As the first resident assistant in the Mountainview Nursing Community, Kate Toporowski has worked for almost two years to ease the transition of students entering the Decker School of Nursing.
“Our goals have been to bridge the gap between freshman and sophomore nursing students and junior and senior nursing students,” Toporowski said. “We help with tutoring. We have seniors come and talk to the students about clinical hours and we make sure they are set up with an older contact if they want to talk about anything.”
Toporowski, a 22-year-old senior from Saugerties, said building a community helps new students adapt to Decker’s demands.
“You don’t know what to expect,” she said, recalling her early classes in Decker with a laugh. “Our first lesson was making beds! We thought: ‘Why are we learning this first?’”
Besides her efforts in the Mountainview Nursing Community, Toporowski has served as an executive board member of the Nursing Student Association; volunteered with St. Baldrick’s Foundation; and worked as a transfer mentor and tutor. She also spent a summer as a volunteer for A Horse Connection, a Hudson Valley organization that provides equine-assisted therapy to those with special needs.
Volunteer work and offering community lessons have always been important to Toporowski.
“I grew up in a close-knit community where I knew everybody,” she said. “We did a lot of community service there and that was important for all of the kids in my high school.
“When I came to Binghamton and was a stranger for the first time, it became obvious to me (to volunteer). I don’t think people get engaged enough in our community, so I’ve tried to print out bus schedules or (promote) other restaurants all the way down Main Street in Binghamton. Students want that information, they just don’t know where to go for it.”
Toporowski’s commitments outside of the classroom have not affected her work in classes and clinical settings. She is a fixture on the Dean’s List and recently received the Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence.
The Decker School of Nursing provides the foundation for student success, she said.
“Because it’s a small program, Decker is able to invest in everyone,” said Toporowski, who chose Binghamton University and Decker over schools such as McGill University in Montreal, Hartwick College and St. John Fisher. “Every student has at least one professor who is their go-to person or mentor. They have built a connection, whether it is clinical or classes. That person will be there for them. That’s a huge strength of the program.”
Toporowski cited Alison Dura, Rosa Darling and Fran Srnka-Debnar as Decker faculty members who have made a difference in her time at Binghamton University.
“I have found Kate to be a student who approaches every opportunity and experience with the same energy and level of commitment,” Dura said. “While she has been a very strong student, a mentor and tutor to other students, and a leader across campus, her focus on excellence in nursing has been her foremost goal. It is rare to be able to do all things well.”
The size of the nursing program also allows students to become close, Toporowski said.
“When we were freshmen and sophomores, it was competitive because you don’t know everybody,” she said. “But by the time you are juniors, you very much become a family. For example, going to the geriatric home for the first time is terrifying, but you do it together.”
Toporowski hopes to someday work in pediatric oncology. She first expects to take part in travel nursing, which consists of short stints in different cities.
“It’s a huge learning curve,” she said of nursing. “You need a couple of years to get confident in what you are doing.”
With Commencement approaching, Toporowski said her time at Binghamton University has been “above and beyond my expectations of a college experience.”
“I will leave here with memories of a great job as an RA,” she said. “I had a perfect experience as far as gaining friends from Decker. My nursing college was wonderful and all of the clinicals were great. I am walking away with much more than I thought I would leave college with. I feel incredibly lucky and blessed.”