Outstanding Graduate Earns 4.0 GPA while Undertaking Research and Making Personal Connections

Published: May 08, 2018

Outstanding Graduate Earns 4.0 GPA while Undertaking Research and Making Personal Connections

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard – this is the sentiment that drives Clarissa Lara to study the profession of nursing. Lara, who is working to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, says being a nurse isn’t just a job, it’s a career that includes lifelong personal connections with patients. Nursing is also about bettering situations for others, which is why Lara was eager to conduct research focused on helping non-traditional nursing students succeed in the classroom. Lara is one of 1,141 Islander students graduating during two spring 2018 commencement ceremonies on Saturday, May 12. The ceremony is the largest in the University’s history.

“Originally, I didn’t want to be a nurse because my mom is a nurse, and when you’re young, you want to be different from your parents,” said Lara. “But one day, while putting away clothes, I found a note my mom had written about one of her patients. It was a little prayer asking for her patient to get better because she meant so much to her. It was a profound moment and spoke to me in a way nothing else had.”

Watching her mother go through nursing school, including studying with friends, practicing assessments, making pillows for hospitalized babies, and hearing stories of her mother’s experiences at work made a huge impact. Eventually, after shadowing her mother on the job, Lara made the decision to follow in her mother’s footsteps.  

“When you’re a really good nurse, like my mom, you are able to forge a bond with your patients and see them on an individual level,” Lara said. “As a nurse, you don’t have a good day because you filled an IV bag, but instead, because you made one person’s worst moment a little bit better.”

The nursing program at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi also had those personal networks Lara was looking for. She received support from both nursing students in her cohort as well as faculty. She especially credits Johanna Dubose, project manager for the HRSA READY grant, along with Veena Prasad, her success coach through the grant, for helping her achieve so much. These mentors were there for her in times of hardship and to provide words of encouragement and understanding. In fact, Lara also learned one of her most important life lessons during her college years, one that allowed her to maintain a 4.0 GPA during the rigor of nursing school.

“My mentors taught me so much about balancing school work with life and taking things one day at a time,” said Lara. “Previously, I was always told to focus solely on academics and to make the highest grade possible, but my mentors taught me that you can’t get good grades if your personal life is in shambles.”

Since learning the value of a helping hand, Lara also has served as a mentor to a first-year nursing student and has also mentored students during tutoring sessions for the course Nursing Care of the Psychiatric Client.

“Mentoring is so important to build up the next generation of nurses. A mentee can gain academic support along with help to know it’s okay to feel stressed or anxious about their coursework,” said Lara. “Being a mentor also helped me want to make all ‘A’s so I can better guide my mentee and prove that even through challenges, one can find success.”

Along with her role as a student and mentor, Lara was one of the few nursing students to begin an original research study in her first semester of nursing school. She worked with multiple nursing faculty on a mixed-method, phenomenological study titled, “Exploring the Challenges for Non-Traditional Baccalaureate Nursing Students.” In this study, she examined the difficulties faced by non-traditional nursing students, such as having a full-time job and family obligations, and how to best help those students succeed in the classroom.

“Current studies estimate that one out of every two non-traditional nursing students will fail out of their nursing program,” said Lara, who is currently working on a manuscript for submission to an academic journal. “Yet, nursing is often about how we can improve outcomes for our patients. In this case, it should be improving the resources available to non-traditional students because nurses with diversified life experiences may offer better, more holistic care.”

Post-graduation, Lara hopes to work in an intensive care unit for a few years, and then return to school for a master’s degree and maybe even a doctoral degree.

“It’s wonderful to see the impact you can have on people, like a stroke patient who can fill out a crossword puzzle when the previous day, they couldn’t move the entire right side of their body,” said Lara.

Despite the huge responsibility of caring for patients, Lara is excited to put her best foot forward as a new nurse. She urges her nursing cohort to do the same.

“My message for my fellow graduates is to never stop learning because there’s so much out there for us to discover and explore and become.”