Published on Monday, August 28, 2017
Media Contact: Alana Bowman
For the first time in the history of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, a student from within the ranks of the School of Nursing has been elected as the president of the Associated Student Body, which represents all seven health science schools on campus. William Thomas, who is in the final year of the traditional Bachelor of Science in Nursing program, was sworn into office as the new ASB president on May 1, 2017.
Dr. Kim Hoover, dean of nursing, said that it is an honor for the school to be represented in a leadership position.
“This is a point of pride for everyone associated with the School of Nursing,” she said. “Nurses are ever present in the health care continuum. Being represented in a leadership role, especially in a health science education environment where interprofessional learning is becoming more prevalent, is important.”
Dr. Jerry Clark, chief student affairs officer and associate dean for student affairs in the School of Medicine, said that having a student from outside the medical school “underscores ASB as an organization that represents all students.”
“ASB is an interprofessional organization,” Clark said. “William leads a team that mobilizes a lot of students each day, each week.”
Thomas, who grew up in Ridgeland, graduated from Millsaps College with a degree in philosophy and had plans to study law. Finding that course of study not to his liking, he took the prerequisite health courses and enrolled in nursing.
“I just finished an externship in a surgical trauma ICU, and I'm going to be working there all this year,” Thomas said. “I would love to stay here at UMMC. I think this is a great place to learn. You see a lot.”
Sitting in on last year’s ASB meetings as president-elect gave Thomas the idea of running for the position himself.
“I really admired what Brock Banks was doing, the former president,” Thomas said. “I liked his efficiency, and I thought I had a lot to contribute. Instead of reinventing the wheel, I want to add onto what he's done.”
One of the initiatives Thomas said he’d like to continue and expand is the UMMC Day of Service, held for the first time on Jan. 16 in honor of the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. More than 150 student volunteers from across campus spent the morning giving back to the community by lending a hand at Gateway Rescue Mission, Good Samaritan Center, The Mustard Seed, Hope House of Hospitality and other locations in the Metro Area.
“We want to work with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to bring the students back to campus after the volunteering for a lunch to recap what we did that day and why it was important to the community,” he said. “UMMC has invested so much in the Jackson community, and it's good to see the benefits and talk about it.”
There are also talks of getting faculty and staff more involved in the day’s volunteering as well as inviting students from nearby Belhaven College and Millsaps College to expand the volunteer network.
Although the first official meeting of the ASB will not be held until Sept. 11, Thomas and the other officers have already been collaborating with administration this summer. Thomas said that he is excited about working with Alumni Affairs to increase support of the institution.
“If you want to have an engaged alumni support system, you need to make sure the students feel involved while they are students,” he said.
Shortly after the election, Thomas met with Dr. Juanyce Taylor, chief diversity and inclusion officer, to talk about opportunities to work together.
“He shared his vision about what he wanted ASB to focus on: a more inclusive and positive learning environment,” Taylor said.
Together with ODI, the officers drafted a diversity and inclusion statement for the student body. It will be presented at the first ASB meeting next month.
“I am very pleased with what the students proposed,” Taylor said.
Along with the statement, the ASB also made changes in the makeup of the board. What was once the single multi-cultural chair has now been expanded to include four diversity co-chairs in order to include representation from the other schools at the Medical Center. Taylor said the group has been working to instill the philosophy of diversity and inclusion into how students interact with each other.
“They are going to be the future decision makers,” Taylor said. “It needs to be embedded in their thought process in everything they do so when they become leaders in the real world it will already be ingrained.”
Progress in the area of inclusion is evidenced in a new initiative that will be introduced on Tuesday, Aug. 29: the inaugural UMMC CommUNITY Day. Held in response to the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, it will be a town hall-styled meeting open to everyone on campus. Speakers will include Taylor, Dr. James Keeton, former vice chancellor and professor emeritus of medicine, and Chaplain Doris Whitaker, director of pastoral services.
Edgar Meyer, philanthropy co-chair and third-year student in the clinical anatomy program in the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences, was integral to the organization of the event.
“I wanted to do something that was a formal display of the fact that we are a community of people who condemn any sort of violence, prejudice, discrimination against anyone, regardless of who they are in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, nationality...you fill in the blank,” Meyer said.
Taylor said that while all past ASB presidents have done an excellent job, there is a “different level of energy” with Thomas.
“It could be his training in nursing, but I feel as if he's naturally compassionate about others and wants to be inclusive,” she said. “He has a discerning way of thinking about everyone as a whole. He wants to include everyone. He has a service-oriented persona, which I can appreciate.”
For Thomas, he hopes that his participation encourages other students across campus to become more active with the ASB.
“I think a lot of students feel disconnected from the decisions that are made, especially with regards to their education and their experiences here as a student,” Thomas said. “I think having a seat at the table is a big deal, and more students need to actively seek that.”
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