Binghamton nursing student earns SUNY award for student excellence
Christopher Felice has a knack for connecting with current and prospective students and his patients
His nickname may be “Mr. Decker” now, but 22-year-old Christopher Felice almost didn’t apply to Binghamton University’s Decker College of Nursing and Health Sciences.
Thinking his high school GPA and other scores weren’t strong enough to get into Decker’s competitive Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, Felice added Binghamton University to his Common Application moments before submitting the form.
“I thought I might as well apply and see what happens,” said the senior from Valhalla, N.Y.
That split-second decision would pave the way for what would turn out to be an amazing academic experience at Binghamton, one that led Felice to earning a 2023 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Student Excellence.
Felice received the award during a ceremony held April 24 at the Albany Capital Center. He was accompanied by his parents, who were “very excited that I won this amazing award,” he said. Also in attendance was Felice’s nominator, Sandra Conklin, assistant director of advising and operations, Decker College Division of Advising and Academic Excellence.
Since fall 2020, Felice has served as a peer advisor and student ambassador in Decker’s Advising Office, working closely with Conklin and other academic advisors to provide guidance and resources to Decker’s approximately 700 undergraduate and graduate students. His natural ability to lead made him stand out and he was promoted to senior peer advisor, a role the division hadn’t filled in several semesters.
“Chris was a great asset to the office as we were able to task him to assist us with higher-level tasks and responsibilities than we would normally assign to our student staff,” said Conklin.
In the letter Conklin submitted to support Felice’s nomination for the Chancellor’s Award, she wrote: “His leadership, campus involvement, strong academics and community service demonstrate his passion for serving and helping others.”
Eager and involved
Early on as a Decker student, Felice took advantage of the opportunity undergraduate nursing students have to participate in research with Decker’s Interdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Program (ITURP). Through this course (which can be repeated several times), students and faculty conduct various studies relating to tobacco, nicotine and e-cigarette use.
Felice’s work primarily involved students’ perceptions of vaping. He and his research team surveyed students about their attitudes about these electronic nicotine delivery systems, then provided educational information to the students before re-surveying them to determine if they altered their beliefs based on the new information. Initially, the work focused on high school students, but it was then brought to campus to include college students.
“Working with ITURP was such a great opportunity to learn about academic research and how it’s conducted,” Felice said. “It was also really cool to see how some of our interventions could make students realize that vaping is potentially dangerous.”
In 2022, Felice was among a small group of students and faculty who presented ITURP results at the Eastern Nursing Research Society’s annual conference, held in Providence, R.I.
“Going to the conference was such a unique experience,” Felice said. “We [Decker students] were some of the only undergraduate students there, and people kept asking me where I was doing my PhD. I told them that I’m an undergrad student and they were really surprised.”
In addition to conducting research and working as a peer advisor/student ambassador, Felice also dove into life at Decker College by getting involved with the Nursing Student Association (NSA). He has been a member for four years, starting as a first-year representative and then moving up to treasurer, vice president and now, president. He is particularly proud of the NSA’s work on campus and in the community with events such as blood drives and fundraising for local charities.
Mr. Decker is born
Sometime during the fall 2022 semester, Felice’s fellow peer advisors/student ambassadors began calling him “Mr. Decker.”
“I don’t know where the nickname came from, but it’s funny, it’s cool,” Felice said. “It’s an honor to be able to represent my school, and I love working with students and prospective students and getting the opportunity to connect with people.”
A common thread across all the nominations submitted to support Felice for the Chancellor’s Award is his ability to quickly connect with people. It’s a skill he uses not only at Decker College working in the Advising Office, but also as a resident care aide at Mercy House of the Southern Tier and as a nursing assistant at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
“[Chris’] therapeutic communication far exceeds the expectations of a senior nursing student,” wrote Adjunct Clinical Instructor Nicole Osterhout. “He demonstrates compassion for all patients and considers not only their physical state, but also their emotional state when providing care. He sets the example of what a Decker student can and should be.”
Clinical Instructor and Lecturer Alma Rood, who oversaw Felice during two adult-geriatric clinical courses, wrote: “Residents would normally gravitate to [Chris] as I feel they could sense his ability to connect and comfort them. He treated all residents, not just the ones assigned to him, with dignity and respect.”
Felice has always been curious about people and their stories, and finds it easy to talk to others.
“It’s important for me to look beyond the patient’s condition and see the person on the other end. Once you do that, it’s easier to connect with them,” he said. “One of my favorite things about nursing is connecting with the patients. People have such different experiences and it’s so interesting to hear about the lives people have lived.”
Life after Decker for Mr. Decker
Felice expects to take his National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX, the required exam to become a registered nurse) this summer. And, while he’s “not too worried,” there is a bit of nervousness and some studying in his future.
After graduation, Felice will return home and to his job as a nursing assistant at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Once he passes his NCLEX, he’ll remain there as a registered nurse, working in the Urgent Care Center.
Working with oncology patients is a unique challenge, but one Felice enjoys and finds motivating.
“The need for compassion, advocacy and empathy is really strong among this particular patient population, and I’m really excited to be working there,” he said.
Long term, Felice intends to take his time figuring out where nursing may take him — practice, research, teaching — all are avenues available with a degree in nursing.
His end goal is simple: “Whatever I end up doing, I just want to make sure that I’m using my degree to do good and give back.”