February 23, 2010
Freshman Academy for Health Related Sciences - at a Glance
Faculty Coordinator:
Alex Tarasko
Freshman Coordinator:
Gail Patterson

Areas of Study:  Environmental Heath, Health Education, Health Sciences, Massage Therapy, Medical Office Assistant, Nursing, Nutrition

Academy Office:
Medical Arts Room 326;
phone 718-281-5139

Number of Enrolled students
(spring '10 semester):
approximately  550

“In the focus groups we did with our students last fall to get their feedback on their academy experience, they told us that they respond more to flyers and text messages than to TigerMail.”  -  Gail Patterson, Freshman Coordinator

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Building Relationships with Students to Help them Succeed

The Freshman Academy for Health Related Sciences was launched in the fall semester with a daunting series of challenges.  Five hundred fifty students strong and growing, the academy comprises the academic programs of Environmental Health, Health Sciences, Medical Office Assistant, Massage Therapy, Nutrition, Health Education and Nursing.

"Nursing is one of the most competitive programs on campus," explains Faculty Coordinator, Alex Tarasko. "Too many students are not able to get into the Nursing program either because of their grades or because there are a limited number of seats. We spend a lot of effort advising students on what alternatives we can offer them – such as other career paths, tutoring services, and counseling. And those that do get in struggle with an intense program, as well as their job and family responsibilities. We focus on how to help these students avoid failure and advise them in advance before they start."

A Collaborative Effort

Although this task may seem overwhelming, the cooperation, teamwork, and camaraderie in the Health Related Sciences Academy is clearly evident from the moment you walk through the office door. Faculty Coordinator Alex Tarasko, Freshman Coordinator Gail Patterson, and Office Assistant Joi Merkl have a supportive working relationship, enjoy each other's company and are highly focused on bringing to bear the services of the college to support their students. “All three of us recognize that this is very much a collaborative effort,” explains Professor Tarasko. “We are physically located very close – I am three doors away from the office – and we touch base every day to share ideas and problem solve. Then we have formal meetings once a week.”

Focus Groups with Students to Gain Insight

This first semester has been a whirlwind of establishing new processes, new relationships, and doing a lot of problem-solving in the Freshman Academy for Health Related Sciences. So the team took a conscious step back in November to sit around the table with students over pizza and find out how their academy experience was going and what more the academy could do to support them.

"The take away was how tenuous a balance our students’ work and familial obligations are," says Freshman Coordinator, Gail Patterson. "What they need help with is career-oriented: they don’t necessarily know what a resume is; they don’t know the difference between a job and a career; they want help with business etiquette, writing a resume, and career planning." 

As a result, Gail is collaborating with the Career Services office and training on the new online Focus Career and Education Planning application to help them prepare for their lifelong careers in the health field.

Internal Outreach to Faculty

The first semester was focused on building relationships and interaction not only with students but also with faculty from the programs that are part of the academy. Professor Tarasko has led an effort of “internal outreach” to faculty who teach in these departments to help them understand just what the Health Related Sciences Academy is all about and how it operates – the roles of the Freshman and Faculty Coordinators, integrating the high impact experiences (English 101 is the Cornerstone course and Writing Intensives support critical thinking and problem solving skills) as well as the assessment process. “It has been a process of adopting change,” Professor Tarasko explains.


Professor Tarasko is also leading the six faculty cohorts developing general education rubrics as part of the assessment process. The rubrics for the Health Related Sciences Academy focus on working with diverse populations, writing, speaking, listening and critical thinking skills; some were implemented in the fall semester.  The cohort is also assessing their academy on a global level – to ensure that the specific components of their academy structure are working - such as whether or not specific course sections dedicated to the Health Related Sciences Academy have been of benefit to the students and should be expanded.

Meet the Freshman Coordinator for the Health Related Sciences Academy, Gail Patterson

A Self-Described GPS for Students

The Freshman Coordinator for the Heath Related Sciences Academy has been in the business of supporting students for years.  Gail Patterson came to Queensborough last spring having spent several years as a vocational trainer in the allied health field at the Federal Job Corps Youth Services Program. Coming to Queensborough was a great way for her to continue her focus on supporting young people in an educational environment. In fact, she is currently pursuing her graduate degree in Guidance and Counseling at the College of New Rochelle.

Her concern for, and knowledge of, her students is clearly evident, “I am here to encourage student interaction because I am invested in their success,” she states. “These students are in transition and need to know where they can go to get the answers.”  She then describes some of the many ways in which she proactively works toward their success: making them feel more comfortable with the college experience, helping them adjust to the demands of college, being supportive of their goals and aspirations, providing encouragement – particularly important in the health field, and helping them navigate in a very competitive, high stress environment.

Gail has found that the first personal interaction at fall registration and advisement is where the crucial relationship-building starts — and it is one of the reasons students respond to her when she calls them to help them with their problems.  “One of my students is the first in her family to go to college, and she feels a tremendous responsibility to succeed. Because the pace is fast here, she had trouble keeping up, and was under a lot of stress.” Gail received an “early alert” message from a faculty member, and intervened immediately, calling the student and meeting with her about the fast pace, the social challenges and the stress of multiple assignments due on the same day. “I took out a scheduling sheet and helped her plan her time – her class time, her study time, and her work time. I was so happy to get a call from her later saying, ‘Gail, I picked up my planner and I feel ready to go now – I’m going in to meet with the professor and I think I can do this!'"

This is a typical example of Gail Patterson as a GPS:  charged and ready to help students navigate the complex college highway during their first year on campus!

Professor Alex Tarasko: Faculty Coordinator for the Health Related Sciences Academy

Although Professor Alex Tarasko has been a member of the Nursing faculty since the 1980’s, it was her experience as a young person that nurtures her connection with her students today. “English is my third language — I came from Austria originally, and Ukrainian was my second language. My family faced financial hardships and experienced serious health issues. I would not have been able to attend college if it wasn’t for CUNY, where I began my studies at Hunter and Queens College. I understand what struggles students have on campus and I want to help them get over obstacles.” 

Her personal identification with her students’ struggles, combined with her vast experience in Psychiatric Nursing – receiving her Masters in Nursing Education at NYU, earning a post-master’s certificate at Adelphi University in Psychiatric Nursing, and practicing at Roosevelt Hospital after college – makes Professor Tarasko’s role as Faculty Coordinator for the Health Related Sciences Academy ideal for her and for Queensborough.

“The Health Related Sciences Academy is about making team decisions and planning; this is what is needed and what I love to do,” Professor Tarasko explains. “A lot of what we did during fall semester was internal outreach.”  And, in leading the six faculty cohorts, she is clearly invested in collaborative teamwork and planning with fellow faculty members, an essential process in a multi-departmental academy like Health Related Sciences.

Professor Tarasko’s commitment to her students extends beyond helping them succeed in the Health Related Sciences Academy programs, particularly the Nursing Program. It begins by helping them understand whether they are really ready for the rigorous academic demands of the Nursing Department. “Seeing students struggle with anatomy and physiology; having trouble getting through the pre-clinical courses and withdrawing….We want to help these students avoid failure. So we advise them of what alternatives we can offer them that would be a better first step for them,” Professor Tarasko explains. This includes counseling them about other health-related careers, guiding them towards the College’s support services, or helping them plan a more manageable learning experience.

She also thrives on the close teamwork between her Freshman Coordinator, Gail Patterson, and Health Related Sciences Academy COA, Joi Merkl.  Observing the genuine camaraderie between them brought the spirit of this academy to life:  a nurturing environment with high expectations. “This has been a successful combination for the Nursing Department that makes our program so good.” states Professor Tarasko. And now it seems to be taking hold across the entire Academy for Health Related Sciences, too.