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This alumna nursing professor has a proven system to keep black nursing students in school

As the United States rapidly grows more diverse, the care provided by nurses of color becomes particularly valuable. “People of color often seek medical care with providers who are of the same race or ethnic background,” says nursing professor Yolanda Nelson ’02.

But the number of black nurses remains low at most health care facilities, and black students comprise only a small portion of nursing students nationwide. Nelson attributes this to barriers that include inadequate academic preparation in high school and a lack of diverse faculty in the field.

“As a student at TCNJ, I didn’t have any role models who looked like me,” she says. “It would have helped if I had a mentor to encourage me.”

Professionally, Nelson thrived as a case manager and practice clinician and served in leadership roles at several hospitals in New Jersey. She saw the lack of mentoring as another road block to increasing diversity.

To address this, she launched Moving Forward Together when she joined TCNJ’s faculty in 2017. A mentorship program, MFT matches TCNJ’s black nursing students with working black nurse–mentors, some of whom are alumni. Mentors are “someone they can lean on” in dealing with a professor, developing study skills, or finding their first job, says Nelson.

So far, Nelson has matched 30 students with mentors and has seen six participants graduate, including Yvonne Njoku ’19, whom Nelson herself mentored. Njoku credits MFT with helping her stay committed to nursing after failing a course, a “devastating” setback that delayed her graduation. When Nelson would text her before an exam, or just to check in, “I saw how much she cared,” she says. “It provided the motivation I needed.”

Nelson says when she meets with participants she sees “the professionalism, the bond, the growth in confidence — and it makes my heart smile.”

Jennifer Wilson for TCNJ Magazine