”

Sandy Laedtke '71
Sandy Laedtke ’71

Henry received her pin from Sandy Laedtke ’71, who has a special reason for donating her pin. “I am at a place in my life where I am so grateful to have been able to afford and enjoy so many treasures in my life,” she says. “I want to pass these treasures on to others so they may be able to enjoy them, as well. My nursing career has enabled me to have this life, and my pin is a symbol of my career. I’m passing on my best wishes with this pin.”

Laedtke notes that when she graduated in 1971, career paths for women were not as diverse as they are today. “The most common choices were teaching, secretary, beautician, and nursing,” she says. “I chose nursing because my Dad said I’d make a good nurse. I think to make career choices when you are 18 is really a daunting experience.”

Despite that daunting experience, Laedtke’s career led her on a long, storied journey that saw her work a total of 33 years as a nurse, 31 of those at the Milwaukee Veterans Administration. “I am like a butterfly, meaning I never alight. I am constantly wanting to learn new things,” she explains. “I was able to learn and work with many specialties.”

Those specialties included staff nurse on the spinal cord service, nurse educator for nursing assistants, float nurse, head nurse on the spinal cord floor, research coordinator for congestive heart failure, research coordinator for vascular leg grafts, nurse care facilitator for general and plastic surgery clinics, and as an assessment coordinator for admission for dementia and rehab care. “I guess you could call me a ‘jack of all trades and master of none,’” she says.

She thinks back to the slower-paced summers in Madison when she was a student. “When I went to nursing school, the requirement was to attend two semesters of summer school for a total of four and one-half years. The pace during these summer sessions was slower and more enjoyable. It was nice to live in Madison during the summer.”

Laedtke’s advice for new graduates to take advantage when opportunity comes knocking. “Nursing has so many opportunities to grow, learn, and explore. Take advantage of every opportunity that is offered to you!”

Henry plans to commit herself to lifelong learning so she can continually grow as both a nurse and as an individual. “Overall, I hope to make a positive impact on the lives of my patients by providing safe, equitable, and quality care,” she said. She understands the value and importance of being recognized as a pin recipient, adding, “I am honored to receive this nursing pin and know that I am a part of a long tradition! To me, the nursing pin symbolizes my dedication to service, leadership, and scholarship. However, it also recognizes the promise that my future nursing career holds.”

Jamie Anne HernandezJamie Anne Hernandez, TBSN > Sonja Nealis ’74

Jamie Hernandez is a first-generation college student who hails from the small town of Necedah, Wisconsin. Her call to nursing began at an early age when she watched her family persevere through her father’s illness. “I realized my passion for nursing after watching how my dad was cared for throughout his long battle with diabetes,” Hernandez explained. “I saw what the effects were on not only him, but my mom and two older sisters, as well. The nurses were there to comfort and motivate my dad through dialysis and his kidney and pancreas transplant. What always stuck out to me the most though was the care given by my mom. She has the biggest heart and was always there for my dad, even during the toughest times. Though she is not officially a nurse, I strive to be like her when caring for my patients.”

As a result of her desire to change lives through nursing, Hernandez has made sure to get involved right from the start. “I have worked as a float student nurse assistant at the American Family Children’s Hospital throughout my time in the nursing program,” she said. “I have also worked at the American Red Cross, working up to be a team lead, and have also volunteered at numerous blood drives.”

For her hard work and academic efforts, Hernandez has received multiple merit-based scholarships to help her pursue her passion. She has been recognized for her academic efforts throughout her undergraduate journey, including receiving the Dean Linden Pioneer Achievement Award in 2018, as well as the Bronze Pin Award from UW Platteville.

Hernandez has faced some significant challenges throughout her undergraduate journey, including having to drive two and a half hours both ways to make sure her dad could get to his dialysis appointments prior to his pancreas and kidney transplant. She also helped care for her father after he became an amputee, moving him to Madison so she could help care for him. On top of it all, she has overcome the challenge of learning to communicate with patients effectively as an individual on the autism spectrum.

Despite the challenges she has faced, Hernandez has been able to make an impact and change lives. “After my time at Easter Seals Summer Camp, I realized how little we were prepared to work with the disabled population,” she said. As a result, she spoke with the program director to think of new ideas for better equipping nursing students with the knowledge and skills necessary for real-world applications and practice.

Sonja Nealis '74
Sonja Nealis ’74

She received her pin from Sonja Nealis ’74, who chose to pursue a career in nursing because she was interested in a career where she could care for and help others. “I graduated from Madison General Hospital with a diploma in 1967,” she said. “The program was excellent in preparing for a demanding hospital staff nurse position. Nursing education was changing in the late 1960’s, with the emergence of ADN programs and diploma programs closing. As a Diploma graduate, I felt that it was appropriate to pursue a BSN degree from UW–Madison. This involved taking and passing the final exams for the nursing courses offered at UW. I also had completed the nursing pre-requisites and completed the additional three required BSN courses. During that time, I was working as a staff nurse in the CCU at UW. Shortly after, I accepted a position as the 3rd Chemotherapy/Research nurse @ UW. During my nursing career, I’ve held research positions, additional oncology, and CCU positions. For the last 20 years until retirement, I was a nurse clinician in Electrophysiology, then medical Cardiology.”

She notes that her favorite memory from the School of Nursing was attending classes with her dear friend, Joanne Gray (Ellingson). “We developed an orientation program for the CCU RN at UWH,” she said.

Nealis chose to donate her pin because she wanted to share an important symbol of commitment. When asked if she had any advice for new nursing graduates, she encouraged them to “Remain medically curious.”

Hernandez will take Nealis’ advice to heart as she begins her nursing career. “I have accepted a position as a nurse resident at UW Hospital on the hemodialysis unit where I will care for patients like my dad,” she said. “I strive to care for my patients with the thoughtful and loving care that my mom demonstrated while I was growing up.”

She appreciates the unique tradition of the pinning ceremony and looks forward to passing her pin on one day in the future. “I am deeply honored to be receiving this pin and to be part of this tradition. I have some big shoes to fill, but I am grateful for the opportunity to honor Sonja and I will wear my pin with pride.”

Anna Eleanor Hinz, TBSN > Elaine Hrupka Williams, Cert’51, ’52 (Deceased)

Traditional BSN student Anna Hinz has maintained high academic performance while also being an active member of the student nursing and health care disciplines community. She is the president of UW–Madison’s chapter of a national health care organization and has successfully balanced a career while maintaining an impressive academic record — being named to the dean’s high honor roll multiple semesters.

Hinz has been actively involved in the UW–Madison chapter of HOSA-Future Health Care Professionals (formerly known as Health Occupations Students of America). She has been on the board for three years and has helped create opportunities for students to learn about different avenues and careers in health care. In addition, she has also mentored underclassmen and collaborated with various organizations across campus as a part of her involvement.

She has also worked on an all-campus health care symposium that is open to everyone who is interested in attending. “We bring in speakers from all different healthcare careers and they talk about how they got there and advice for people interested in the field,” she said. “It’s a semester-long project and is a significant undertaking.”

Hinz chose nursing for numerous reasons, including the opportunity to have flexibility with her career options. “I chose nursing due to my interest in science originally, but I also wanted to use the social and emotional side of my brain,” said Hinz. “The flexibility that comes with nursing is also amazing, there are no shortage of avenues my career can take.”

Elaine Hrupka Williams, Cert'51, '52 (right)
Elaine Hrupka Williams, Cert’51, ’52 (right)

Hinz received her pin from the late Elaine Hrupka Williams, Cert’50, ’52, whose own career was flexible and full of various avenues. “My mother’s career path started in obstetrics and gynecology, evolving to orthopedics, and then to community medicine,” said her daughter, Deirde Staudt. “She was proud to be a nurse, and it was core to her being.”

Staudt fondly remembers her mother being active in the community, noting, “I remember her with her first aid kit at my brother’s little league games, she gave us immunizations, she took blood pressures in the neighborhood, she answered anyone’s questions about their varied ailments. She represented nursing wherever she went!”

Speaking on her mother’s behalf, Staudt offered advice for new nursing graduates, “Remember that people trust nurses. Do everything you can to maintain that trust!”

Hinz will take the advice to heart and has already lined up a job upon graduation in the heart and vascular unit at UnityPoint Meriter hospital in Madison. “With my degree I eventually hope to find a position in patient education; it’s my favorite way to connect with patients and provide care,” she added.

She is honored to be selected as a 2023 pin recipient. “Receiving this nursing pin means so much to me,” she said. “As a third-generation nurse, I am so grateful to those that came before me and carved the path for me and all future nurses. Nursing pins are a long-standing tradition that I am proud to be a part of, and am so appreciative of Elaine Hrupka Williams and her family.”

Karl Hummel, TBSN > Michelle Byrne ’79, MSN ’86

Karl Hummel chose nursing because he wanted to enter into a career where he could work with his hands, experience new things every day, challenge his critical thinking skills, and work with other professionals dedicated to their job. “In the end, the core reason behind my desire to choose nursing was to care for others in their time of need,” he said. “I plan to use my nursing degree to provide the best possible care for patients regardless of the specialty I enter. Furthermore, I intend to utilize many skills learned during my time at the UW–Madison School of Nursing, such as the application of evidenced-based practice, clear communication, and compassionate, non-biased care.”

As an honors student, his passion for nursing initiated a research project examining community-dwelling older adults’ mobility and functioning. His findings highlight the importance of functional improvement in older adults who experience self-health stress, family health stress, and housing problem. His research project was selected to be presented at the 2023 Midwest Nursing Research Society annual conference, and he received a UW–Madison School of Nursing travel award to disseminate his research findings.

Peers are quick to mention that Hummel has excelled academically in his time at the School of Nursing, not only maintaining a strong academic record but also actively engaging in his didactic and clinical learning experiences. He shows tremendous effort to advance his critical thinking skills and utilizing nursing judgement when reviewing case studies, working in collaboration with peers, and seeking other opportunities to enhance his clinical nursing skills through shadowing different nursing specialties and open lab activities.

A student ambassador for the School, his peers also note that Hummel consistently seeks opportunities to provide service and leadership to the campus community. He also participates in UW Madison Triathlon Team to achieve his fitness and wellbeing goals, all the while, providing service and giving back to his community in volunteer activities that the team takes part in. Classmates make special note that Hummel carries a big heart, and his care and compassion is seen through his interaction with patients, peers, and everyone that has the pleasure of meeting him.

Wan-Chin Kuo, PhD, RN, assistant professor at the School of Nursing, notes that Hummel is a special individual with unique skills and talents, saying, “Karl’s passion for nursing is contagious, and he has a characteristic that we are looking for as leaders and scientists in the field. Students such as Karl Hummel represent the future of nursing faculty and leadership.”

Michelle Byrne '79, MSN '86
Michelle Byrne ’79, MSN ’86

Hummel received his pin from Michelle Byrne ’79, MS’86, whose grandmother was instrumental in her decision to seek a career in nursing. Byrne began her nursing career as an operating room nurse before furthering her education, eventually earning her PhD in nursing education. “My parents were both schoolteachers and I found myself enjoying teaching. I ended my career as an academician teaching at the doctoral level.”

Byrne thinks back to her time at the School of Nursing and has warm memories of her clinical experience, especially her operating room clinical with Alice Simonds. “I actually scrubbed into a case,” she said. A lifelong learner herself, Byrne’s advice for new graduates is to keep on learning and evolving in the profession. “Nursing has so many diverse opportunities for a career,” she added.

Hummel aspires to be a lifelong learner, himself. “My immediate career goal is to work with patients on an inpatient behavioral health unit here in my hometown of Madison,” he said. “My future goals are to pursue either a master’s or DNP in psychiatric mental health nursing to provide the highest possible level of care for individuals with mental health needs. From there, I intend to eventually open my own practice once I feel comfortable in my new role.”

Hummel notes the importance of being chosen as a pin recipient, saying, “Receiving this nursing pin is an incredible honor and would not be possible without the continued support from my friends, family, and faculty at the UW–Madison School of Nursing. By becoming a member of this tradition, I hope to live up to the values and goals symbolized by the pin. I would love to contribute to the tradition in the future by eventually passing the pin on to the next generation of newly graduated nurses about to enter the health care field.”

Abigail MaryJoy Joseph, Traditional BSN

Abigail MaryJoy Joseph, TBSN > Barbara Brown ’71

Abigail MaryJoy “MJ” Joseph came to nursing with the understanding that it would be difficult and there would be many challenges. However, she has gotten through those challenging times by remembering what pulled her to nursing in the first place. “When I was 11 years old, I witnessed my mother being cared for by nurses after experiencing a heart attack. They advocated for her and encouraged her to put one foot in front of the other. For my family, they became the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. I remember wanting to be able to do that for someone else. I wanted to give another family the hope that was given to mine.”

Her peers note that Joseph not only exemplifies what it means to be a Badger nurse, but she is also a true leader in the UW–Madison community. She has been involved in the School of Nursing through various leadership roles, including in her role as a student ambassador, as well as acting as the Diversity and Inclusion Chair within the Student Nurses Association.

“One of her first duties as an ambassador was speaking to a special class celebrating their 50-year reunion,” said Alumni Relations Officer Jordan Langer. “There was a pandemic raging around the world, but celebrating a milestone was still essential to advancing connections and fostering memories. Barbara Brown, who is a proud 1971 graduate, sparked the idea to have a virtual reunion series to celebrate with her classmates, and it is now a standing tradition! Barbara and MJ met during one of the reunion sessions and they had an instant bond. Barbara has been saving her pin for MJ’s graduation and I couldn’t be more excited to see this legacy transfer.”

Barbara Brown '71
Barbara Brown ’71

Brown knew early on that she wanted to be a nurse, saying, “I knew at age six I wanted to be a nurse. The opportunity to help and care for others called to me.”

She spent the first year after graduation at UW Hospital to get her feet on the ground. “Then, I went to the Twin Cities where I worked at Mount Sinai Hospital on a cardiac rehab unit until I got a call to join a private doctor’s office,” she said. “I was privileged to start in a new clinic for geriatric patients that provided many opportunities for creative, interdisciplinary coordination of care. I participated in many projects and ultimately got my master’s in public health nursing and then my gerontologic nurse practitioner certification. I retired as a nurse practitioner in long-term care, assisted living, and transitional care.”

Brown’s favorite memory from her time at the School of Nursing was being in Mrs. LaBelle’s class. “I was part of an ‘experiment’ where there were eight of us in clinical,” she said. “Prior to that, there were only four in each clinical. We learned so much and she became a long-time mentor. Several of our class members continue to stay connected today!”

She has a list of advice for new graduates: “1) You have a solid base of knowledge and each day that foundation will grow; 2) Change is inevitable – embrace it; 3) Remember work/life balance is important; 4) Nursing offers many opportunities, find your own path; 5) Know you can always ask for help.”

Joseph will take all of Brown’s advice with her as she embarks on her own nursing journey in an emergency department position at UW Health. “I am honored to receive this pin,” she said. “Being a part of a long-standing tradition as amazing as this one is a surreal experience. I feel blessed that an alumnus believes that I exemplify what it means to not only be a nurse but a Badger nurse overall.  Thank you, Barbara, for your encouragement, but most of all, thank you for believing in me.”

Angie LiAngie Li, TBSN > Dean’s Pin

The Dean’s Pin, added in 2019, was awarded to Angie Li, a traditional bachelor of science in nursing student who has made an impact on the school through her leadership, and desire to help others.

Noted as being an outstanding student who is both independent and intelligent, Li will graduate from the School of Nursing with honors. “I cannot think of anyone as deserving as Angie to receive a nursing pin,” said Maichou Lor, ’11, ’MS’12, Cert’14, PhD’17, RN, assistant professor at the School of Nursing. “Angie is highly motivated, passionate about working with the geriatric population, and possesses strong leadership skills. She is one of the best students with whom I have ever worked in my current position as an assistant professor. She exemplifies the School of Nursing’s mission of leaders for the profession and society.”

Li found her way to nursing early in life, developing a desire to be a changemaker in health care after experiencing inequities in health care firsthand as a child. “Growing up as a child of immigrants, my interactions with the healthcare system were limited due to fear and mistrust,” said Li. “However, while acting as a messenger between my grandparents and health care providers, I realized how crucial the nurse’s role is to building patients’ trust in the health care system. As I continue my nursing journey, I want to continue to use my identities and my voice to bridge the gaps that lead to inequities in health care.”

Lor noted that she is impressed with Li’s ability to rise to and persevere through various challenges throughout her time as a nursing student. “She has balanced many responsibilities, including her academics, being a student, and being a caregiver to family members. Despite such demands, Angie has developed strong management skills over time and has continued to be a high achieving student academically in our nursing program.”

A first-generation college student, Li is noted to be a leader amongst her peers and a burgeoning geriatric nurse. “Her continued service and commitment to providing exceptional care to the growing aging population are truly impressive for an undergraduate student at her level,” said Lor.

Lor also noted that Li provided significant contributions to Lor’s National Institute of Health-funded study focusing on improving pain communication between Hmong patients with limited English proficiency, interpreters, and health care providers. “As we were wrapping up data collection in the primary care clinic, I had been struggling with extracting data from the electronic health records and assessing the reliability of the survey data,” said Lor. “I showed Angie the issues and she asked for the opportunity to work on them. I agreed and never experienced one moment of regret. She was not intimidated by the challenge, and displayed enjoyment in the process. I was amazed that an undergraduate would show such leadership and self-motivation. The contribution Angie made to the project was invaluable and I invited her to be a co-author on a manuscript.”

Li has been active outside of her academic endeavors. She is currently a board member of the Geriatric Interest Group, an interdisciplinary student organization of nursing and medical students. In this role, she has organized and planned outreach events for nursing and medical students to gain exposure to work with older adults in community and long-term care settings. Additionally, she has volunteered for Adapted Fitness, a program that aims to help those with disabilities where she created, implemented, and tracked plans for differently abled older adults to improve their physical health.

Li has also volunteered for the New Friends, a program that brings together health professional students and individuals with mild cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease, or related dementias, to meet virtually one-on-one on an informal basis outside of the clinical setting. She has also worked as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) in the memory care unit of a nursing home. As a CNA, she was a leader in communicating residents’ information to all health care team members, including changes in residents’ mental and physical health.

Lor notes that in addition to all her academic and volunteering activities, Li is involved with helping her peers. “Beyond her commitment to the aging population, Angie is a mentor and a tutor to many of her peers,” she said. “She has also led and planned affinity group events for students residing at Chadbourne residential halls, including creating professional development opportunities for students. Angie is truly an exceptional leader and service-oriented individual.”

Upon graduation, Li is looking forward to beginning her nursing career in the burn intensive care unit at UW-Health. “I intend to take my experiences and everything that I have learned with me into this position,” she said. “I hope to return to school once I have more experience, and I would love to enter the education realm one day to pass on everything that I have learned.”

Li is grateful for being chosen as the recipient of the 2023 Dean’s Pin. “Receiving the Dean’s pin is an honor that I couldn’t have achieved without the support of my family, friends, and mentors who have pushed me forward every step of the way,” she said. “This pin serves as a reminder for me to strive to honor those before me in creating a positive impact on the world as Badger nurse.”

Emily J. Mauerman, TBSN > Mary Kay Gardenier ’70, MSN ’81

The call to nursing and health care has always been strong for traditional BSN student Emily Mauerman. “For as long as I can remember, I have been mesmerized by nurses,” she said. “Many of my family members are in the health care field, including my mother. I remember a couple instances of witnessing her save a life right in front of us. I also remember her receiving multiple cards and phone calls from people whose lives she touched and changed for the better. I always knew I wanted to make a difference in the way that she did, and that nursing would be how I could do that.”

As a CNA in a memory care facility during COVID-19, Mauerman got a small taste of the impact she can have as a nurse by, “providing residents with love and smiles even when they could not visit with their family.”

Mauerman has achieved academic excellence in every semester of her nursing journey. The Sigma Theta Tau member has put in extensive volunteer hours alongside her academics, including as member of Camp Kesem, a care companion at Monroe Hospital, an activities director at St. Mary’s Care Center, a plasma donor, a student mentor, and a student nurse who administered COVID-19 vaccinations. In addition, she is a Lead CNA at her two jobs, and trains the new hires.

A second degree student, she has faced some hardships and challenges along the way, but Mauerman will add a BSN degree to her first degree, a bachelor of science in health promotion and health equity.

Mary Kay Gardenier '70, MSN '81
Mary Kay Gardenier ’70, MSN ’81

She received her pin from Mary Kay Gardenier ’70, MS’81, who chose a career in nursing because of the many opportunities the profession presented to relate to various aspects of human interaction. Gardenier notes that her career was diverse, including critical care, education, advanced clinical practice and leadership. “Following my transition to health system administration, I was fortunate to serve as Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of a multi-facility system,” she said. “I have always been very appreciative of my UW–Madison education.”

Looking back on her time at the School of Nursing, Gardenier fondly remembers her classmates, instructors, and professors. She chose to donate her pin so that it can “live on” with a new Badger nurse.

When asked what advice she has for new graduates, Gardenier said, “Learn, accept challenges, and make a difference.”

Mauerman plans to make a difference and change lives as a Badger nurse. “I want to provide equitable care and advocacy to the populations who need it the most,” she said. “I want to make sure that everyone who crosses my path feels truly heard and cared for, and that I will always have a positive impact on their experience.

She has accepted a position in the neuro intensive care unit at the UW Hospital, where she will be able to care and advocate for patients who might not be able to speak for themselves. “One day, I hope to become a travelling nurse and visit hospitals who need me, so that I can make a difference not only here in Madison, but across the country,” she said. “Doing so will also provide me with the opportunity to learn about different cultures and ways to be a better nurse for all populations.”

Mauerman is thankful for the opportunity to receive Gardenier’s pin, saying, “I cannot express the level of gratitude I have for being able to be a part of such a strong tradition. I feel very honored to have a real reminder that I can rise above all my challenges and still be able to take the hand of someone else who needs it. I promise to always protect and care for my patients and to strive to be a source of light in the darkness.”

Kiana Elizabeth MontalvoKiana Elizabeth Montalvo, TBSN > Mary Dowds ’97

Kiana Montalvo’s passion for nursing stems from watching nurses in action. “I chose to pursue nursing because of my dad,” she said. “He has endured multiple health issues and I have always wanted to learn more about how I could help him in his recovery. He has had many amazing nurses who have truly inspired me to care for others in the same manner.”

That passion for being able to change lives has led her to work hard throughout her undergraduate journey, earning Dean’s List honors each semester of the nursing program. For her efforts, Montalvo was inducted into the Sigma Theta Tau honors society.

In addition to her academic success, she has volunteered at the Ronald McDonald House and is a student nursing assistant at the American Family Children’s Hospital. She also spent time on the UW–Madison rowing team as a coxswain.

A first-generation college student from out of state, Montalvo has not let any challenges get in her way in her pursuit of a career in nursing. She received her pin from Mary Dowds ’97, who chose a career in nursing to follow in her mother’s footsteps. “When I was a teen, we often talked about how her day had gone, and it always sounded so interesting to me,” said Dowds.

Mary Dowds '97
Mary Dowds ’97

Dowds likes to say that she had several nursing lives. “After graduating from a two-year program in 1971, I worked on a post-surgical unit. Gradually, I transitioned to a sub-intensive unit where I took care of dialysis patients as well as post kidney transplant patients. When the opportunity presented itself, I took a job as a dialysis nurse. I found working with the chronically ill was very rewarding. Many of the patients became like extended family members. My next nursing life was in obstetrics. I spent the bulk of my career there as a labor and delivery nurse. It was during this time that I was able to complete my BSN at UW–Madison. The last two years before my retirement, I shifted to oncology and worked in a chemo infusion unit. I always felt grateful that nursing provided me with such a variety of opportunities for learning and caring for those in need.”

Grateful for the encouragement provided to her by her counselors and professors while she was a student at the School of Nursing, Dowds chose to donate her pin because she liked the idea that a new graduate will continue into the future of nursing with a glimpse of the past. Her advice is for new graduates is to work on a general medical or surgical floor for a couple of years before branching out to a specialty. “Then, take advantage of the opportunities that appeal to you,” she added. “Never be afraid to try something new. Keep on learning as nothing ever stays the same.”

Montalvo will keep learning, and hopes to one day further her education and become a pediatric nurse practitioner. For the time being, she will pursue a career in pediatrics at the American Family Children’s Hospital upon graduation.

She is thankful for the support she has received throughout her undergraduate journey. “I have had many Badger nurse alumni support me throughout my time in nursing school,” she said. “It is an honor to know that I am now a part of this tradition and I hope to give back to the School of Nursing as an alum.”

Hannah Park, TBSN > Board of Visitors Pin

Hannah Park was drawn to nursing for many reasons, saying, “When I worked as a certified nursing assistant prior to starting my nursing journey, I enjoyed the direct interaction with patients and the ability to provide care. I hope to enhance my knowledge to provide a more positive experience for my patients. Also, I love the diverse job opportunities and the potential for career advancement.”

Park was awarded the pin donated by the School of Nursing’s Board of Visitors (BOV), a group of leaders from the health care and business communities who provide strategic guidance to the school. The pin donated by the organization recognizes a student’s leadership and strategic guidance, and Park is an outstanding example of both.

Maichou Lor, ’11, ’MS’12, Cert’14, PhD’17, RN, assistant professor at the School of Nursing, notes, “Hannah is a bright student. She was accepted into our nursing honors program and was on the Dean’s list.”

Noted as a natural leader who is service-oriented, Park was the president of the Korean American Student Association. In her role as president, she led educational events about Korean American and Asian American cultures on campus for students. She was also the social media chair, where she made a significant impact in increasing the visibility of Korean American culture through her creatively designed t-shirts and artwork.

“Hannah has a keen interest in understanding how social determinants of health affect mental health and adverse childhood experiences in minoritized populations as well as interventions that mitigate the disparities in mental health care,” said Lor. “As an honors student working with me, she found an interest in the use of storytelling or narrative interviewing used in one mental health care model for some minoritized populations. From this interest, Hannah and a PhD student in the Anthropology program collaborated under my mentorship and conducted a case study to assess the impact of structured vs storytelling interviewing on the mental health assessment of a non-English-speaking Hmong patient. Hannah took the lead in analyzing the structured data from the Hmong patient’s electronic health record and assisted in the storytelling interviews. From her case study, Hannah found that storytelling interviews provided higher quality and a breadth of health information about the Hmong patient’s mental health condition compared to structured interviews. Hannah’s project has implications for providing more equitable care to minoritized populations who are not from the mainstream community. The results of her project will be submitted to the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing by May 2023.”

Lor added, “As an undergraduate student, I am impressed with Hannah’s commitment to research, particularly her passion for providing more equitable mental health care to minoritized populations.  Hannah is an intelligent, highly motivated, and research-oriented individual. I believe that Hannah is destined to make an important mark in the advancement of mental health in minoritized populations. She embodies the mission of the School of Nursing as evidenced by her leadership and research commitments.”

Following graduation, Park intends to gain clinical experience for a few years before pursuing her PhD. “My long-term goal is to conduct research on mental health issues in the Asian American populations,” she added.

Park is thankful for the recognition of her hard work, saying, “Receiving the nursing pin symbolizes my pride in, and achievements at, the School of Nursing at UW–Madison. It truly represents my hard work and passion throughout my years of being a student at UW–Madison and being a part of this tradition enables me to carry this pride and passion into my future.”

Annika Leigh VaerstAnnika Leigh Vaerst, ABSN > Charlotte Pagel Anderson ’59

Annika Vaerst faced some financial challenges when she had to make the decision to leave her full-time job to pursue a career in nursing, but it wasn’t a difficult decision as she was pursuing her passion. “I pursued a nursing degree because I used to work in health care tech and got to observe and fall in love with the admirable work nurses perform,” Vaerst said. “I am truly excited to use my degree to be there for people in their worst hours and help them through to the other side.”

As a member of the accelerated bachelor of science in nursing (ABSN) program’s class of 2023, Vaerst will graduate with honors and as a member of Sigma Theta Tau.

While attending the rigorous, full-time ABSN program, Vaerst has also been putting in hours as a volunteer at MEDiC, the student-led organization that funds free health clinics and partners with other free health clinics throughout the Madison Area. For her efforts, she was nominated for MEDiC member of the month in January. Vaerst’s volunteerism extends beyond MEDiC as she also dedicates time to volunteering for the Red Cross.

Prior to joining the ABSN program, Vaerst worked for Epic. There, she led a Diversity Equity and Inclusion group for her division and put together monthly talks about DEI topics. She was also a leader for the SGN (Sex, gender, names) committee, talking to hospital executives to better understand the experiences of their transgender patients and their goals for how to improve the patient’s experience.

Her peers note that Annika has a true passion for the profession, and is a role model for her ABSN cohort, adding that she is hard working, inquisitive, and genuine. They make special mention that Vaerst will make a fantastic nurse due to her intelligence, compassion, and drive to make the world a better place.

Vaerst’s pin was donated by Charlotte Pagel Anderson ’59, who was encouraged to pursue a nursing education from a respected aunt who was in the profession.

Anderson’s early nursing career led her to work in the newly opened Kaiser Permanente Home Health Agency in California. From there, she continued her nursing career in the areas of both home and hospice care until she retired in 1992.

She fondly remembers the nurses’ dorm, and the comradery among students. “I considered it a home away from home,” she said. Anderson chose to donate her pin because she felt drawn to the tradition. “A number of years ago I read an article about the nursing pin donation tradition,” she said. “I thought it was time to pass along my pin to a new nurse to start their journey.”

Her advice for new graduates is to be open to exploration within the profession, saying, “There are so many paths to take, so explore!”

Vaerst is thankful for being recognized as a 2023 pin recipient, saying, “Becoming a nurse has been something I’ve been working hard towards for many years.  I am honored to be recognized by my peers and predecessors with this pin.” Upon graduation, she will begin a job on the medical-surgical unit at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona in June, adding “I hope to specialize and earn a higher degree in a few years.”

Lauren Ashley Wightman, ABSN > Malissa Wightman MS ’97

Lauren Wightman says that she always knew she wanted to be a nurse. “I worked as a nursing assistant per diem while working on my first bachelor’s degree. I took a different route for a few years and worked odd jobs in public service until the pandemic began in 2020. I then found myself in a unique position to choose the route of my future and I returned to health care as a nursing assistant at UW Hospital in April of 2020. I worked on my prerequisites part-time while in this role, and before I knew I am a couple weeks away from earning my BSN. In February of 2022, months before starting this program, my grandpa fell and suffered a subdural hematoma which progressed into multiple complications until his death in July of 2022. This experience created an interest in neurology, and I have accepted a job offer at UW Hospital on the neurology progressive care unit, which I will begin in August. I am confident I’ll be able to provide the same compassionate care that my grandpa was treated with while hospitalized at UW.”

Malissa Wightman MS'97
Malissa Wightman MS ’97

Nursing is a family profession for the Wightman’s as Lauren’s mother, Malissa, graduated from the UW–Madison School of Nursing with her master’s degree in 1997. Malissa chose to pursue a career in nursing after being in a caregiver role as a child. “I was raised along with my four younger brothers in a single parent household by my father,” she said. “As a result, I assumed a caregiver role when I was quite young. I think this guided me to pursue a career in nursing as I loved helping others. I also knew that nursing had a lot of opportunities for one to pursue, and it has proved to be an excellent choice as I have been able to work in a variety of roles in my 30 years of nursing.”

Malissa began her nursing career in 1993 on an inpatient pediatric unit and knew right away that she wanted to obtain her master’s in pediatric nursing. “I started the UW–Madison program one year after I graduated,” she said. “While working on my master’s degree, I transitioned to the emergency department as pediatric inpatients census and stays were on the decline, and the emergency room always had plenty of children seeking care. Upon earning my master’s, I worked for several years in primary care working as a pediatric nurse practitioner. Over the years, I also have worked in leadership roles, as a team leader, manager, and director of nursing teams. Recently, I returned to providing direct patient care as a provider working at Planned Parenthood, which was a valuable experience working with young people who need contraceptive and sexually transmitted infection care, along with underserved populations. Currently, I have been at SSM Health for the last four and a half years as a manager in the southern Wisconsin market, with oversight of the COVID-19 vaccine clinic, a family medicine department, registration staff, and the concierge team.”

Malissa’s favorite memory from the School of Nursing is close to the heart. “I started my master’s program and found out that I was pregnant with my daughter, who will graduate this spring from the accelerated bachelor of science in nursing program. Malissa chose to donate her pin to her daughter, Lauren, so she can carry on the Badger nurse tradition, adding, “Nursing has been an excellent career choice for me. I value the UW–Madison School of Nursing education and want my daughter to find the same rewards that it has brought me.”

Malissa has some sage advice for new nursing graduates, “Take care of yourself first. Personal well-being is going to result in better patient care every time. Also, truly use active listening. As a manager, the patient complaints that I often receive is that no one listened to them.”

Receiving her mother’s nursing pin has special significance for Lauren. “Becoming a Badger nurse has been such a surreal experience,” she said. “Growing up I dreamed of following in my mother’s footsteps. My first memory of thinking ‘I want to be a nurse like her’ was when she was taking out my brothers stitches out at home. It’s truly an honor and a privilege to be where I am today and to receive this special memento.”

Ariana YarnAriana Yarn, TBSN > Helen Ritzler ’55

Ariana Yarn admits that entering college, she did not have a solid academic plan. It wasn’t until she became a home health aid her sophomore year that she found her passion for caring and advocating for others. “After discovering this about myself I applied to the nursing school my junior year and was accepted and began my nursing journey the following year.”

Nominated by her peers, Yarn is known as a student who excels at her academics. Through hard work and dedication to her schooling, she has enhanced her didactic learning experience, collaborated with her peers, sharpened her critical thinking skills, contributed to conversations surrounding health care disparities, and participated in open labs to enhance her clinical nursing skills.

As a student ambassador for the School of Nursing, the traditional BSN student has exemplified what it means to be a leader through service. She has sought out opportunities to help the School excel in its mission and goals of enhancing community engagement and promoting the School to prospective students. Outside of her academics, she has dedicated time to working as a nursing assistant at UW-Health where she provides compassionate care to her patients and ensures that their voices are head and respected by all health care personnel.

Her peers note that Yarn has embodied the definitions of hard work and dedication. A woman of color, she has faced the everyday challenges of racial injustices, but has persevered through adversity. She has successfully balanced her academic, personal, and professional endeavors, and has overcome any obstacles that have come her way.

Yarn received her pin from Helen Ritzler ’55, who chose nursing because for as long as she remembers she always wanted to be a nurse. Her career path saw her start at a public health position in Milwaukee before transitioning to a hospital setting, working in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Colorado. Ritzler spent more of time in pediatrics and enjoyed working for many years as a volunteer in a recovery room.

Ritzler thinks back to her time at the School of Nursing, and fondly remembers the friends she made along the way. She chose to donate her pin to honor the important and worthwhile work that is done in the profession, noting that there are many satisfying moments that nursing can bring during one’s career.

The call to a career in nursing was strong for both Ritzler and Yarn, and Yarn is thankful for being honored as a 2023 pin recipient. “Receiving this pin is an honor, it makes me feel connected and seen as a part of the School of Nursing,” said Yarn. “Being a part of this tradition makes becoming an alumna and a Badger nurse so much more special. I can’t wait until I am able to give a future student the same feeling I felt when being chosen to receive this pin.” She will take her Badger nurse pride with her when she moves to North Carolina after graduation to begin working as a registered nurse at UNC Health in the oncology department.