Nursing honors program, NOVA, a bright spot for students

A clinical nurse specialist in Minnesota, a neonatal advanced practice registered nurse in Iowa City, a Mayo Clinic nurse in Rochester–these alumni have something in common beyond profession. They were all part of Mount Mercy University’s Nurses of Vision and Action honors program, known as NOVA.

The 14-year-old NOVA program was designed to motivate all nursing students by recognizing exemplary academics and offering the aspiring caregivers a chance to engage in a two-day learning trip. Students with 30 credit hours and at least a 3.0 GPA are invited by faculty members to apply to the program through an essay addressing their accomplishments in leadership, service, professionalism and innovation.

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A group of NOVA students enjoy their spring trip in St. Louis.

“NOVA was an amazing opportunity for me as a nursing student,” said Anne Bruno, 2014 alumna and soon-to-be nurse at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. “I am thankful for my NOVA experiences and Mount Mercy’s nursing program for helping me make the transition from nursing student to RN.”

Each spring, the group of between 20 and 30 NOVA students travel to any given city within a five-hour drive of Cedar Rapids. Accompanied by faculty, the nursing majors engage in a day of fun by visiting museums, theatres and shopping centers. The evening hours bring a dinner with Mount Mercy nursing alumni who have built careers in the visited city. The dinner offers NOVA students a chance to engage with professionals who know exactly what it’s like to be an MMU nursing major and can offer friendly tips and advice for transitioning into the hands-on world of nursing care.

“This past spring, we went to Aurora hospital in Milwaukee,” said Bruno. “One of my favorite parts of this experience was being able to meet Mount Mercy alumni who were able to share their nursing experiences with us as they grew throughout their career. I was even able to meet a classmate of my mother’s (also a Mount Mercy alumna) who resides in Milwaukee as a nurse.”

On the second and final day of the trip, the students are welcome guests at a large medical center where they can experience first-hand the vibrant pulse of the clinical world. Many internships—and a few permanent job opportunities—have resulted from the NOVA spring trip. It’s not often hospital staff have the chance to meet a majority of Mount Mercy’s top nursing talent in one stop.

“It’s a real benefit for NOVA students to be recognized for their outstanding work,” said Dr. Mary Tarbox, professor and chair of the Department of Nursing. “The spring trip is also beneficial for the students to learn about the roles nurses play inside a larger city and medical center.”

Bruno reflected, “As a sophomore, I was able to observe nursing care for a newborn baby with a congenital heart defect at a well-known children’s hospital in Omaha. This was my first wide-eyed ‘WOW’ moment as a nursing student. I was so impressed how the nurses explained their past experiences and present challenges in nursing and it created an even bigger desire for me to become a nursing professional to care for those in need.”

The NOVA honors program is 100 percent donor funded, which means thanks to the generosity of community and alumni supporters these exceptional students can reap the program benefits at no additional cost.

Those who feel compelled to give may make a gift online and designate their gift to NOVA.


Written by Kelli Sanders