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Gessner College of Nursing Commencement Includes First DNP Graduates

Forty-four students participated in commencement and pinning ceremonies for the University of Houston Andy and Barbara Gessner College of Nursing. The event took place at the Cullen Performance Hall, Friday, May 10 on the UH main campus.

The ceremony included students earning undergraduate and graduate degrees, including the inaugural cohort of students from the College’s Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program.

“We as nurses know the unprecedented times we are living in,” said Kathryn Tart, professor and founding dean of the Gessner College of Nursing. “We are passionate about our profession and joyous that you gave us your trust to guide and mentor you to fulfill your dream of earning your degree. You did it.”

Also in attendance were UH Provost Diane Chase and members of the University of Houston System Board of Regents: Durga D. Agrawal, Ricky Raven and John A. McCall Jr. Tart said these regents were instrumental in helping to secure the DNP program at the University of Houston. She gave special recognition to Regent Agrawal for his immediate support of the program during the early discussions of creating a program for UH.

“Thank you, Regent Agrawal, for your vision of helping make a significant impact to alleviate the shortage of nurses in Texas,” she said.

Regent McCall addressed the gathering, congratulating students for the work and dedication that has led them to commencement.

“As a fellow UH graduate (from the College of Optometry), I can tell you that I benefited from the value of my diploma,” he said. “It opened doors and represented the communication, critical thinking and collaborative skills that have helped my career.”

Portrait of a man smiling with short brown hair wearing a white lab coat with "Memorial Hermann" on the right front portion.

Bryan Sisk, Senior Vice President and Chief Nursing Executive for Memorial Hermann Health System, served as commencement speaker. A leader for the strategic direction of the organization’s nursing workforce, he reminded graduates leadership is displayed in big and small ways. He told the story of nurses he encountered in his life who made a difference not just by their skills, but by professionalism and compassion.

“You display leadership in the small but significant qualities you display everyday: calm, creating order, giving selflessly, creating an environment of trust,” he said. “You are nurses. You are already leaders.”

Following his remarks, Tart announced the College was creating a scholarship in his name which will be presented in the fall semester.

Tart also recognized students with a perfect 4.0 GPA, as well as five students whose academic and leadership excellence earned them recognition from the College’s namesakes, Andy and Barbara Gessner. The Gessners were in attendance and presented the students with a gift of $1,000.

The dean thanked the College’s many donors whose generosity led to more than $475,000 in scholarships this past year. She also thanked clinical affiliates in the Houston area whose partnership created real-world opportunities for students to pursue their studies.

The ceremony included the hooding of the Gessner College’s inaugural cohort of the Doctor of Nursing Practice program. The six students began the program in 2021. A relatively new degree in the nursing profession, the DNP is the highest level of education for practicing nurses who work in a clinical setting.

Following the recitation of the Florence Nightingale Pledge, graduates received a nursing pin from the University of Houston and a “Lamp of Learning,” a symbol of the selfless and dedicated work of nurses. The lamp lighting ceremony formally welcomes new nurses into the profession.

The graduates now are part of the more than 1,700 UH Gessner College of Nursing alumni.

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