Nursing Student’s Essay Wins National Award

Ophanise Gelin
Professor Stephanie Little

Boca Raton, FL – Palm Beach State College nursing student Ophanise Gelin is a winner in a national contest for her heartfelt essay about a professor who encouraged her during the pandemic.

Gelin and Associate Professor Stephanie Little, the subject of her essay, each will receive a $1,000 prize. The Scott Wright Student Essay Contest is open to students at community and technical colleges that are members of the  National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development. Gelin and two other winners will be recognized during NISOD’s virtual conference April 28-30.

“I wrote the essay about Professor Little because she was very nice, and she extended herself to me at a time where I honestly wanted to give up. It was rough,” Gelin said, noting her concerns about the disruptions COVID-19 caused last fall in securing clinical rotation opportunities at area hospitals.

“I could recall having a mentor meeting with Professor Little one day and telling her how stressed out I was about the lack of clinical experience I had thus far,” Gelin wrote. “She allowed me to express my frustration and then let me know there will be obstacles in life and to overcome them I must remain focused and have a strong determination. She said I would get the proper training eventually.”

Little also told Gelin that the pandemic was beyond her control. “She reminded me that I was not in this alone and that she was there if I need her. Some may not see the significance of her words, but they meant the world to me,” Gelin continued in her essay.

The pep talks and show of concern were the motivation Gelin, a first-generation college student, needed as she and the world grappled with COVID 19’s disruptions to everyday life. She had dreamed of becoming a nurse since she was 11 years old, even before her family moved to the United States from Haiti.

Gelin graduated from Boynton Beach High School in 2005, but her father became ill and died that year without seeing her cross the stage. With his death and other challenges facing her family, she put off college and went to work instead. However, as the oldest of three children, she felt she owed it to her family to return to school to fulfill her childhood dream and become the first in her family to graduate.

COVID-19 created challenges she did not expect.  “I could clearly remember going into the third semester of nursing school, freaking out because of a lack of clinical experience and honestly wanting to give up when I met a God-sent angel,’’ she wrote.

Gelin, whose younger sister also is in the nursing program, is doing clinicals this term, has passed her HESI exit exam and is set to graduate in May. She said she never expected to win the essay contest, but she felt compelled to write about Little. “When I won I was shocked,’’ she said.

Little, a PBSC alumna who also works per diem in the labor and delivery unit at Palms West Hospital, said the support and accessibility she provided Gelin is what she strives to give all of her students. She became a full-time professor in January 2020 after teaching as an adjunct instructor since 2016. She is completing her doctorate degree in nursing at Florida Atlantic University, so as a student herself she understands the desire to have easy accessibility to professors. Today’s technology allows her to provide that for her students.

Little, who taught Gelin in the fall, had received the information about the essay contest during her new faculty experience. She shared it with students but was not expecting students to write about her.

“I was floored that one of my students won, and she was talking about me. It’s very reaffirming that I’m doing a good job,’’ Little said.

Serving 47,000 students annually, Palm Beach State College is the largest institution of higher education in Palm Beach County, providing bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees, professional certificates, career training and lifelong learning. Established in 1933 as Florida’s first public community college, Palm Beach State offers more than 130 programs of study at locations in Lake Worth, Boca Raton, Palm Beach Gardens, Belle Glade and Loxahatchee Groves.

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