Breyana Burgos and LaShariah Williams knew when they were kids that they wanted to become nurses. Thanks to Cleveland Clinic’s ASPIRE Nurse Scholars Program, both are well on their way to achieving their childhood dreams.

Philanthropically supported by the Howley Foundation, the program is designed to create career paths for underserved students to become nurses at Cleveland Clinic.

Nick Howley, Executive Chairman of TransDigm Group, Inc. and a member of Cleveland Clinic’s Board of Trustees, came up with the idea while a patient at Cleveland Clinic. During recovery after an orthopaedic procedure, he asked his nurses about their education and how they came to work at the hospital.

Nick and his wife, Lorie, who are passionate about underserved individuals having access to education, wanted to make it easier for those interested in nursing to afford to go to college. They took the idea of funding a career path program to Executive Chief Nursing Officer Kelly Hancock, DNP, RN, who put it into motion. Dr. Hancock holds the Stanley Shalom Zielony Endowed Chair for Nursing Advancement.

In July 2016, Daria Sheafe, MSN, RN, a home care triage nurse and primary care coordinator at Cleveland Clinic, was hired to coordinate ASPIRE. Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) came on as the academic partner for the program.

Open to high school juniors in Northeast Ohio who maintain a 3.0 or higher grade point average, ASPIRE was a hit from the beginning. Seventy-seven juniors applied for the 25 available spots in the first session, which took place on 12 consecutive Saturdays in early 2017. “In 2018, we received 174 applications from 38 schools for the same 25 openings,” Daria says.

LaShariah was one of the members of the inaugural session, learning introductory nursing skills that included hands-on training in the simulation lab at the Stanley Shalom Zielony Institute for Nursing, as well as guidance in professional development.

As a senior, LaShariah and 18 other members from the original session returned to ASPIRE to serve as mentors to the second class. LaShariah, now in her second semester at Tri-C, made the dean’s list her first semester.

“It was a great opportunity,” she says of ASPIRE. “You learn a lot, and you find yourself with this program.”

Breyana, also a nursing student at Tri-C, agrees. “The ASPIRE Nurse Scholars program is very amazing. It just feels so good knowing that the program has had my back and has had its hand in helping me create my future.”

Along with their schooling, Breyana and LaShariah have been working for nearly a year as patient care nursing assistants on Cleveland Clinic’s main campus.