Spring Break: Experiences Abound Within the CONHP

Each year, Valpo students take a reprieve from the demands of academia during Spring Break. Students, faculty, and staff embark on new journeys, traveling across the United States and internationally. Embracing the vision of the University to provide experiential learning and cultural experience abroad, the College of Nursing and Health Professions offered eight Spring Break trips in 2018, two domestic and six international.

While trips offered within the CONHP are continually evolving, the college has a long-established history of offering myriad opportunities for students to immerse themselves in foreign cultures, learn about healthcare systems and professionals throughout the U.S. and abroad, serve communities near and far, and expand their worldview. In fact, the CONHP is home to the University’s longest-running international service trip.

This Spring Break, CONHP students embarked on two new domestic trips, one to a Native American reservation in White Earth, Minnesota, and another to Houston to help with disaster relief efforts. In collaboration with the political science department, the CONHP launched a trip to Ireland, exploring two healthcare systems within one island. Additional groups traveled abroad on annual trips to Central America, Chile, China, Germany, and Thailand.

White Earth Nation Indian Reservation

Natalie Rivich, coordinator of academic advising, and Cynthia Felton, MSN, RN, clinical coordinator, along with three nursing students, traveled to Minnesota on a pilot Spring Break experiential learning trip designed to expose students to public health services among the Native American population.

Ms. Rivich spearheaded the effort to embark on this trip to explore extreme health disparities among Native Americans as well as complexities associated with providing services to this population. The trip began in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, with the group looking at public health services among Native Americans in urban communities, and continued to White Earth Indian Reservation in Wauban, Minnesota, where they learned about health services offered on the reservation. This public health experience also included advocacy awareness in an effort to promote the role that policy initiatives have on healthcare in communities.

Looking to the future, Ms. Rivich anticipates continuing this trip annually as an elective Spring Break domestic experience or incorporating it into senior nursing students’ clinical experience.

Houston Hurricane Recovery

Shortly after Hurricane Harvey, Cheryl Slack, DNP, RN, CNE, clinical assistant professor of nursing, sought and was granted support to develop an elective Spring Break course to assist with hurricane relief efforts in Houston. The course, co-taught with Kelly Migler, MSN, RN, assistant professor of nursing, attracted four sophomore CONHP students, two from the nursing track and two studying health science. The group partnered with the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod (ELCA) disaster recovery coordinator and offered assistance to residents in the Pasadena neighborhood of Houston. They raised funds through a “Change for Houston” campaign and received donations to obtain equipment and supplies.

From clearing debris and painting to installing insulation and preparing cement for flooring, the students worked hard to restore the homes of two women who were in need of support. The group’s efforts were met with an enormous outpouring of gratitude, and the students were left with a strong desire to return to Houston to further their impact.


The College of Nursing and Health Professions and the political science department joined together to offer an interdisciplinary Spring Break trip to Ireland. The trip, led by Tom Blodgett, Ph.D., GCNS, RN-BC, assistant professor of nursing; Jeffrey Coto ’94, DNP, M.S., RN, assistant professor of nursing; and Amy Atchison, Ph.D., associate professor of political science and international relations, involved 30 nursing, physician assistant, political science, and sociology students.

This exciting opportunity to experience Ireland included visits to Inch Island and Buncrana; Londonderry/Derry; Giant’s Causeway and Dunluce Castle; Belfast; Omagh; and Dublin. While there were cultural visits to numerous sites, the primary objective of traveling to Ireland was to compare healthcare, nursing practice, and physician assistant practice in Ireland to the United States. Students saw two different healthcare systems that exist on the single island —the Republic of Ireland’s health system and the National Health System of the United Kingdom.

One noteworthy stop was to Foyle Hospice, which lies in Northern Ireland but is run by Southern Ireland. Foyle was built to provide further healthcare options to the Irish population. The intermingling of healthcare between Northern and Southern Ireland is a newer development, and with Brexit on the horizon, there are many implications to consider.

Future trips will allow students to further explore how Ireland’s historically troubled past has influenced traditional healthcare, not to mention how the political scene of Brexit will affect the health of an entire island.

Health-Related Service Trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua

Launched more than 15 years ago by Christ College, the annual trip to Costa Rica and Nicaragua is the longest-running international service trip at the University. This year’s trip brought together 41 participants — undergraduate students from public health, nursing, health science, biology, chemistry, and psychology, along with three faculty and 10 alumni.

The group traveled to urban San Jose, Costa Rica, and Ometepe Island, Nicaragua. These locales allowed students to compare and contrast factors affecting health promotion and disease prevention among communities living in urban poverty in San Jose with those living in rural poverty on Ometepe Island.

Embedded in health-related service, this trip involved six days of clinical work, where the group saw both medical and dental patients who are uninsured or underinsured by their respective governments and provided health promotion and disease prevention education in collaboration with local health promoters through home visits. When not providing these critical health services, the students were able to visit a local waterfall, shop craft markets, hike a volcano, and zipline.

Amy Cory, Ph.D., MPH, RN, associate professor of nursing and public health, has led this trip for the past decade.


Now in its eighth year, the CONHP’s trip to Chile is one of its oldest Spring Break trips. Connie Sheets ’13 DNP, RN, CGNS-B.C., assistant professor of nursing, and Jamie El Harit, DNP, RN, FNP-B.C., CSSBB, visiting assistant professor of nursing, led seven students on this year’s trip — one health science, two graduate nursing, and four undergraduate nursing students.

Interest in this trip originated due to the strength of the Chilean healthcare system, which ranks higher than that of the United States according to the World Health Organization. The group traveled to Santiago, Vina del Mar, Valparaíso, Pomaire, and Isla Negra, immersing themselves in Chilean culture and studying the national healthcare system, comparing and contrasting it with familiar United States services.

Through tours of facilities, lectures, and round-table discussions, the group learned about Chilean healthcare. After which, they had rich discussions comparing and contrasting major aspects of healthcare in Chile and the U.S., such as accessibility, affordability, ethical issues, and health outcomes. Students were empowered to critically appraise aspects of healthcare in different systems to determine what works well and where areas of potential improvement lie.


The Spring Break trip to China offers students a cultural immersion experience that exposes them to both traditional Chinese medicine and healthcare facilities more Western in orientation. From the Great Wall and the Temple of Heaven in Beijing to the West Lake in Hangzhou, the group journeyed to several historical sites, gaining an understanding of Chinese culture and history.

In Hangzhou, students visited a traditional Chinese medicine hospital, where they observed and in some cases experienced practices such as massage, acupuncture, cupping, and pharmacy. The group also toured the Second Affiliated Hospital of Zhejiang University School of Medicine, a Western-style hospital, seeing firsthand the differences between healthcare in China and the United States.

Now in its third year, this trip is continually evolving. Added this year was a service trip to New Hope Foster Home in Beijing, with students bringing gifts and handmade hats to the children.

Professor Zheng Li, Ph.D., MPH, assistant professor of health science, coordinated this year’s trip to China along with Karen Allen, RN, Ph.D., FAAN, dean of the College of Nursing and Health Professions. They also met with leaders in China to discuss future collaborations, such as a student exchange program and faculty research projects.


Spring Break 2018 marks the second year students in the CONHP had the chance to travel to Germany. The opportunity was embraced by 12 students (10 nursing and two health science), who traveled to Frankfurt, Jena, Wittenberg, Neubrandenberg, and Berlin under the leadership of Lynette Rayman ’16 DNP, RN, CNE, CCRN-A, assistant professor of nursing, and Christina Cavinder ’14 DNP, RN, CPNP-PC, assistant professor of nursing.

The students were immersed in the culture, lifestyle, and healthcare of Germany, gaining perspective into how the German healthcare system is designed and how the country’s caregivers are educated. While in Jena, the group visited Jena University and its healthcare facilities, toured an orthopedic hospital, and interacted with their care providers. They also journeyed to two nursing therapeutic centers, similar to senior facilities in the United States, where they interacted with both caregivers and their clients.

This Study Abroad experience enabled the group to gain exposure into Germany’s Lutheran heritage and enhance their Lutheran identities through travel to Wittenberg and Wartburg Castle. While touring Berlin, they experienced the history of the Berlin Wall, World War II, and German culture prior to World War II. The trip culminated with a visit to the concentration camp Sachenhausen, evoking a number of emotions from all involved.


One of the longest-running Spring Break trips in the CONHP, the Thailand trip has been offered annually for several years. This year’s trip brought together 10 nursing and health science students, who traveled under the leadership of Theresa Kessler, Ph.D., RN, ACNS-BC, CNE, professor and Kreft Endowed Chair for Advancement of Nursing Science; Gail Kost, MSN, RN, associate professor and director of the virtual learning center; Christine Kurtz ’11 DNP, PMHCNS-BC, assistant professor of nursing; and Elise Alverson, professor emerita.

Traveling to Bangkok and Chiang Mai, the group visited healthcare organizations, temples, and cultural centers. A new component of this year’s trip was the completion of a service project at the Hill Tribe Community School. Prior to the trip, enough funds were raised to provide all 122 children with a new pair of shoes.

The trip also provided an opportunity for the CONHP to continue its collaboration with McCormick School of Nursing at Payap University. Last spring, two faculty from the McCormick School of Nursing came to Valpo for a three-week immersion into the process of developing simulation scenarios. To further this learning, a collaborative sim was planned and executed during the Spring Break trip. At the completion of the sim, the CONHP presented the McCormick School of Nursing with a brand-new OB torso and baby task trainer obtained from a hospital in Michigan. It is anticipated this collaboration will continue far into the future.