La Salle launches nursing program in partnership with Penn Medicine, Howley Foundation

January 3, 2023
The ASPIRE program will create a pathway for high school students to enter La Salle’s nursing program with preliminary knowledge and work experience.

The ASPIRE Program allows students interested in a nursing career to receive early employment and education experiences beginning in high school.  

La Salle University is partnering with the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and the Howley Foundation to invest in the future of nursing by creating accessible pathways toward an undergraduate nursing degree. 

Now accepting applications, the ASPIRE Program is an enrichment program designed for local upper-level high school students interested in a career in nursing. As ASPIRE Scholars, students receive insight into the nursing profession and healthcare teams and participate in a variety of interactive experiences within the hospital. Nearing high school graduation, the ASPIRE Program assists students in applying to La Salle to pursue their undergraduate nursing degree. While at La Salle, students continue their affiliation with Penn Medicine and can transition into part-time employment roles as they complete their nursing credits.  

The program’s goals include addressing the nationwide nursing shortage while increasing diversity in health care and offering opportunities for economic mobility. “Our nursing program is honored to partner with the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and the Howley Foundation to bring nursing education to students through the ASPIRE Program,” said School of Nursing and Health Sciences dean Kathleen Czekanski, Ph.D., R.N. “Students selected as ASPIRE Scholars will learn and apply their clinical and critical thinking skills under the auspices of an institution internationally recognized for its clinical and research excellence. As a Magnet® recognized organization, HUP brings a history of supporting the highest standards of nursing practice. La Salle is proud to join with our partners at HUP to prepare ASPIRE Scholars for future careers as registered nurses in today’s complex healthcare environment.” 

Pictured from left to right: Gabrielle Mariotti, University of Pennsylvania Health System talent management consultant and ASPIRE Program manager; School of Nursing and Health Sciences dean Kathleen Czekanski, Ph.D., R.N.; Diana Rodenbaugh, ’08, University of Pennsylvania Health System nursing professional development specialist for the ASPIRE Program; Pat DiGiacomo, La Salle undergraduate nursing program director; Jose Rodriguez, La Salle School of Nursing and Health Sciences undergraduate academic advisor.

The Howley Foundation first established the ASPIRE Program in Cleveland, where the nonprofit is based. ASPIRE will select up to 25 new Philadelphia high school juniors each year, providing a pathway into the nursing field through La Salle nursing education beginning with a high school enrichment program which consists primarily of lecture-type lessons and hands-on learning. The program begins in early 2023 with its first cohort of high-school juniors, and select seniors will enroll at La Salle in Fall 2023. 

Following high school graduation and completing the enrichment program, students can pursue a Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) at La Salle. While at the University, students will be employed by HUP within the Department of Nursing to further practice their skills and gain experience. 

The program’s selection criteria prioritizes first-generation college students and those from other marginalized communities whose opportunities to attend college may be limited.  

All students selected for the program will have full tuition remission. Supported by the Howley Foundation’s commitment of up to $7.5 million, as well as support from Penn Medicine, students will receive funding on top of their La Salle University scholarships and federal grants to assure they have no tuition costs. 

Students must meet academic criteria to remain in the program. Scholars will also receive a $500 stipend after successful completion of the high school portion of the enrichment program.  

The collaboration between La Salle and HUP came naturally when Penn Medicine saw the success of the University’s nursing graduates, Czekanski said. The medical system also valued the high degree of support La Salle offers students—from first year advising through to nursing-specific mentoring, advising, and career coaching. 

Graduates of La Salle’s BSN program achieved a 91.59% first-time pass rate on their national licensure exam, the NCLEX-RN, for the most-recent testing cycle, for the period of Oct. 1, 2021–Sept. 30, 2022. This is the fifth time in the last six testing cycles that La Salle’s nursing students have registered a 90% first-time pass rate or better. In that span, La Salle’s nursing students have achieved a 93% overall first-time pass rate on the NCLEX-RN. The program also has a 100% job placement rate upon graduation. 

Current La Salle nursing students work closely with faculty members in the sim lab.

“Our team at La Salle University promotes a holistic approach to student learning,” said Pat DiGiacomo, Ed.D., MSN, RNC, the undergraduate nursing program chair at La Salle. “Faculty and staff are here to support our nursing students as soon as they enter La Salle, through their successful completion of the NCLEX exam. We have dedicated faculty, staff, and full-time support staff, including tutors, remediation specialists, and peer academic coaches, to support our students every step of the way. We look forward to welcoming an academically prepared and enthusiastic cohort to our program through ASPIRE.” 

“ASPIRE firmly aligns with Penn Medicine’s and HUP’s goals to offer pipeline opportunities for members of our community to continue cultivating   an inclusive workforce that provides outstanding patient care,” said Colleen Mattioni, DNP, MBA, the chief nurse executive at HUP. “The ASPIRE Program will welcome a diverse pool of young people into an environment of research, innovation, and evidenced based practice, and high quality clinical care. Of course, we will benefit from participants’ enthusiasm, curiosity, and passion.” 

—Meg Ryan