School of Nursing pins on 60-year milestone

An early class of nursing students shows off their caps and FDU pride. (Photo courtesy of the Fairleigh Dickinson University archives) 

By Kenna Caprio

Nursing students aren’t likely to forget their pinning ceremony. The long-held tradition marks the formal end of education and transition to the workforce for nurses. 

 “The pinning ceremony is an enactment of the true reason why you chose to become a nurse. It isn’t just the culmination of education, but the beginning of a career and vocation that we were all called to,” says Sheryl Balas Slonim, BSN ’76, and executive vice president, patient care services, and chief nursing officer at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, N.J. 

Each pin features the student’s specific nursing degree and graduating year, says Minerva Guttman, director of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Henry P. Becton School of Nursing and Allied Health. When the School of Nursing graduated early classes, pins were affixed to the classic caps that nurses used to wear. 

“A long time ago, we wore caps and uniforms,” says Guttman. Now everyone wears scrubs, she continues. But the pinning tradition lives on and so does the legacy of educating nurses at FDU, as the School of Nursing celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. 

(At right) Nursing student Louise Carotenuto receives her cap and pin during the ceremony.

In 1952, FDU first developed the nursing program, offering an associate degree. By 1968, a baccalaureate program replaced the associate degree. Eventually, the University added degree options including an Accelerated B.S. in Nursing, M.S. in Nursing and Doctor of Nursing Practice, plus tracks in radiography, medical technology, clinical laboratory sciences and physical therapy, amongst others. In 1993, the nursing department became the School of Nursing. 

In 2007, the School of Nursing received a presidential citation from late University President J. Michael Adams. The citation honored the school’s efforts in “becoming a state leader.” The high passing rates on the NCLEX examination — the nursing certification test — were singled out as a success and enrollment was at “an all-time high,” according the citation Adams presented. Guttman says there are approximately 800 students currently enrolled in the School of Nursing. 

“Students come to the University because of our nursing program,” says Guttman. 

And many of those who come to learn, stay on or return later. 

“Another achievement of this school is that many of its graduates are now faculty. We’re very proud of that,” says Guttman. 

Maryelena Vargas, a graduate of the School of Nursing from the Rutherford campus, and new addition to the nursing faculty, is a prime example. 

“Working here is an opportunity to work with students in my community, to grow intellectually with students and faculty and to contribute skills and experience,” says Vargas, BSN ’90. “FDU opened my mind to learning about global issues.” Her fields of expertise include lactation consultation, pre- and post-natal care and pediatrics. And now, as an associate professor of nursing, she’s sharing her experience from working in community care, home care, public nursing and patient research. 

Slonim is sharing her knowledge from the field and from FDU too, in her position at Holy Name, where she is responsible for daily operations and strategic plans for all of the medical center’s nursing services and clinical in-patient care.

“Each of us has an opportunity to offer our skills to many different patients and families,” says Slonim, who originally chose perinatal and pediatric intensive care as her specialties. “We learn our skills in the walls of hospitals, but that’s not all nursing is. Everyone has a niche.”

Throughout her career, Slonim has relied on the broad education she received at FDU. 

“The BSN provides an additional knowledge base in terms of humanities,” says Slonim. “At the time I went to FDU, what separated us from the other traditional-based nursing programs was the exposure to more than just hospitals,” says Slonim. “We received vast in-home and community health experience, and exposure to the concepts of wellness and illness prevention.” 

Today, that’s just one of the reasons that FDU's Henry P. Becton School of Nursing and Allied Health remains a well-respected school as it celebrates 60 years.

Feature Story from the FDU Newsroom

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