Posts By :

Debbie Cafazzo

Recent Palmer Scholar's celebrating by tossing their hats into the air
Palmer Scholars 1024 504 Debbie Cafazzo

Palmer Scholars

Alumni Board member Jonathan Jackson ’12 leads the Tacoma-based organization

In a sea of flowing red, white, green, blue and black, dozens of proud graduates clad in traditional caps and gowns make their grand entrance as Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy” fills PLU’s Scandinavian Center.

“Let’s get that applause going,” says a smiling Jonathan Jackson ’12, as he starts clapping for the Class of 2019 Palmer Scholars.

Jackson, a member of the PLU Alumni Board and a current MBA student at PLU, is executive director of Palmer Scholars. The organization was founded in 1983 by Tacoma businessman R. Merle Palmer to help low-income students of color in Pierce County achieve their dreams of a college education.

On this June Saturday, the scholars – recent high school and college graduates – are joined by their families, volunteers who serve as mentors for Palmer students and other supporters of the organization.

It’s part of an annual celebration for students who graduate with the help of Palmer scholarships, mentors and other supports.

In June, Jackson helped bring the Palmer graduation ceremony to PLU’s campus, with sponsorship from the university Office of the President, Alumni & Student Connections, Campus Ministry and the Admissions Office, along with the Puget Sound Educational Service District.

“This is our largest class of graduates ever,” Jackson said. A total of 24 Palmer Scholars graduated from college this year – including four from PLU. And 34 Palmer high school graduates are beginning their college journey, including five enrolling at PLU.

“These students aren’t successful because of us, they’re successful because of themselves,” Jackson said. “But we believed in them and supported them.”

PLU President Allan Belton addressed the assembled scholars and talked about his experience as the first in his family of eight children to graduate from college.

“As we graduate from high school or college, it’s important to think about the people who helped us get here,” he said.

For Belton, support came from a high school counselor who showed faith in his ability and urged him to take a college entrance exam and write a college application essay.

Knowing that someone is behind you — supporting you — makes a difference, he said.

“Congratulations to the families, friends and others who have supported these students,” he added.

PLU’s 2019 Palmer Scholars

Samantha Saucedo
Eunissa Satterwhite
Karen Davila
Kevin Castellanos

Tabitha Johnson
Gianni LaFave
Abdulghani Nagi-Mosa
Whitney Perry
Moses Ramos

Several of the Palmer college graduates who celebrated at the June event were students Jackson recruited during his first sojourn with Palmer.

Jackson first got involved with Palmer Scholars in 2014, serving as a program director, mentor and board member.

He worked as executive director of the Fair Housing Center of Washington, director of development at the Foundation for Tacoma Students and several other nonprofit organizations before returning to lead Palmer Scholars in 2018.

Jackson, a Washington native, grew up just outside the gates of Joint Base Lewis- McChord in Tillicum and graduated from Clover Park High School in 2008.

He was one of the first group of Act Six Scholars – a national group providing scholarships and social justice leadership training for students – on PLU’s campus.

The program had profound impacts on his world view.

“For somebody in my situation, getting a full ride scholarship to attend PLU made it a financial reality,” he said. “If not for Act Six, I would not have been able to attend PLU.”

Part of the appeal of PLU was that it allowed him to “still be in my back yard, in my community.”

But as a trail blazing member of a group of students of color, Jackson also found challenges at PLU. A sociology major, he focused his capstone project on the academic experiences of students of color enrolled at predominantly white colleges.

“PLU has come a long way, both numerically and in terms of visible signs of commitment to diversity,” Jackson said.

It’s one reason he was drawn to membership on the alumni board.

“I think I can be part of changing that — making the experience less alienating for students of color who are following in my footsteps,” he added.

Who was Merle Palmer?

While in the U.S. Navy during World War II, R. Merle Palmer, a white man from Tacoma, served with sailors of color and was troubled by how they were treated. He observed that, no matter how well they executed their jobs, they received little recognition, their skills were ignored and they were seldom promoted in rank.

The injustice troubled him. After the war, he returned home and, with the help of the Rev. Al Davis, inaugurated the Eastside Community Church Minority Scholarship Fund with six students and limited funding.

The program incorporated in 1996. In 2003, the first Palmer Scholar earned a Ph.D and more than 400 degrees have been conferred on Palmer students over the years.

His passion for social justice and equity is a theme that runs through his work, which has focused on removing barriers and increasing access for traditionally underserved student populations.

The Palmer students, he says, “are what get me out of bed every morning, and what keeps me working long days.”

Eunissa Satterwhite ’19, said the financial assistance she received from the Palmer program made a difference.

“But it’s also the mentor, who is with you throughout your college years, and the college readiness classes in high school,” she said.

Palmer Scholars are initiated into the program as high school juniors. They attend one or more evening training classes each month, where they learn college readiness and life skills. During their senior year of high school, scholars are matched with a mentor and mentorship continues throughout their college years.

Satterwhite graduated this year with a degree in math and plans to return to PLU to complete her master’s degree in education.

Abdulghani Nagi-Mosa, who graduated this year from the International Baccalaureate program at Foss High School in Tacoma, plans to major in business administration at PLU and hopes to one day work for the FBI.

“My top choice was PLU,” said Nagi-Mosa, a native of Yemen. “I came on a college tour with a friend, and I could see the diversity they have. I could see students like me walking around.”

Jonathan Jackson '12 with the Palmer Scholar graduates
A Palmer Scholar graduate holding a picture frame
A group of Palmer Scholar graduates

The Palmer program helped him — the first in his family to attend college — understand the college experience. He is also grateful for his Palmer mentor, Army Capt. Dan Zeller.

Zeller said he signed on as a Palmer volunteer mentor because he knows that high school “is a critical time in a person’s life, when you have got to make a lot of big decisions.”

“When I struggled in high school, he helped me,” Nagi-Mosa said of his mentor. “When I was about to stop thinking about college, he pushed me.”

Jackson said Palmer Scholars wants mentors who want to make an impact on the life of a young person by building a culture of trust, one-on-one, that will support a scholar throughout their college career.

“One of the things we do is provide scholarships,” he said. “But I like to talk about our program as a college success organization.”

Rendering of the new Clinical Learning and Simulation center's ground level skills lab at PLU - Renderings courtesy of McGranahan Architects
Clinical Learning and Simulation Center 1024 504 Debbie Cafazzo

Clinical Learning and Simulation Center

Renderings courtesy of McGranahan Architects

Local health care providers say that when they see a PLU degree on a graduate’s resume, they know they’re hiring a great nurse.

For more than 60 years, Pacific Lutheran University has been educating nurses and building a strong reputation as one of the state’s premier nursing education programs.

PLU is already one of the largest producers of nursing graduates in Washington state. And the program is growing. The School of Nursing enrolled nearly 400 undergraduate and graduate students during the 2018-19 academic year, up from just under 350 the previous year.

PLU President Allan Belton says it’s time to match a sterling program with a state-of-the-art facility.

That’s why he’s excited about the planned Clinical Learning and Simulation Center that will double the space available for PLU’s nursing education program as it propels the program into the future.

Want to learn more about how you can support this important project?

Contact Kaarin Praxel Austin

“We’ve got these talented faculty and they’re attracting amazing students,” Belton said. “But right now, they’re doing so in facilities that don’t match the quality of the program.”

The new center will be located just steps from the main campus, in a building previously occupied by the Garfield Book Company. Preliminary design, engineering and preparation work has been done, and fundraising to support the $6.5 million project is underway. McGranahan Architects is designing the center.

The center will house a state-of-the-art training facility that will include expansive classroom space, a 16-bed inpatient skills lab and additional simulation labs designed to duplicate the kind of equipment and furnishings found in a modern hospital room. They will be equipped with life-like mannequins that replicate patient breathing, pulse, heart sounds and other functions.

Renderings courtesy of McGranahan Architects

“The new labs will allow us to fully integrate and maximize simulations into our graduate and undergraduate curriculum,” said Barbara Habermann, dean of the School of Nursing.

“The center gives students a place to learn and practice nursing skills before they use them in a hospital setting,” said Jodi Kushner, assistant professor and simulation coordinator in the School of Nursing. “The simulation suites will give students more opportunities to learn clinical judgment and critical thinking.”

Currently, the School of Nursing is housed in Ramstad Hall, where a growing number of students can make it a struggle to find adequate classroom space.

“Our classrooms are now at seating capacity,” Habermann said.

The new facility will not only double the available space — from roughly 16,000 square feet to about 32,000 square feet — it will also free up classroom space on the main campus for students in other majors. And locating the center in an existing structure saves on construction costs.

The new classrooms will be equipped with multimedia screens and other instructional technology tools to give students opportunities for more interactive learning. Debriefing rooms will allow students and faculty to review clinical exercises conducted in the simulation lab, and provide immediate feedback.

A drawing of what a debriefing room could look like
Clinical Learning and Simulation Center
A drawing of what a new debriefing room could look like.
A drawing of what a simulation lab could look like
Clinical Learning and Simulation Center
A drawing of what a new simulation lab could look like.

The goal is for PLU’s simulation center to become accredited by the Society for Simulation in Healthcare, which currently lists fewer than 100 accredited centers in the nation.

The concept of training nurses using sophisticated simulation models and equipment grew out of ideas employed in the aviation industry, Kushner said.

Just as commercial pilots train on computer-guided flight simulators, the idea behind the nursing lab is to give students a chance to learn, test and master skills — everything from starting an IV to inserting a catheter — on a mannequin before they encounter human patients.

The simulated patients are incredibly sophisticated. They can register a pulse, and can be programmed to sweat, cry or speak in multiple languages. A “sim-mom” can teach labor-and-delivery skills, while a “sim-baby” can show students how to assess an infant experiencing problems such as respiratory distress.

Faculty will be able to use the new technology to construct scenarios that mimic life-threatening situations, giving students a chance to recognize early signs and symptoms of deteriorating patient health.

“It will give students an opportunity to safely practice and master needed skills before doing them in a hospital setting,” Kushner said. “As students learn more, the simulation scenarios can become more complex and involve more skills. That builds their clinical judgment.”

Experience at other institutions shows that combining the hands-on experience of the simulation lab with expert faculty instruction will improve student outcomes, including pass-rates on nursing license exams – a test where PLU nursing graduates already excel.

Plans for the new facility have already attracted the attention of area health care organizations, who see its potential for training their future work force.

We can become the premier provider of health science education in the South Sound.

- Allan Belton

“The new facility will further position PLU as a regional leader in education for health care professionals,” Belton said. He notes that in addition to a strong School of Nursing, PLU also boasts exceptional programs in kinesiology, social work, marriage and family therapy and more. There’s potential to create ties among those programs, and to create new ones.

“I want us to build on our strengths,” Belton said. “We can become the premier provider of health science education in the South Sound.”

And, Belton adds, PLU’s mission as a liberal arts institution gives graduates more than technical and professional skills.

“We’re producing people who can go out and make a real difference,” he said.