By Deborah Douglas
There’s no stopping Amber Bonds, who just picked up her nursing degree on May 17 at Chicago State University’s largest graduation ever. She’ll work for a year, in a field where opportunity abounds. Then she’ll up the ante and return to school to become a nurse practitioner.
“The course work was a challenge, but I learned to be a strong independent learner and a problem solver,” says Bonds, who grew up in Peoria. “I’m following up on clinical leads to secure full-time work, and then I’ll be sure to bring the importance of pubic health advocacy into my work life.”
Bonds is a member of CSU’s largest-ever graduating class. As a member of CSU’s renowned nursing program that typically sets the state and national pace on the nursing license exam, she is poised to be a top earner in a field of great demand.
The jobs outlook for registered nurses is better than average: In the next few years, nursing opportunities are expected to expand 26 percent. Moreover, the median pay for registered nurses is $64,690 a year.
Chicago State University’s graduation was history making for students like Bonds. In addition to being a part of the largest graduating class in the institution’s 145-year history, its College of Pharmacy hosted its first graduating class, in addition.
In fact, CSU will enjoy a graduation rate that is on track to be between 21-25 percent when the final numbers are filed August 30 with the federal Integrated Post Secondary Education Data System. Even with the most conservative estimate, this graduating class is, indeed, the largest ever.
Commencement speaker Bishop Horace Smith, M.D., exhorted students to live meaningful lives of vision, persistence and accountability. The first-generation college graduate told graduates that it only literate societies are prosperous.
“Illiterate societies are plagued by poverty and violence,” Smith said. “What are your values, above what money you’re going to make? What will you do to make others better?”
Retired State Sen. Emil Jones, a longtime CSU benefactor and the key to obtaining state funding to establish a pharmacy school on the South Side also spoke.
“You can accomplish more when you’re doing it for someone else other than yourself,” Jones told the crowd, marveling at the high salaries graduates of the first College of Pharmacy class are poised to earn. “Don’t forget this institution. Give back to this university so some other students can follow in your path.”
When President Wayne D. Watson, Ph.D., arrived on CSU’s campus in October 2009, the institution that has cultivated generations of public school teachers and provided a bridge to middle-class professionalism, was languishing with a graduation rates of 13 and 14 percent respectively in 2010 and 2009. In 2011, the graduation rate increased to 20.9 percent.
The Watson administration has gone through great effort to undergird each student’s academic foundation by increasing retention and graduation supports.
For example, from the first day of classes through end of term, each student may access subject matter coaching to help them catch up, keep up and stay ahead.
CSU also created a Dean of the Freshman Experience position to guide first-time, full-time freshmen through the challenges of college life and burgeoning adulthood.
The South Side institution has also invested in science, technology, engineering and math by building a $1.5 million, state-of-the-art interactive physics lab that allows students to collaborate effectively, and faculty to research student learning methods to increase their chances of success. Chicago State is also notable in that undergraduate STEM majors engage in the type of research reserved for graduate students at other institutions.
“Today is special,” said Dr. Mary Kate Miller, who earned her Pharm. D. degree and will begin a residency at the University of Chicago Medical Center. “It took a lot of hard work, clinical rotation and long hours of studying, but my experience at Chicago State was really great.”