Meet Sierra Martinsen, your 2024 Outstanding BSN Student Award recipient

Sierra Martinsen ('24), Gonzaga's 2024 Outstanding BSN Student Award recipient

April 15, 2024
University Advancement
I am so honored to receive the Outstanding BSN Student Award, and I am very grateful for the incredible experiences I have had during my four years at Gonzaga University. I was drawn to Gonzaga because of the pervasive sense of community I felt the first time I stepped foot on campus. As I followed my tour guide through the bustling crowds in the Hemmingson Center and past students picnicking on Foley Lawn, he waved at no fewer than 20 of his friends. Students went out of their way to hold doors open for us, share their favorite restaurants in the area, and give the insider scoop on which dorms were the best. During the pandemic, I craved this “Zags help Zags” mindset and couldn’t wait to do the same for others. Throughout my four years, I have been lucky enough to find my own community both in Spokane and abroad. 

Gonzaga has been everything I hoped it would be when I committed four years ago. I was first drawn in by Gonzaga’s Jesuit mission and the principle of cura personalis to develop the whole person with an emphasis on reflection, lifelong learning, and global engagement. The small class sizes helped me get the support I needed in the classroom and get to know my faculty outside of class as well. I even dog-sit for one of my professors! 

I’ve lived on campus all four years because I love being in the heart of Gonzaga’s community. I was drawn to Gonzaga’s commitment to global engagement and its decades-long history of sending students abroad. Over half of Gonzaga students study abroad, and Gonzaga has its own campus in Florence, Italy. I entered college with the dream of studying abroad. When I think back on my four years at Gonzaga, it is my study abroad experiences that stand out to me as my most impactful memories and moments of growth. 

I had the opportunity to participate in the English for Pasta program during my semester in Florence. Each Monday, a friend and I took the public bus to an Italian family’s apartment across the city. We would help the family’s high school daughter with her English homework—in Italy, all students learn English beginning in kindergarten—and, in exchange, her parents would cook us dinner. While we ate a warm bowl of pasta, the daughter would speak English while my friend and I attempted to speak Italian. It was quite a challenge! I look back fondly on the hours I spent with this family laughing as we tried to decipher what the other person was saying, asking questions about Florentine culture, and the difficult goodbye as the semester drew to a close. 

I also volunteered as a Teacher’s Assistant at a Catholic elementary school in the North of Florence. I helped 1st grade students complete their workbook activities and taught a few English lessons. The children were adorable and found my English accent hilarious! I think this experience, along with English for Pasta, highlights Gonzaga’s commitment to both service and intercultural competence. This ultimately furthered my own passions for serving others and global engagement. Florence became my home away from home because of both the community I formed and the knowledge I gained about its culture and myself.  

After spending a semester in Florence, I wasn’t quite ready to give up living abroad! I also wanted to challenge myself to travel to an unfamiliar part of the globe. As part of Gonzaga’s Comprehensive Leadership Program, I had the opportunity to travel to Zambezi, Zambia for five weeks to practice leadership. I spent my mornings shadowing nurses and healthcare workers at the local district hospital, and my afternoons teaching a public health course. This was my first time stepping foot in a hospital, and it solidified my passion for working with patients and bettering the health of my community. A nurse named Chipo took me under her wing at the hospital. She answered my questions, taught me how to fill out paper charting, ensured we had informed consent from patients to observe their care, and told me about some of the hidden gems in the local market that only locals knew about. Through working with her, I also developed a passion for labor and delivery and maternal healthcare. I observed ultrasounds for the first time, listened to a baby’s heartbeat, and weighed newborns and recorded their charts. I learned that many of the pervasive healthcare issues in the United States, like nursing shortages, are common in other parts of the world as well. 

One of my favorite projects during CLP was the Emotional Intelligence Profile. For this assignment, I completed an hour-long behavior-based questionnaire. My responses to these questions were scored based on how often I feel certain emotions, my positive-negative outlook, and my relationship management strategies. This assessment was fundamental in making me more aware of my strengths and weaknesses. As a result, I’m better able to harness them. Some of my strengths were my empathy, compassion, and positivity. My weaknesses all related to the idea of perfectionism. Throughout my time at Gonzaga—in the nursing program in particular—I’ve learned that failure is essential and unavoidable. In fact, failure is just re-direction. How can I grow from this experience? Learning to prioritize myself and get comfortable being uncomfortable is one of my key takeaways from CLP, nursing, and my time at Gonzaga. 

From January-March 2024, I worked on 7South at Sacred Heart Medical Center. This is an adult oncology unit that works primarily with patients nearing end-of-life who are no longer responding to chemotherapy, radiation, or other cancer treatments. In addition to becoming more comfortable with my nursing skills, I really enjoyed getting to know my patients and their family members. Many of my patients had at least one previous 7South stay and had been in and out of the healthcare settings for years. As a result, they enjoyed chatting with students and letting me perform their care which allowed my confidence to blossom this semester. I was also introduced to end-of-life and postmortem care for the first time. There were typically a handful of patients who were actively dying on 7South. This was challenging because families were often in denial and tearful as they watched their loved one inch closer to the inevitable end. My precepting nurse made sure family members had all the resources we could offer such as food, pillows, warm blankets, and the chaplain. She also ensured the patient’s pain was controlled as dying is often an uncomfortable process. Witnessing these moments furthered my commitment to caring for my patients’ family and advocating for proper pain and nausea control. It also reminded me that caring for my patients with dignity and compassion, even after death, is my top priority as a nurse.

My friends have become my family, and I will always consider Spokane, Florence, and Zambezi home. Gonzaga furthered my devotion to lifelong learning, social justice, global engagement, leadership, and care for those in vulnerable situations through my study abroad experiences, enriching curriculum, and service opportunities. I feel so fortunate to have benefitted from this high-quality Jesuit education, and I look forward to incorporating the values I have practiced at Gonzaga University in my nursing career and beyond. In a few years, I plan to return to school to obtain a Master’s degree and become a nurse practitioner. 

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