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ASPIRE Nurse Scholars Program Expands and Evolves

Developing a diverse nursing workforce for the future


When Cleveland Clinic launched the ASPIRE Nurse Scholars Program in 2017, the enrichment program for high school juniors interested in pursuing a career in nursing received 77 applications. In 2019, the number of applicants more than doubled, with to 174 applications from 38 high schools across Northeast Ohio.


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Although the number of applications validates the success of the program, the impact on students is a stronger indicator of its value. “During my 12-week Saturday sessions, I was able to realize that nursing is a path that I would like to take in my future,” says Heidy Valenzuela, a returning ASPIRE scholar. “We were able to listen to stories from some nurses working at Cleveland Clinic, and it made a big impact on my life.” Among her accomplishments during the program, Heidy became certified in CPR. More importantly, she says she gained confidence.

That’s music to the ears of Program Coordinator Daria Sheafe, MSN, RN. “There is a national drive to increase diversity* in the field of nursing, and Cleveland Clinic recognizes its importance,” she says. “We are dedicated to attracting students like Heidy who represent our surrounding community and embrace nursing as a career. Our aim is to support their journey through nursing school and beyond.”

*See enthnicity demographics for the program listed below.

Serving students at three levels

ASPIRE serves three levels of students – high school junior scholars, high school senior scholars and Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) scholars. The cohort of 25 junior scholars meets each Saturday for 12 weeks from February through April. Because senior year is so busy, this cohort meets monthly. The Tri-C scholars are supported with monthly education sessions and they share experiences.

“The junior curriculum exposes students to nursing, letting them know what the profession is really about,” says Sheafe. Caregivers from various nursing specialties talk to students about providing relationship-based care. In addition, students participate in simulation exercises and shadow a clinical nurse on a nursing unit.


Students who choose to return to the ASPIRE program as seniors in high school dive deeper into what it means to be a nurse. They participate in a clinical experience in groups of two to three students alongside Sol Sanchez, BSN, RN, Nursing Professional Development Specialist for ASPIRE. They also have the opportunity to begin work as a patient care nursing assistant after high school graduation. The retention rate among first-year scholars is strong, with approximately 75% of students returning as senior scholars.

After two years, interested scholars enter the nursing program at Tri-C, an academic partner in the ASPIRE Nurse Scholars Program. “We continue to meet with the college-level students every month so there are constant touch points,” says Sheafe. Each month, she and Sanchez ask students to share their victories and challenges, providing essential support as they transition to and continue nursing school. Currently, there are 23 scholars enrolled in Tri-C.

Tapping into community resources

As ASPIRE prepares to welcome its fourth cohort of junior scholars in 2020, the program continues to make improvements to better serve students. “This is so much more than an academic program,” says Sheafe. “We address students’ individual socioeconomic and life barriers to enhance their success.”

One of the enhancements has been strengthened community relationships with organizations such as Esperanza, the Neighborhood Mentoring Program Collaborative, and the Cleveland Council of Black Nurses (CCBN). ASPIRE collaborates with Esperanza, which strives to improve academic achievement of Hispanics in Greater Cleveland, on targeted recruitment for the scholar program. ASPIRE joined the Neighborhood Mentoring Program Collaborative to share best practices for creating and sustaining a mentoring program.

Last year, the CCBN teamed with ASPIRE to present its Survive & Thrive college readiness workshop to scholars. “We thought we could step in and offer students tools to help them through their first year of nursing school, especially since it’s their first time going to college full time,” says LaTonya Martin, DNP, CNM, FNP-C, chair of CCBN’s Recruitment and Retention Committee. The workshop focuses on topics such as study skills, test-taking strategies, time management, and expectations for nursing school classes and clinical rotations.


Dr. Martin hopes to further expand CCBN’s relationship with ASPIRE because she recognizes its value to minority nursing students. “When I was young, nursing was not even on my radar when I was in school, and now I’m all in!” says Dr. Martin, who is a nurse practitioner, midwife and instructor at Case Western Reserve University’s Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing. “ASPIRE grabs students in 11th grade, lets them know the possibilities within a nursing career and makes a path for students to succeed so they don’t have to figure things out on their own.”

Lining up additional support

Closer ties to community partners isn’t the only addition that ASPIRE has made to support its students. Other enhancements include the following:

  • A mentoring program – Tri-C scholars are paired with practicing nurses who meet with the students monthly and provide both professional and personal support. Scholar Schenley Blase looks forward to meeting with her mentor Julia Schumann, BSN, RNC-MNN. They have a unique bond as Schumann is set to retire next month. She and Schenley both contacted the program to see if their ASPIRE relationship would continue. “Of course!” Sheafe told them. “That’s what the mentoring program is all about.” Another student was afraid to drive, which made it challenging to get to campus as well as work. Her mentor offered encouragement, a few lessons, and now the student is learning to drive. “The bonds between students and mentors are all about relationship-building, and with that comes trust and advising,” says Sheafe.
  • Expanded collaboration with Tri-C – “It’s not just the Associate Dean of Nursing, Ebony Drummer, working with us,” says Sheafe. “We also collaborate with the school’s counseling department, financial aid and scholarship office, as well as the registrar’s office.” These partnerships help the scholars, many of whom are first-generation students, navigate college and become aware of resources available to them.
  • Support from Cleveland Clinic’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) – The EAP holds workshops for ASPIRE students on topics such as stress and time management. “These are two big issues for students as they transition into adulthood, into college and into becoming a Cleveland Clinic caregiver,” says Sheafe. “We listened to our students who said they were stressed primarily due to family demands. Many of our students are responsible for part of the household income and care of younger siblings. EAP provides counseling and referrals to our students.”

ASPIRE plans to continue boosting the program. One of its goals for this year is to reach out to 9th and 10th graders to ensure they are aware of the program. “That gives them the opportunity to work on their GPA’s, enroll in College Credit Plus, and ask questions of people who have been in the program. By the time they are juniors, they will know what’s required and have started on pre-requisites if they want to apply to the program,” says Sheafe.

For those who do, like Heidy, the ASPIRE Nurse Scholars Program is a boon. “I am more than grateful to be a part of this program,” she says.

2019 ASPIRE Junior Cohort Ethnicity Demographics

African-American: 58%

Biracial: 4%

Hispanic/Latino: 19%

Caucasian: 4%

Moroccan: 4%

Jamaican: 4%

Middle Eastern: 7%


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