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ASU first-gen grad sees the impact she can make as a nurse

Hannah Moulton Belec

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2019 commencement.

Ayanna Bernard, a first-generation college student who is graduating from ASU this December, credits ASU TRIO Programs and a semester spent researching alternative medicine with helping her gain the motivation to graduate with her nursing degree from the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation

Growing up as a military kid, Bernard lived all over the country, but most recently she called Colorado Springs home. When it was time to make her college decision, she jumped at the chance to pursue her degree at ASU. 

Bernard was a part of the Residence Hall Association at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus during her first and second years. It provided her a chance to meet new people at ASU as an out-of-state student and made ASU feel like a second home. 

Bernard took a hiatus from the nursing program after her sophomore year to do research with one of her professors. Analyzing the effects of aromatherapy on nurses and exploring alternative medicine, the semester of research gave Bernard the chance to see which direction she really wanted to take in her career and life. 

Bernard then joined TRIO, a resource center for first-generation students, low-income students, veterans and students with disabilities. TRIO helped give Bernard all the resources she needed to be successful at school, such as textbooks, computers and even introduced her to her mentor, Rafael Guzman. Now she works at TRIO, giving back to the community that helped her so much as a student tutor for nursing subjects. 

Ayanna Bernard spoke with ASU Now before graduation to reflect on her journey to success at ASU. 

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? 

Answer: My mom is in the medical field. She’s actually a nurse herself. So I feel like seeing how my mom was very successful helped me. And it was great seeing my mom, who was a nurse because of her passion and she was implementing things that were helping children. It was something I was very inspired by, so inspired by that I was like, "I really want to be like my mom when I grow up," and there’s very few kids who can really say that. Just seeing how she was, and knowing that both of my parents worked, they could teach their kids to take the initiative and to always be there and to be there with passion.

As a nurse I feel like you do so much for the community and make such a positive impact; that’s something I want to be a part of, that I want to get involved in. So far I haven’t really changed my mind about being a nurse. I thought that when I got to school I would actually want to change my mind because being in college you’re exposed to different things, but being involved in all the programs that I was, I think that wanting to help people and that wanting to give back to the community always took me back to seeing it as a way I could be successful. 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective? 

A: The time I did my first clinical. In fall 2017, I was at the Honor Health Rehab Center. We were caring for a patient who was at the end of life. She had no family left and she just started crying in my arms. She told me how much we meant to her when her life was coming to the end and how happy she was to be surrounded by such compassionate nurses. When she had no one else, we were just there for her, supporting her, holding her hand and just listening. And she was like, “All I really wanted was to have someone’s hand to hold.” And I really just felt emotional and I was telling myself this is the kind of stuff that you’ll get to do. This is the kind of impact that you know that you have on them. Because a lot of the time, people think, “Oh, I could never do nursing. It’s so hard.” And we ask ourselves, “Why do you want to do it?” And that moment made me realize that this is why I want to go down this career path. 

So from that point on, I felt like I could really express my emotions in the clinical setting because at first I was scared. We nursing students go from nursing student to clinical to helping other nurses in the field and they might not like you. They might not think that I’m educated enough, or that I don’t have enough knowledge. And to just have someone sit there and break down crying showed me that we mean so much to her, even though she may not know us. But we just know that this is something she will remember — having compassionate nurses. It’s something you’ve gotta remember before anything else. 

I think that was really a life-changing moment for me. It showed me that it’s OK to get emotional, to cry. There are just some situations that you cannot change. You cannot change the fact that she’s at the end of life. But we’ve still given her the best care that we can. We took care of her. We provided her empathy. But at the same time we don’t want to give her false hope. So I think that that’s one of those moments I’ll always remember. It’s something that I take with me each and every day that I go to the hospital. I want the patients to know that I am there for them. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Growing up being a part of a military family it was a lot of moving, going to new places, meeting new people. After I came back from living overseas I started looking at schools and my mom was like, “Oh, well now you can stop and maybe stay in-state. So now you don’t have to move.” 

I told my mom, "I don’t know what it is, but I’ve always wanted to go to Arizona." It was one of the few places we never actually lived. My mom’s brother lives down here, but we never visited them. I just thought it was a place that I wanted to see and add to the places that I’ve been. And when I was looking up about the school and learned about the nursing program and saw how successful it was and how the graduation rate was very high and how they put such successful students out there, it just seemed like a very excellent program. And now that I am a part of the program I can say it has met my expectations. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: My human event professor Dr. Matthew Sandoval. He really taught me a lot about myself. He focused a lot on culture — the Latin American culture, the African American culture. And you don’t learn about that — even in high school. Sandoval had us read books, and I still have some of them to this day, that were not focused on slavery but on how African Americans have excelled throughout the years. 

Going into my freshman year as a downtown student, I wasn’t really surrounded by a lot of students who looked like me — African Americans. I became friends with a lot of people who were outside of my culture. But his class let me learn about my culture and that it’s OK to be the odd man out. It’s OK to be the only African American in class, because I was the only African American in class and in Barrett in general. But he let me see that we can be in Barrett and we can excel. He helped me see that. 

On the last day of class I cried. I broke down and cried in front of everyone. It’s hard when you think you’re the only person. It’s hard when everything is so different. He helped me to see that my culture makes me who I am and that I should be proud of it. He helped me to be comfortable in my own skin and that it’s OK to be different and to see that as a positive thing. You’re inspiring others. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: I didn’t really get much advice going into college because I was the first person to go to college in my family. I learned a lot of it on my own. I had to be very independent.  

So I think my advice would be to always ask for help. Always ask for help because I feel like there’s always help out there. I really didn’t ask for help my first couple of years and I think that really made me struggle during my first years in the nursing program. But once I asked for help, I felt like I was excelling and I wasn’t questioning if this is the career I wanted to go into. I felt like I was developing as a nurse and a person. So when I took that semester off and asked for advice and talked to my professors, I was able to kind of figure out who I am and have someone tell me, “You are going to be successful” and “You are a student who can succeed.” 

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: Where I spent a lot of time was in our little RHA office. When I was living on campus and working there for them I spent a lot of time there. It was a place where we could all gather, where we could all talk, do homework, watch movies or Netflix. Away from school, away from outside friends. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I really love it here in Arizona. I plan to stay here after graduation and start working here at one of the hospitals around the Valley. And I think that ASU has really prepared me for that. I think the clinicals were a great experience — working at different hospitals so that all the specific stuff you learned is in your back pocket. 

I think it helps you to get you in the door when you start applying for jobs and the clinicals really help prepare you for that. I know I’ll be very successful and will have no problem finding a job. I think ASU has really lived up to that standard of making sure that their students graduate and that their students succeed. I would recommend it as a school. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would tackle our health insurance. I think being in the nursing program has shined so much light on medical needs and the services that people still need after the hospital that their insurance doesn’t cover. I would donate my money to a fund that would give money to the people who need that extra care so they can have that quality care, because we have the responsibility to provide for them. It shouldn’t be so expensive and as far as health care goes, everything is getting expensive. And so people are getting health care that isn’t the best because they can’t afford it. And as a nurse it’s really hard to see that. It breaks my heart to see that, to see people getting denied stuff because they can’t afford it.

Written by Lindsay Lohr, Sun Devil Storyteller