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Pathways to Equity in Nursing

The nursing profession is challenged to increase the diversity of the members of the nursing workforce to better serve a diversified population. Nursing schools must also rise to this challenge and develop structures and processes that serve students from disadvantaged backgrounds, including students from low- income earning families, first- generation college students as well as individuals from minority backgrounds.

The School of Nursing (SON) has received a federal grant through the HRSA Nursing Workforce Diversity program to identify and address the needs of learners from disadvantaged backgrounds who wish to pursue BSN preparation as a Registered Nurse. The Pathways to Equity in Nursing (PEN) Scholars program is a multi-pronged program that will provide wrap-around support for students, re-envision admissions policies in the School of Nursing, and foster a climate that supports diversity and inclusive excellence.

The overarching goal for this project is to increase the number of students who are from disadvantaged backgrounds that are admitted to and graduate from WCU undergraduate BSN programs.  The program also seeks to increase the diversity of the SON faculty for us to create a culture of inclusion in the SON to better serve and support diverse students.

The PEN Scholars program staff will work with internal and external partners to enhance the pipeline of students from disadvantage backgrounds and leverage and enhance existing support services with the University and School of Nursing through the PEN Scholars program. The PEN Scholars program seeks to improve these students’ ability to be successfully admitted, progress and graduate from one of our BSN program offerings.  Students admitted to the PEN Scholars program can receive mentoring and other support services, as well as financial support, from the point of admission to WCU or one of our nursing programs through graduation and during the first year of practice as a BSN prepared RN.

Through these efforts to increase educational diversity, we can enhance the capacity of the nursing workforce to improve delivery of culturally appropriate and person-centered care, reduce health disparities, and promote population health equity. We are confident that this program will become self-sustaining and continue to contribute to meet regional and national workforce needs, with an emphasis on the provision of culturally appropriate, person-centered, high-quality care services to rural populations.

Pathways to Equity in Nursing program mission statement

The WCU School of Nursing is committed to creating a culture that supports the University’s goal of inclusive excellence.  The Pathways to Equity in Nursing/ PEN Scholars program seeks to provide culturally responsive, wrap-around support services to promote successful admission, progression, and completion of undergraduate nursing degree programs within the School of Nursing to enhance the diversity of the nursing workforce and better care for the communities we serve.


Learn more about the elements of the Pathways to Equity in Nursing Program:

Through the use of targeted focus groups and ongoing data collection efforts, this project will identify the social determinants affecting students from disadvantaged groups, including low-income, first-generation and minority students. Based on this assessment, we will develop strategies to provide support to PEN Scholars participants and address those determinants which hinder successful educational and professional attainment at the individual, social and structural levels.

In particular, we seek to identify specific structural barriers within the SON that impede our ability to attract, admit and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds. These barriers will be addressed through enhanced student support and incorporation of holistic review approaches in our undergraduate program admission processes. The Pathways to Equity in Nursing program will also support ongoing faculty development to promote a culture of inclusive excellence in the SON.

To increase the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds applying to our BSN programs, the Pathways to Equity in Nursing program is partnering with the MedCaT program, which is a pipeline program jointly execute by the Center for Native Health and the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity at Wake Forest University.  The MedCaT program provides both academic weekend and summer intensive programs for students from disadvantaged, rural and minority backgrounds in Western North Carolina, with particular emphasis directed at high school students from EBCI and rural counties to support and encourage them to consider health profession careers. 
more information on the MedCaT program

Another goal of the Pathways to Equity in Nursing program will be to incorporate holistic review practices for admission to WCU undergraduate nursing programs using faculty self-governance processes and with external coaching support from the American Association of College of Nursing.  Faculty will engage in training and development to examine evidence based holistic admissions processes and how these practices can advance the SON’s goals of enhancing diversity and creating an inclusive learning environment.  Holistic admission processes allow the SON to examine “the whole person” and not just rely on metrics such as GPA and standardized test scores.  Holistic admissions processes have been found to support a more diverse student body in nursing.

Mentors for PEN Scholars will be masters’ prepared RNs from disadvantaged backgrounds who will also participate in faculty development activities to promote recruitment and retention of diverse faculty in the School of Nursing. To learn more about how to become a PEN Scholars Mentor, email

Required disclaimer:
“This project is/was supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under grant number 1 D19HP42051‐01‐00 which was awarded $2,210,789 with no cost sharing. This information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS or the U.S. Government.”

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