Joliet, Ill. – University of St. Francis (USF) Leach College of Nursing assistant professor and clinical simulation and learning director Jennifer Wills-Savoia DNP, MSN, R.N., has always answered a call to serve others. This has held true from her undergraduate studies in psychology, to her transition to nursing, and to her current role at USF. Now, Wills-Savoia’s service-based focus has been formally recognized by the Illinois Board of Higher Education, who recently named her a 2022 Nurse Educator Fellow. The honor carries with it a $10,000 fellowship award and an opportunity to share fellowship plans and activities with other Fellows and members of the Advisory Board for the Illinois Nursing Workforce Center.

Wills-Savoia plans to focus her fellowship award on two areas. The first area is to address perceived barriers on the national NCLEX nursing exam. One of these barriers – timed exam questions – affects many testers, especially those who do not fluently speak English. The second area is to further enhance USF’s simulation program.

“As an example, I met with three of my advisees fairly consistently throughout the duration of their educational program at USF, and was told that the NCLEX exam was their biggest struggle. Namely, the timed nature questions on the exam made it difficult. It’s complicated because they felt challenged to convert questions into their native language, arrive at a response, and then convert that response back to English in order to answer appropriately. Within that content, a time limit of one minute per question isn’t feasible,” she said.

“I just feel compelled to figure out a system, something that we can do to make this an easier process for them. These were three brilliant students and their testing results were compromised due to a barrier they couldn’t seem to break. There’s nothing that we can do differently right now as far as testing because the NCLEX does not make any accommodation for that, and that’s really what I’d like to push. I’d like to arrive at some sort of accommodation or solution for that. There has got to be something that we can do differently. I’d like to figure out a way to approach this,” Wills-Savoia added.

Wills-Savoia also feels that an enhanced simulation program at USF can offer students an even more comprehensive path to their degree, and a more thorough foundation upon which they can begin a career.

“What I love about simulation is that we can create situations that students might not see in a clinical setting but that they need to know about. We can challenge and push them beyond their comfort zone in a relatively safe space,” she said.

“I have been able to create some really interesting mental health simulations for small groups of students in the simulated setting, and as a result have seen their critical thinking skills just soar,” Wills-Savoia added.

The ability to offer these individualized approaches to challenges students face is something, according to Wills-Savoia, that sets USF apart from its peers.

“At USF, we try to maintain smaller class sizes. This approach allows each instructor to provide a personalized focus on each student. We utilize so many resources to support our students – resources that a lot of other colleges don’t have – and I think it’s that support that that has developed what we offer into a very long-standing, great program,” she said.

“We also offer students one-to-one mentoring, supplemental instruction and tutoring, along with many other resources. Additionally, we offer a coaching class here that is similar to tutoring, but that focuses more on helping students learn how to be successful on the NCLEX,” she added.

Aside from being in her role at USF since 2015, Wills-Savoia is very familiar with the university. She earned both her B.A. and BSN at USF.

“I love USF’s faith-based college setting and wanted to return to the place that helped me to develop into the educator and professional I am today. Our graduates seem to have the same calling. We regularly have a large number of students that come back and say that they want to return to USF to earn their master’s degree in nursing education. They want to return to USF with an end goal of serving others the way that USF instructors served them. That is a wonderful testament to what we do,” she said.

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The University of St. Francis, in Joliet, Ill., serves close to 4,000 students nationwide and offers undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and certificate programs in the arts and sciences, business, education, nursing and social work. There are over 52,000 USF alumni across the globe. For information, call 800-735-7500 or visit stfrancis.edu.

University of St. Francis: Bigger thinking. Brighter purpose.

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