Diverse group of nursing students bond during pandemic: “This is WSU. This is the future.”

Back row, (l-r): Assoc. Teaching Professor Sue McFadden, Ryan Cowart, Talitha Seymour, Andrea Smith, Yeonsu Sim. Front row, (l-r): Isabella Romero, Nouci Yang, Sharanjot Punghlia, Christina Hser, Desiree Sebastian. Photo courtesy of Nouci Yang.
Back row, (l-r): Assoc. Teaching Professor Sue McFadden, Ryan Cowart, Talitha Seymour, Andrea Smith, Yeonsu Sim. Front row, (l-r): Isabella Romero, Nouci Yang, Sharanjot Punghlia, Christina Hser, Desiree Sebastian. Photo courtesy of Nouci Yang.

They range in age from 21 to 41. They come from five countries and speak 10 languages. One is a veteran of multiple deployments, two are in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. Two were born in refugee camps.  

They’re all future Coug Nurses.  

The students were randomly assigned to the same clinical learning group at the Washington State University College of Nursing when they started nursing school in Spokane last January. Despite the challenges of learning in a pandemic, they bonded and have remained friends even after splitting up into different clinical groups this fall.  

Maybe it was the pandemic that made them so close, they say.  

“Due to COVID we never came to class on campus, and this group of people was the only group I would see in person for months,” said Andrea Smith. The group had their clinical learning together at the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center every other week and volunteered together at COVID vaccination clinics at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena and the NATIVE Project.  

Clinical instructor Sue McFadden, an associate teaching professor at the WSU College of Nursing, also helped bring them together by asking them to share their backgrounds and stories with each other.  

A few of those:  

  • Christina Hser talked about her fear for her Karen community in Myanmar.  
  • Ryan Cowart shared how multiple deployments changed him, especially a friend’s suicide.  
  • Nouci Yang said she is the only member of the group born in Spokane, where her Hmong parents arrived as refugees from Laos.  
  • Sharanjot Punghlia is Sikh and wants to serve her community through healthcare.  
  • Yeonsu Sim grew up in South Korea, came to the U.S. as a teenager and became a citizen, and will serve in the U.S. Army upon graduation.  
  • Desiree Sebastian, who’s from Hawaii, was moved to become a nurse after a mission trip to the Hansen’s disease community on Molokai.  

“That one project made us all understand where we come from and what our struggles are,” said Punghlia.  

“Sue had us all lean on each other,” added Isabella Romero, a member of ROTC along with Sim. “We’re still using our group chats, still sitting together in class.”  

They also discovered the benefits of having such a diverse group, with students translating for one another at the VA medical center and at vaccination clinics.  

“I remember during a vaccine clinic someone was trying to speak to me in Spanish, and all of a sudden I remembered, wait – Andrea speaks fluent Spanish,” said Talitha Seymour. “I’m constantly being surprised at other people’s talents; it was really cool.”  

Such cooperation will translate to their professional lives, they said.  

“Nursing isn’t just an individual career – it takes teamwork to make things happen,” said Sebastian.  

Added Smith, “It wasn’t a class. We were a group of likeminded people with a goal. We were surprised by each other’s differences but were able to find a lot of commonalities, especially within nursing and its values.”  

Said McFadden, “This was our clinical group; this is WSU. This is the future.”