1:1 with UPenn Student Chapter Leader Tara Tiepel
Rosie: Tell us about what brought you to nursing, and more specifically to your interest in sexual and reproductive healthcare and advocacy?
Tara: I always knew I wanted to do something in the sciences. My mom, dad, and both of my older sisters do something in the sciences. They mainly focus on engineering, but when I found out about all the different roles that nurses get to do, I realized that was the perfect balance of learning all about the human body but still working face-to-face with people and having that close and immediate change. Since then, everything I’ve learned about nursing has made me love it even more. I got into sexual and reproductive health because, at my school, we teach a lot of sex ed through a program called Teen Prevention Education Program or Teen PEP. As a junior, I was selected to teach a special health class to become an expert in safe sex, healthy relationships, gender identity, and leadership. Once a month, we would go into freshman health classes. We would do skits and write songs, and it was supposed to be a way to make the freshman pay attention more than they would if they were reading it out of a textbook or hearing it from their health teacher. That made me realize how many questions there were and how there wasn’t a lot of education. These issues are often pushed aside for later on. When I came to Penn, on the first day of orientation, they had the NSRH Chapter table, and through that, I’ve learned more about SRH. And I’ve learned more about it through my classes. Through those experiences, I’m pretty sure that's what I want to do.
Rosie: What brought you to your involvement with NSRH?
Tara: I realized that coming onto campus, the whole world of nursing was wide open, and I felt comfortable talking about SRH issues after my experience with Teen PEP. I realized not many people had that same sense of comfort, so I decided to join the club after seeing it at the student organization fair. I decided to take on a leadership role because I felt that I wanted to be more involved in decision-making and be more hands-on with the projects that they were doing, and the meetings and events that they were holding. Our previous chapter president (who is now an NSRH National executive board member), along with the whole student chapter board, graduated, so I became president after that. Before I joined it was very focused on accelerated nursing students who had only been at Penn for about two years, so they had even higher turnover than a typical college club. Now we have a whole new board and a new advisor, so it’s been a big transitional year.
Rosie: Tell us about what it’s like to lead a student chapter? What advice would you give to students interested in starting or joining an NSRH student chapter?
Tara: It’s definitely a lot of time management because you also have classes. It’s a lot of scheduling time and creating boundaries between schoolwork and organizing. A lot of people at my school are involved in multiple organizations. Also, it’s important to have time to relax, so it’s important to have those boundaries for yourself and respect other people. When I first became the only returning board member, I felt like I had to do everything. We ended up making new positions for the board and delegating tasks. Before, I would try to do everything and then ask the rest of the board, “let me know if anyone can do this?” But when we made roles for the board members, everyone was so happy to do their part. I think delegating is hard for some people to let go of control, but then everyone has more time to do the things they're the best at, and you’ll see more progress. I learned a lot, and since then, it’s been way easier to manage.
Rosie: What sustains your work and activism? What drives you to continue showing up?
Tara: Creating communities within the academic organization helps to prevent burnout. Instead of having all of our meetings focused on speakers, and learning workshops, and so on (although those are all super interesting and teach us lessons we may not have gotten out of school), we take the beginning part of the meeting to go around and check in with everyone and learn everyone’s names. It’s a great way to 1) get to know other people who are interested in the same things that you are, and 2) to keep you engaged in a way that isn’t just strictly education-based.
Rosie: What are some of the events or speakers that you’ve been most excited about or most proud of? How did you approach student organizing during the pandemic?
Tara: Because of the pandemic, we’ve been limited to virtual organizing and events, but we organized one really cool event in collaboration with multiple organizations in the nursing school. There's a film called Belly of the Beast, which is about forced sterilizations of women in prison. I think it’s hard to make virtual events engaging. Movies and documentaries are a great asset, but then people are on zoom for three-plus hours. So we gave an access code that everyone could use to watch the documentary on their own time. Which, for me, felt like an interesting break from my study time. I got to watch an interesting movie about a topic that I didn’t know much on. Then for our actual event, we had a few speakers on Zoom. We probably wouldn't have been able to get them in person. So that event was flexible but still synchronous.
Rosie: Are there events or speakers you have in mind, or general advocacy goals, you have for the upcoming year?
Tara: Yes. I definitely want to make the Papaya Aspiration Workshop happen because I haven’t gotten to participate in that kind of event yet. I think it’s a great hands-on experience. Also, at Penn, there’s a minor called Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies. It’s through the college, not the nursing school, but after talking to the head of the department, she said she’d seen a huge surge of nursing students looking to get this minor. So we’re going to bring her in and do event detailing and provide class recommendations not limited to the nursing school that would allow nursing students to explore sexuality, queer theory, and gender. So I’m excited about that.
Rosie: Do you have tips or thoughts for students interested in starting a chapter, but it’s not yet established, so they need to focus on recruitment? Do you have advice on how to recruit new students?
Tara: When I joined as a freshman, the club was pretty well established. Still, because our core cohort of accelerated nursing students graduated and with covid, we now have a whole new group of student participants and leaders. I just finished my sophomore year, and half our board includes first-year students. I had taken my maternity class this past semester, and I reached out to our professor, who is also the head of the Center for Global Women’s Health. She’s super involved and taught the maternity class in an LGBTQ+ friendly lens, which is very new, especially in a field where it’s very gender-biased. She was a huge asset not just in knowledge and collaborating with the Center for Global Women’s Health, but also because she offered extra credit for students to come and attend our events. Afterward, we would send an email to them, asking them to join our newsletter. That all really helped, because every student has her eventually, and her classes are so related to the topics we cover. She’s been a great asset. I would say if students are starting a new club, they should reach out to a professor who agrees with a lot of the content. That’s a great method to get new students involved.
Rosie: Can you share the best ways to select a faculty advisor?
Tara: Similar content to the classes is ideal. A lot of our events coincided with what we were learning in classes. That helped students and made it easy for our faculty advisor to plug our events in class. Besides that, reachability is very important, especially when you’re starting a new club. I knew we needed a very hands-on faculty advisor that would be able to attend a lot of our board meetings and respond to our emails. So that’s been super helpful. Maybe a more established club could have a more laissez-faire advisor, but we needed all the help we could get. Also, we’re so lucky that our faculty advisor has so many connections in the field. She knows speakers at other universities that have come in via zoom. That’s one of the pros of Zoom; you’re able to meet with so many different people that may not have been able to come in person. Those connections helped us a lot.
Rosie: Our value this month is Integrity. How do you think about integrity in relation to nursing, specifically within sexual and reproductive healthcare?
Tara: All healthcare has sensitive information, and it’s essential to keep patients’ privacy and be there for them. I think within sexual and reproductive health, it’s especially that way. Many patients may come to you with huge insecurities or big secrets that even their friends and family may not know about them. Nursing is known as the world’s most trusted profession, so I think it’s important to uphold that and to keep your patients’ priorities as high as your own.
Rosie: What is your favorite fall activity?
Tara: This is so niche, but I like cooking pumpkin seeds. I love carving the pumpkin and cooking the seeds. That’s what makes me think of fall.
Rosie: What is your favorite school supply for back-to-school shopping?
Tara: I think I need colored pens. I just think they logistically help make notes stand out, but they’re also just fun.