Jessica Nelson headshot.
Brandon Woller '17/University of St. Thomas

Student Success Director Jessica Nelson Puts Nursing Students at Ease

A new generation of compassionate nurses is taking shape at the University of St. Thomas’ Susan S. Morrison School of Nursing. And Jessica Nelson, the school’s student success director, is implementing programs that will help nursing students succeed in their new careers.

“Our nursing program is unique in the sense that we start building in support programs early, with things like studypalooza, a peer-led program, tutoring for nursing students, online tutoring, workshops, and faculty who are really dedicated to helping prepare students to become wonderful nurses,” Nelson said.

Since starting at St. Thomas in June 2022, Nelson has implemented several programs to support future Tommie nurses. For starters, she meets individually with students to learn about their experiences and collaborates with them on their plans. She helped to develop a Canvas site for first-year students who are waiting to be admitted to the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, so they have at their fingertips everything they need to know to be confident in this major. She also offers workshops that support their application process.

Bell Castilleja under the Arches
Nursing student Bell Castilleja stands under the Arches at the University of St. Thomas.

Bell Castilleja, a sophomore from Blaine, Minnesota, who was admitted to the nursing school, turned to Nelson for advice when she was still a high school senior. Nelson advised the aspiring nurse on how to prepare her application and showcase activities that stand out among other applicants to improve her chances for success once in the program.

“Her advice helped me because she really had strong connections with the faculty and really helped me get going on campus, especially my freshman year,” Castilleja said.

Nelson suggested Castilleja get involved in several nursing career-oriented roles. As a result, Castilleja took on part-time CNA jobs. Two were at memory care facilities, while another summer position was at Children’s Minnesota. She also wrote cards for families with members in hospice.

“It made me very happy that I had someone who was supporting me and pushing me to be the best version of myself,” said Castilleja, who is also a track and field student-athlete at St. Thomas and is on the Special Olympics executive board as a sophomore representative. “I’m glad I had one of those adults in my life to help me pursue my dreams.”

Nelson also oversees the nursing tutoring program and works closely with faculty to develop more resources, programs, and policies to support student success and help remove any barriers that potentially stand in the way of their goals.

Jessica Nelson. (Brandon Woller ’17/University of St. Thomas)

“Students can come to learn about the application process and what they need to be doing in order to prepare for that process, including preparing their essays, putting their resume together, and getting ready for interviewing,” Nelson said.

The nursing program supports prospective nursing students beyond academics and GPA. It looks at students holistically. A future nurse’s ability to demonstrate compassion and leadership is a significant aspect of treating patients. Good experiences that prepare students for their nursing career, Nelson noted, include extracurricular time spent caring for the elderly or animals in addition to their academic studies.

“St. Thomas is a really great campus with a wonderful community,” said Nelson, who has worked in higher education for more than 15 years and holds three master’s degrees – an MBA, a master’s in education and one in spirituality. “I make relationships with students so I can help work with them to clear their path to success,” Nelson said. “That’s through meeting with students and understanding their strengths, their opportunities, and taking a look at creating strategies for success.”