Celebrating diversity sometimes means recognizing that expected norms have turned upside down and available services and resources must be adjusted accordingly. This is especially true in the University of Phoenix College of Nursing program I oversee as Director, in Tucson, Ariz. I teach courses for the Licensed Practical Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing and the Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing programs. In addition, I teach master’s degree courses required to become a family nurse practitioner. The programs are solid and what one would expect from a College of Nursing. The demographics of the students our programs attract, however, do not always fit the traditional norms.
All walks of life — and ages
For starters, University of Phoenix students overall tend to skew toward being adult learners who are juggling jobs and family. Because I was 35 when I enrolled in the University of Michigan to attend graduate school, I understand adult students’ needs. I was fortunate enough to get a teaching assistant job, and later to have a spouse to support me throughout the rest of my graduate program. Many of our students often don’t have these luxuries. They may be single, divorced, widowed or be serving as a primary caregiver for a family member. They often have children and cannot walk away from their jobs or responsibilities to devote themselves full time to their studies. Because our courses are offered one at a time, it allows them to focus.
The Southern Arizona Campus also attracts students from around the world. In our undergraduate program, Caucasians are the minority. We have increasingly more Latinas in our programs, and this year, we have students from Romania, South Africa, England, Canada and Trinidad, to name a few. Several graduate students finished their undergraduate degrees abroad. We also have regional diversity from around the nation with students who fly in every two weeks from other states to attend class.
At our campus, we encourage everyone to meet their highest potential, regardless of their background — no excuses. In part, my own high expectations can be traced back to a group trip to China I took about five years ago; about the same time I accepted a position with University of Phoenix. Prior to teaching for University of Phoenix, I taught nursing for many years at several Research I institutions. So I was not new to the field. What I saw in China, however, was life-changing.
At the time in China, our nation was suffering a nursing shortage while China was graduating 800 nurses per city per year. These students were interested in preparing to take exams that would qualify them to work in the United States, but they needed our help. They knew their sciences — they take double the sciences our students do. But they were not allowed to do very much. They were very much under the doctor’s thumb — and couldn’t do basic things such as give injections. So, although most of them could have passed the written exam easily, we had to teach them to do the tasks nurses do in the United States. The students — all of them female — lived together in dorms where they studied all the time despite primitive conditions. They had no heat in weather that was often 10 degrees below zero. Once a month, they would get to go into town and do a little shopping with a dollar or two. Otherwise, their studies overshadowed everything else in their lives.
In contrast, the technology in all of the classrooms was top-notch. I never had a problem showing a slide presentation and the students all had access to current computers. The students were all eager to learn, but there were many basic nursing aspects they just didn’t know. They also struggled with English as a spoken language. They could use it for email. Speaking with patients in English, however, presented a challenge. They had to work hard to learn it.
I’ve noticed since then that my expectations for my students are higher. I think we need to expect a little more of our students — if nursing students in China could excel in their situation, so can ours. When students come to me with challenges, I help them focus more on their potential rather than on the negatives of the situation. “There is a lot you can do when you put your mind to it,” I tell them.
Altruism is abundant
Many of our students from abroad are here because hospitals have recruited them. Once they arrive, they want to do more. A major motivation is to learn as much as possible so they can take those skills back to their homeland. Others have devoted themselves to care for underserved populations when they complete their degrees. I tell them that some of them are going to need to work in a regular population. But they have seen the other side, and that is one of the reasons we attract them. They see the need for health care in the regions they call home and they know they can bring it back. That is the goal for a lot of them.
Instructors must present things in multiple ways so that all learners can understand. It may be more difficult and more challenging as an instructor, but the rewards are greater as well.
This article originally appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education, UOPX Campus Viewpoints section. To review our current faculty articles, visit: https://chronicle.com/campusViewpoint/University-of-Phoenix/29/.