February 24, 2021 | Matt Kucinski

About a dozen nurses in scrubs and masks pose for a photo at an indoor COVID-19 vaccination clinic.
Professor Jaclynn Lubbers and Calvin University nursing students volunteering at the vaccination clinic at DeVos Place Convention Center in downtown Grand Rapids.

“I’d give it a 10, which is crazy for me,” said Rachel Stoll. “Going into this year I was optimistic, but terrified. I thought it would be a 5.”

From a very young age, Stoll knew she wanted to help people and serve the world around her. In high school, she helped out with special needs programming and had seen her older sister enter the nursing profession.

But in fall 2020, when Stoll, a junior at Calvin, began her first semester in the nursing program, she tempered her expectations. She saw a world in the middle of a pandemic and was left not knowing what her year at Calvin would look like and how much she’d be able to help.

From labs to clinicals, from classes to community partnerships, the experiences would need to look different. But it didn’t take long for Stoll and her fellow nursing majors to realize the opportunities before them.

“Our students are not just learning to fulfill their vocational calling in this moment, they are providing direct meaningful service in real time,” said Dawn Frambes, professor of nursing.

Connecting to opportunities

Frambes and her colleagues in the nursing department worked hard to adapt everything they typically did in an academic year to ensure that their students would get the most relevant and meaningful experience in 2020-2021. They connected with Health Services professionals on campus and talked with their local partners, both healthcare systems, providers, and residents in the four neighborhoods in Grand Rapids they regularly visit to gauge their needs and how Calvin students could help meet them.

“We have strong collaborations both within and outside of Calvin, and that’s why this time is so exciting for nursing majors,” said Joke Ayoola, chair of Calvin’s nursing department. “We were thinking through how our students could best serve and support our local partners and have unique educational opportunities.”

“From the start, we were committed to do far more than just meet accreditation standards during this challenging time,” said Frambes.

Creating meaningful experiences

Students, who lamented the limitations the pandemic placed upon certain experiences, were seeing the many ways their professors were stepping in to create more relevant ones.

Sam Sajdak, a senior nursing major, saw how his professors adapted classes and labs.

“The content in our classes is very specified toward our situation now. It’s real, happening all around me.” said Sajdak. “This past week I was in my simulation lab and during the simulation we talked about creating a COVID vaccination clinic, all the logistics of choosing a location and setting it up.”

“Our profs have been amazing,” said Stoll, “and with having smaller labs due to COVID restrictions, we are able to have more time with our professors and build even stronger relationships.”

“When COVID came, I was so discouraged, I had a lot of confusion coming from Uganda,” said Joan Nakakande, a senior nursing major. But, Dr. Ayoola was not trying to speak to us as someone with a PhD, she spoke to us from God’s Word, reminding us that He is with us and is going to give us strength and direct our path.”

This path would present new opportunities for students to gain the necessary skills required of a nursing professional, but it would also provide opportunities to meet real needs. Like doing contact tracing for the university, participating in walking clinics with residents in the four Grand Rapids-area neighborhoods where Calvin partners to help with health-related needs, doing regular phone calls with community members in an effort to understand and help address mental health concerns, providing education to elementary students on safe health practices during COVID, and helping out in Grand Rapids’ largest vaccination clinic downtown.

Living out the mission

“Last week, when we arrived downtown, we had this feeling of ‘this is why we want to go into nursing,’” said Stoll of she and her fellow nursing majors. “We want to make an impact in a time of need, to help people.”

“We aren’t just going downtown to give the vaccine, but to be part of our patient’s stories,” said Nakakande. “We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ.”

“It was so encouraging to see my students, future nurses, living out the mission of being agents of renewal in the community. What better way to love your neighbor,” said Jaclynn Lubbers, professor of nursing. “This is what it means to promote the welfare of the city, which we say we will do in Vision 2030. This experience is a highlight of my Calvin career, to work alongside my students in being a part of the beginning of the end of this pandemic that has cost everyone something big or small.”

“Helping the community in such a time of need is a cool thing,” said Stoll. “We’re going through giving people vaccines like crazy, and the moments I’ll remember well are the times when you sit and listen to these older individuals who haven’t seen their kids or their family for a while, and they are so grateful and so excited and you can see that the vaccine at that time is such a big thing for them. What we may see as such a small act is life changing for them.”

This is one of the many lessons that is being taught in this historical moment that students hope to never forget.

Learning while serving

“I never want to lose sight of the fact that sitting down and listening or helping in a small way could turn someone’s day or even life around,” said Stoll.

“We can do anything, it just depends on our attitude, our willingness, and our commitment to setting out to do so,” said Nakakande.

“Our students are having a wonderful opportunity to contribute positively to what’s happening in history,” said Ayoola. “They are using the skills they are learning and at the same time applying them to bless a community.”

“When emergencies like COVID arise, both staff and students are willing to put all their effort into supporting one another, adjusting lesson plans to adapt and be flexible to make the situation better for others,” said Sajdak.

“There have been so many little things in our lives and throughout our experiences during this time that have been amazing,” said Stoll. “So, I’d give my experience a 10, which is crazy for me, because going into this year … I was terrified.”

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