Elections Are Won By Those Who Show Up

BY PAUL GRIFFIN // NOV. 2, 2018 //

With midterm elections on Tuesday, Nov. 6, candidates’ get-out-the-vote operations are in full swing. The question, as it is every two years, is whether young voters will actually turn out at the polls.

It’s no secret that many young people choose not to vote. In the 2016 presidential election, only about 49 percent of millennials — those ages 18-35 that year — reported to have voted, according to the Pew Research Center. That’s about 20 percentage points less than the baby boomers (people ages 49-72), of which 69 percent voted in the election.

At Curry College, voter apathy is even worse. According to Student Government Association President Rachel O’Donnell, only about 25 percent of the student population voted in the latest SGA election. Students could vote through the Curry portal, meaning they didn’t even have to get out of bed to cast a ballot. “It seems to be a generational thing,” says O’Donnell.

Curry Psychology professor Eric Weiser says it’s understandable that many college students are slow to engage in politics.

“Young people, 19, 20, 21 who are in college, are worried about exams,” says Weiser. “They’re worried about papers, they’re worried about friends, what they’re gonna do with their lives. They’re not as worried about things that influences political attitudes like taxes.”

Weiser says he doesn’t see a lot of political engagement in his students, but reiterated that it was typical for college students to be less engaged than older voters. A study out of Tufts University in Medford, Mass., last year reported that voter turnout among college students in the 2016 election actually increased by 3 percentage points, to 48 percent, compared to the 2012 election, but that too is well below most categories of older eligible voters.

Professor Andrew Horn of the English Department believes that today’s students aren’t particularly engaged in politics because they don’t see how it connects with their lives.

“They feel as though they have nothing at stake,” says Horn, who remembers the feelings of impending doom when he was an undergraduate student during the Cold War. “We were all absolutely convinced there would be nuclear war between the United States and Russia, and that we were going to die.”

Of course, young people have plenty at stake in this midterm election. For example, a ballot referendum in Massachusetts asks voters to decide whether there should be strict limits on how many patients a nurse can care for at any one time. Voting “yes” would impose a patient cap, which would arguable require hospitals to hire many more nurses, while a “no” vote would maintain existing laws and rules.

“This is going to directly effect me when I graduate,” says Yasmina Resendes, a senior Nursing major at Curry. “I agree there should be a limit on how many patients a nurse should care for, but I don’t like the way this [referendum] is worded.”

“I think I’m more motivated to vote because Question 1 directly effects what I want to do for my job when I graduate,” says sophomore Nursing major Olivia Francis. “My nursing instructors have really been trying to inform us about how this would affect us, but they try to avoid pushing us one way or another.”

O’Donnell of the Student Government Association says it would be great if students could vote in state and federal elections on campus at Curry. “I think a lot more students would vote if it were more accessible,” she says.

Ultimately, though, voting participation comes down to engagement. If students don’t understand what’s at stake, for them personally or for others, they simply won’t put in the effort to cast a ballot.

Says Curry English Professor Karrie Szatek, “No matter the situation, you have to be able to bring it home.”

Nursing Exam Pass Rates Causing Palpitations

BY EMMA SULLIVAN // MAY 7, 2015 //

To become a registered nurse is the ultimate goal of most nursing students. But an increasing percentage of Curry graduates are failing to realize that goal—at least on their first attempt.

In 2011, Curry had a 98 percent passing rate for first-time takers of the National Council Licensure Examinations, better known as NCLEX, which are required for those who wish to work as a registered nurse in the United States. In 2014, the passing rate fell to 62 percent. The state and national averages were approximately 81 percent.

That performance left Curry with the sixth-worst pass rate in the state, out of the 49 Massachusetts colleges and universities that offer a program in registered nursing. In 2011, Curry was sixth best.

PHOTO BY PETE, creative commons
PHOTO BY PETE, creative commons

The passing standard and format of the NCLEX exam did change in 2013. Traditional multiple-choice questions were replaced with fill-in-the-blanks, and more essays were added. Despite the changes, however, several Massachusetts colleges maintained their high first-time pass rates.

For example, in 2011, UMass Amherst had an 88 percent first-time pass rate. In 2014, the university’s pass rate barely dropped, to 87 percent. In 2011, Becker College’s first-time pass rate was 99 percent; it’s currently at 97 percent.

Of the top 10-ranked nursing programs in Massachusetts in 2011—based on first-time pass rates—only four dropped off of the list in 2014. In addition to Curry, they are Salem State University, Lawrence Memorial/Regis College, and Anna Maria College.

Northeastern University, Simmons College, Worcester State University, Becker College, Fitchburg State University, and Regis College have remained in the top 10.

It’s noteworthy that the number of Curry students taking the exam has increased in recent years. In 2011, 87 Curry students took NCLEX for the first time; 85 passed. Last year, 112 took the exam and 69 passed. In 2013, 123 Curry students took the exam for the first time; 93 passed (76 percent).

According to Fran Jackson, director of communications at Curry, there are many factors that influence exam results.

“Individual student groups vary year to year,” she said. “Individual students’ anxiety around test-taking varies….What nursing faculty have heard more recently is students taking the test to see what it’s like, with the anticipation that they will be taking it again—almost like the first time taking the test is a practice attempt.”

Jackson said those who do not pass the exam on their first attempt are able to re-take a Curry College review class at no extra cost. She additionally reported that Curry students pass the exam at a 94 percent to 99 percent success rate on repeat attempts.

Nursing professors Cathleen Santos and Maureen Murphy, chairperson of the nursing department, declined to comment for this story.

Curry senior nursing major Ariana Sicuso said she is extremely nervous about her upcoming NCLEX.

“I think about it almost every day, and have nightmares about it because I am afraid of failing,” she said.

But even in her darkest moments, Sicuso remains hopeful. “It is scary because it’s such an important test, but I think Curry is leading us in the right direction to pass.”

Sicuso said she plans to participate in an intensive five-day NCLEX preparation program after graduation this month. After the review program, she plans on reviewing a little bit every day and taking the NCLEX in June or July.

Nursing professor Don Anderson, who is nationally known for his involvement with NCLEX—including the development of questions—has long taught the program at Curry and continues to do so.

Ethan Spiewakowski, a sophomore nursing major, is confident that the first-time passing rate will increase.

“They have changed the curriculum to better prepare nursing students for the modern NCLEX,” said Spiewakowski. “I believe the passing rate will increase, even though the course load and test gets a little harder each year.”

According to Jackson, the nursing program has adjusted its curriculum around the format of the new NCLEX. More exams feature fill-in-the-blanks and essays.

From Jordan, with Love and Purpose

BY COLBY CALISI // DEC. 17, 2014 //

Dr. Susan LaRocco is working from off campus this academic year. Way, way off campus.

The longtime Curry Nursing Department professor is living, learning and working in Amman, Jordan on a Fulbright Scholarship.

Dr. Susan LaRocco
Dr. Susan LaRocco

The Fulbright Scholarship is awarded to 8,000 U.S. students and scholars each year to work, study and research at foreign institutions. In order to receive the honor one must have a strong academic track record, as well as a proposal that promotes the “critical relationship between educational exchange and international understanding.” The award is one of the nation’s highest scholarly honors—LaRocco’s came through the core Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program, which provides 800 teaching or research grants each year—and is administered by the U.S. State Department.

LaRocco’s project proposal was “Promoting Patient Safety Through Nursing Education,” and she is working at the University of Jordan, in Amman.

LaRocco, who was interviewed for this article via Skype, said she has been plenty busy since arriving in Jordan this past summer. She is teaching doctoral students there about qualitative research methods, and is actively assisting students and faculty in thesis preparation and dissertation work. She is also helping students studying advanced cardiac life support. In addition, LaRocco, who has been documenting her experiences through a blog, has been working with a dean on a smoking cessation program.

Dr. Susan LaRocco at the University of Jordan. // COURTESY PHOTO
Dr. Susan LaRocco at the University of Jordan. // COURTESY PHOTO

Although Arabic is the national language of Jordan, many of the students at the university have been learning English since they were in grade school. Textbooks, instructions and Powerpoint presentations are all in English, said LaRocco.

“Sometimes there will be quick bursts in Arabic for better translation, and I will even find myself correcting some of the students’ written English,” she said.

LaRocco is also busy raising funds for the Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI) Honor Society for Nursing. She is on the advisory committee working to launch the honor society in Amman. LaRocca said helping start the society in the Middle East has been among her favorite activities.

“There’s an Arabic term here called ‘Wasa,’ which translates to giving and receiving favors,” said LaRocco. “Hopefully next semester I’ll be able to gain full access to places like the King Hussein Cancer Center, clinical facilities, and more guest lectures as a result of all my hard work.”

LaRocco joined Curry in 2003. She has served as the college’s coordinator of the traditional, accelerated and master’s nursing programs. LaRocco holds degrees from Boston University, UMass Boston and New York University, and is a Certified Nursing Leader.

Doctoral students in the nursing program at the University of Jordan. // PHOTO BY SUSAN LAROCCO
Doctoral students in the nursing program at the University of Jordan. // PHOTO BY SUSAN LAROCCO

She said she has been struck by both the differences and similarities between the nursing programs. Students in Amman are limited to important nursing equipment only, as well as simulation labs, similar to those at Curry. It is also rare to see student-professor relationships and open communication outside of classroom hours, LaRocco said. In addition, the University of Jordan doesn’t offer student housing, sports teams, or student clubs.

“There truly is less student involvement and not much fun for students here,” she said.

However, students and faculty in Jordan are driven by the same social purpose as their U.S. counterparts: to help those in need, to make their communities and the world a better place.

Said LaRocco: “They are traits all my students have.”

A Long Road Trip


More than two-dozen Curry students will be traveling halfway across the globe this summer, but it won’t all be fun and leisure.

For the past eight years, students from the college’s nursing and math programs have traveled to China to study abroad. This summer will mark Curry’s fourth trip to the world’s most populous nation.

The biennial trip runs for about two weeks and begins on May 21. The goal, according to the professors involved, is for students to experience a new culture and to examine another nation’s healthcare system. The group makes visits to hospitals and military universities around the Beijing area.


“I love it,” said Professor Susan LaRocco of the Nursing Department. This will be her second time going on Curry’s China trip. “It’s a nice opportunity to work closely with students in a more casual setting.”

Rising juniors and seniors are eligible to participate in the trip, as are continuing education students. “Having both traditional undergraduates and continuing education students travel together gives both groups the rare opportunity to interact and share common experiences,” LaRocco said.

As of press time, 26 students have signed up for the trip. The question is why.

“I hope to understand more about the Chinese culture and how patients are treated and cared for so I can bring that back here,” said Caitlin O’Neil, a junior nursing major who is registered for this summer’s trip. “I’m really excited to do all the touristy things and see all the sights because you always hear about places like the Great Wall of China on the news and in textbooks, but we’ll be able to see everything firsthand.”

The number of Americans studying in China has grown 30 percent annually from 2001-2007, according to the U.S. State Department. Still, 10 times more Chinese students come to the United States for educational opportunities than American students go to China.

Hilary Labonte, a senior nursing major, traveled to China when the trip was offered in 2010. She said she has no regrets whatsoever. “I loved the whole trip!” said Labonte. “The experience was something I never thought I would have.”

One of the cultural differences between the United States and China, she added, was the sheer size of the population over there. “There is no such thing as personal space in China,” said Labonte. “Everyone is always crammed together.”

Labonte said the Chinese and American healthcare systems are more different than they are similar. Although the Chinese use many Western medical practices, they also routinely perform many traditional Eastern treatments, such as acupuncture, hot stones and herbal medicine, she said.

During the trip, nursing students are required to take a course called contemporary topics, taught through Curry. Throughout the course, students are asked to maintain a personal journal of their experiences, thoughts, feelings and impressions.

Math students on the trip are also required to take a course, with Professor Tracy Wang of the Mathematics Department. Wang, a native of Beijing, launched the China trip eight years ago. She said she wanted to provide Curry students with the chance to see another culture, where she came from, and to learn more about China itself.

All students must pay their own travel expenses, which total about $5,300, as well as tuition for the course they take.