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2024 Commencement

Guilamo-Ramos urges Cizik School of Nursing graduates to think big and change health care

2024 Commencement
Dean Diane Santa Maria (right) presents the John P. McGovern Undergraduate Teacher of the Year Award to Hildreth Eloi.
Dean Diane Santa Maria (right) presents the John P. McGovern Undergraduate Teacher of the Year Award to Hildreth Eloi.
Dean Diane Santa Maria (right) presents the McGovern Graduate Teacher of the Year Award to Amy Blok.
Dean Diane Santa Maria (right) presents the McGovern Graduate Teacher of the Year Award to Amy Blok.

Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, PhD, MSN, MPH, RN, FAAN, encouraged graduating students to take a broad and unconventional view of what they can accomplish during Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth Houston’s 2024 commencement on May 9.

The event at Smart Financial Centre in Sugar Land celebrated 297 undergraduate and 243 graduate students who completed their academic programs in the Summer 2023, Fall 2023, and Spring 2024 semesters.

Nurses’ holistic approach and direct contact with patients and their families make them well-positioned to find meaningful ways to improve public health and to rebuild trust in the health care system, said commencement speaker Guilamo-Ramos, who was recently named director of The Institute for Policy Solutions at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was dean and professor of the Duke University School of Nursing and Vice Chancellor for Nursing Affairs at Duke, and he founded the Duke University Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health.

Guilamo-Ramos described a 20-80 principle applicable to nursing – 20 percent of health care involves treating a patient’s immediate physical condition, and 80 percent depends on social determinants of health (SDOH) – factors such as person’s social, economic, and physical environment. He advocated for shifting focus from “sick care” to prevention through assessing and addressing SDOH, and he stressed nurses’ vital role in realizing such change.

To this end, Guilamo-Ramos highlighted important research by nurse scientists at Cizik School of Nursing, including Dean Diane Santa Maria’s interventions aimed at HIV prevention and treatment among youth experiencing homelessness, Professor Carolyn Pickering’s work with dementia family caregivers, Associate Dean for Research Constance Johnson’s development of a virtual reality environment for diabetes management, and Associate Professor Daphne Hernandez’s multipronged research into food and housing insecurity, particularly among immigrant families.

The impact nurses have on their patients and communities was a recurring theme in Guilamo-Ramos’ speech as well as the welcome address by DNP graduate Courtney McAlister and the farewell address by PhD graduate Christian Paige Owen. In reminding graduates that using what they have learned to improve health care is only beginning, McAlister quoted Pablo Picasso: “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”

Santa Maria provided opening comments and recognized faculty, family members, and nurses in the audience who supported students on their educational journeys. UTHealth Houston President Guiseppe N. Colasurdo, MD, conferred degrees and reminded graduates that their alma mater is one of the top nursing schools in the nation.

The ceremony began with BSN graduate Sarah Ann Morris singing the national anthem. Vice Dean for Academic Affairs Cathy Rozmus introduced faculty leaders in the stage party, and Assistant Professor Allison Edwards represented the PARTNERS organization in presenting nursing pins to the BSN graduates.

Faculty and student awards

Also during commencement, three faculty members and a graduating BSN student were honored with special awards.

Receiving the student-selected John P. McGovern Outstanding Teacher of the Year Awards for 2024 were Assistant Professors Hildreth Eloi, DNP, MS, RN, and Amy Blok, CNP, CRNA. Eloi, the senior-level coordinator for the accelerated Pacesetter BSN track, received the undergraduate faculty award for the third time. Block serves as assistant director of the nurse anesthesia program and received the graduate-level award for the second time.

Honored with this year’s DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nurse Educators was Assistant Professor Sara Lewandowski, DNP, CNE, HNB-BC, NC-BC, who was also recently recognized as one of the city’s top 200 nurses by the Houston Chronicle. Graduating BSN student Melanie A. Raley received the DAISY Award for Extraordinary Nursing Students. Raley graduated magna cum laude and received the nursing school’s Faculty Award of Excellence and Spirit Awards. DAISY Awards is an international program based on nominations from patients and colleagues that recognizes nurses for clinical excellence and compassion.

Candid photos from Cizik School of Nursing’s 2024 Commencement are available on Flickr.


Cizik School of Nursing Class of 2024

  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing: 297
  • Master of Science in Nursing: 120
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice: 64
  • BSN-DNP Nurse Anesthesia: 20
  • Post-graduate completion programs: 32
  • PhD: 7
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