Hunt School of Nursing students had plenty to celebrate at commencement on Saturday, May 14 at the Plaza Theatre. The day marked the end of their nursing education by graduating from the Hunt School of Nursing and it also closed out the 10-year anniversary of the nursing school. The Borderplex community gave its heart to future trusted nursing heroes during the yearlong celebration, raising $1.876 million in scholarships for Hunt School of Nursing students.
The Francis Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences also is celebrating as the first class to graduate under the school’s new name, which was established in honor of a transformational $10 million endowment gift from community leaders L. Frederick “Rick” Francis and his wife, Ginger Francis. Francis Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences graduates carry with them the vision of Rick and Ginger Francis to transform health care in this community. Rick Francis gave the keynote address for the school’s commencement ceremony on Saturday.
Hunt School of Nursing – 88 Graduates
The Hunt School of Nursing’s class of 2022 is entering the nursing field well-prepared and having only known nursing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The class of 2022 includes 74 graduates from the school’s Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, 13 graduates from its R.N. to B.S.N. program and one graduate from its Master of Science in Nursing program. The majority are local residents, with 75 hailing from El Paso.
Among the graduates was Vivian Gonzalez, who completed the Accelerated B.S.N. program. In addition to being a proud graduate, Gonzalez is a recipient of the DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurses in Training, presented to her for the compassion she showed during clinical rotations at Del Sol Medical Center. The award is given by the DAISY Foundation, established in memory of J. Patrick Barnes, who died at 33 of an autoimmune disease. To honor the nursing care Barnes received, his family established the foundation, which recognizes outstanding nurses, nursing faculty and nursing students.
Gonzalez was nominated for the award after Hunt School of Nursing administrators received an email complimenting her nursing skills. The sender of the email wrote about the care their mother received from Gonzalez and how she made the family feel like they were not alone during the difficult time. The family lauded Gonzalez for showing heart, compassion and empathy while taking care of their mother.
Gonzalez was born and raised in El Paso and graduated from San Elizario High School and the University of Texas at El Paso before attending the Hunt School of Nursing. She said she feels like she won the DAISY Award for doing what a lot of nurses do daily.
“I’ve always been an advocate for doing the little things, because in my experience, it’s those little things that matter most,” Gonzalez said. “That’s the way I’ll approach being a nurse. I always want to do what’s right and go the extra mile for the patients I care for because that’s the type of care I would hope any of my loved ones would receive.”
Gonzalez’s excitement about graduating has been multiplied by the thought of helping her community.
“Knowing I’ll be serving my home community feels surreal,” Gonzalez said. “As Gandhi said, ‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’ It’s going to be an honor to serve the community that has given so much to me.”
Gonzalez will begin her career next month as a nurse in Del Sol Medical Center’s emergency department.
At the commencement ceremony, Accelerated B.S.N. graduate Izchel Garcia Nava was named the first recipient of the Kharisma James Legacy Scholarship for her leadership during her time at the Hunt School of Nursing.
The award honors James’ memory as a dedicated nurse and loving mother. A graduate of the Hunt School of Nursing, James was an operating room/surgery nurse at The Hospitals of Providence until her untimely death in 2018. She died while shielding three children from an oncoming car in an El Paso elementary school parking lot. James also was involved in several student organizations while attending the nursing school.
In 2020 at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Desert Imaging and TTUHSC El Paso announced the creation of two scholarship endowments that will help future generations of Hunt School of Nursing students and honor the memory of Kharisma James.
Garcia Nava, originally from Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico, attended high school in Ciudad Juárez before being accepted to the Hunt School of Nursing.
As an immigrant to the U.S., Garcia Nava said she worked hard to learn English while embracing the culture of her new home. She said the Kharisma James award is a reflection of the support, encouragement and guidance she received from her classmates and school staff as she settled into life as a Hunt School of Nursing student.
“No words can express the honor and thankfulness that fills my heart,” Garcia Nava said after receiving the award. “I’m proud to be the first recipient of this award, and Kharisma’s legacy of leadership will continue inspiring and changing lives as we honor her.”
At the Hunt School of Nursing, Garcia Nava found her footing and established herself as a natural leader. She served as president and vice president for the Nursing Student Union, and as a representative on the Global Health Council and Student Services Fee Advisory Committee.
Francis Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences – 34 Graduates
The newly named Francis Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences graduated 26 students with a Master of Science and eight with a post-baccalaureate certificate. This was the first class to graduate under the school’s new name, which honors Rick and Ginger Francis’ historic $10 million endowment gift. Both attended the commencement.
Rick Francis served as the keynote speaker for the class of 2022’s ceremony. The El Paso native is the executive chairman of WestStar, an El Paso-based financial institution. Francis also served on the Texas Tech University System Board of Regents from 2003 to 2019, twice as chairman of the board.
“As members of the graduating class of 2022, you leave the Francis Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences with a fine education, one that will serve you well in the years and decades ahead,” Rick Francis said in his keynote address. “You are the fifth graduating class of a program that less than 10 years ago was just a dream our community hoped would increase the educational opportunities of the next generation, increase the economic development opportunities for our whole region, and possibly change the world.”
El Pasoan Mark Shahinian graduated Saturday with a Master of Science in biomedical sciences after earning a post-baccalaureate certificate in biomedical sciences from the school last year.
Shahinian choose TTUHSC El Paso because he enjoys being around his family. Also, Shahinian’s brother had worked closely with Francis Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences Dean Rajkumar Lakshmanaswamy, Ph.D., and had many positive things to say about him. These things, combined with the school’s curriculum and history, made attending an easy decision for Shahinian.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult to collaborate with classmates and was an isolating experience, Shahinian found a way to work with his peers and help the community at the same time.
“I was able to join an amazing group from TTUHSC El Paso – the El Paso Health Education and Awareness Team – and gave many presentations about the importance of COVID-19 vaccinations to El Pasoans and helped dispel any of the associated myths,” he said.
Shahinian plans on using his degree as a solid foundation for research in medicine. His dream is to attend medical school. He will stay in El Paso after graduation and hopes to continue serving the community long after.