Health Equity Academy Scholars: Developing Minority Nursing Leaders of the Future


For decades Duke University School of Nursing (DUSON) has been committed to investing resources in recruiting and graduating nurses from diverse populations in an effort to help build a nursing workforce that reflects society.

The Academy for Academic and Social Enrichment and Leadership Development for Health Equity also known as the Health Equity Academy (HEA) has been one program at Duke aimed at supporting minority students in the Accelerated BSN (ABSN) program.

The program, funded by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) Nursing Workforce Diversity grant, began in 2014 and is a competitive academic and professional socialization program for students from underrepresented minority groups – African American, Hispanic/Latino, American Indian and Hawaiian/Asian Pacific Islander – who are interested in the nursing field and in pursuing advanced levels of graduate education.

The 2016 cohort participants were Ravenne Aponte from Miami, Florida; Christina Augustin from Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Tori Caldwell from Louisville, Kentucky; Rochelle L. Corbitt from Jackson, Mississippi; Claudia Del Hierro from New Jersey; Brianna M. Gamble from Gastonia, North Carolina; and Marlena Syvertsen from Pago Pago, American Samoa.

HEA Scholars who participate in the pre-entry program and in enhancement activities while enrolled in the ABSN program share an experience that prepares them for the challenging 16-month ABSN program. During the program, the 2016 HEA Scholars lived on campus and worked with Duke faculty, advisors and mentors while exploring health disparities and health equity.

“This program has definitely allowed me to realize the possibilities that are out there,” said Ravenne Aponte, 2016 HEA Scholar. “Every day we would go to classes and workshops and were meeting registered nurses, nurse practitioners, nurses with their doctoral degrees, and this allowed me to see that being a registered nurse isn’t where I have to stop.”

The cohort ended the program with a community presentation to faculty, staff, students and alumni. The presentation was a culmination derived from exploring the Durham community and interacting with a variety of local organizations to examine the impact of social determinants of health.

“Being a part of the Health Equity Academy this past summer was very enlightening for me,” said Marlena Syvertsen, 2016 HEA Scholar. “I came into it initially not knowing too much about health equity and the importance it plays in health care. But this past summer has really opened my eyes to realizing that there are a lot of different circumstances that people have to deal with, including where they live that can affect access to care.”

Six scholars will matriculate into the fall 2016 ABSN program and one will return to her university to complete her undergraduate degree.

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