Roughly 200 people gathered in the cold on Feb. 1 to celebrate the grand opening of Lehman College’s $95 million Nursing Education, Research and Practice Center.
The crowd of public officials, alumni, faculty, staff, and students chuckled collectively as just about every speaker joked about the weather.
Lehman College President Fernando Delgado, who led the ceremony, said that one of the things he has been most excited about since joining CUNY just over a year ago was this nursing building project. Delgado comes from a family full of nurses, he said, one of whom was his mother, so the project has been very close to his heart.
Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado, who attended the ribbon cutting, said the facility would create “a crucial pipeline of nurse practitioners into a community that has been far too often overlooked.”
“We are proud that nearly half of new nurses entering the workforce in New York City each year are CUNY graduates,” the lieutenant governor added, “and of those graduates, 70 percent come from historically underserved communities. That means that we are not only building a more inclusive health care system, but we are also ensuring our health care workers can better relate to the communities they serve.”
CUNY Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez said he also takes health care personally. “Let’s break it down,” he said. “Your mom is in a hospital bed — I know my mom loves it when her nurse can speak Spanish. I know that all of you, when you have a loved one in the hospital, you want someone that understands the culture or the food that you eat.”
Rodriguez noted that there is an acute shortage of health professionals in New York City who look like and represent New Yorkers, and that it is important for our health care professionals to be like us, so they can “understand our communities, our cultural differences,” he said. “That is indispensable to be able to provide health care.”
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz sang the praises of not only the CUNY system in general, but Lehman in particular. He grew up in the Bronx, and said that although he originally considered the CUNY schools for his own education because his family had little money, he would not change his decision.
“It was the greatest thing that ever happened, the fact that I went to CUNY, and that I went to Lehman College,” Dinowitz said, “because I don’t believe I would be where I am today but for the incredible education I got here.”
The new 52,000-square-foot center includes a simulation lab and classrooms designed to replicate hands-on nursing practice.
Catherine Georges, professor emerita of nursing, reminded the crowd that this year is the 50th anniversary of the first graduating class of nurses at Lehman. The program began in 1969 under the leadership of Claire Fagin, a native of the Bronx, who begged Georges to join the program as a professor.
Fagin was an accomplished educator and nurse. In addition to founding the program, she was the chair of the nursing department at Lehman and the director of its Health Professions Institute. She later developed the Ph.D. nursing program at the University of Pennsylvania. She died on Jan. 18.
“It was a team effort that brought us to this momentous occasion,” Georges said. She boasted about the success of the program over the years and its commitment to education, including the department’s successful training of 200 South Korean nurses who earned their bachelor’s degrees and continued their nursing careers in America.
Liza Mukherjee, a first-year nursing student, was standing among her peers, watching the celebration.
“We have to be able to collaborate with (other) students,” she said. “We’re spread across campus, we don’t know who’s who, but having a nursing building that we always have access to makes it inviting. You feel that you’re in a space that’s made for you.”
Other nursing students at the ceremony shouted, “yes,” when asked about the center.