Struggling nursing student gets surprise helping hand

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Grace Merritt

3 min read

During her junior year, Maria Rubert ’20 (NURS) got word that her mother was injured in a serious car accident on her way back from a vacation in her native Brazil. She was paralyzed from the shoulders down. She spent months in the hospital recovering, followed by a year in a nursing home.

Rubert, a fulltime UConn nursing student, visited her mother in between her coursework as much as possible. But it meant cutting back hours on her job as a patient care associate at Hartford Hospital. This took a financial and emotional toll on Rubert, who was putting herself through college.

Luckily, the next year, she was awarded the Adomat Family Nursing Scholarship, established by alumna Elisabeth (Adomat) DeLuca ’69 (NURS) and her siblings in 2015. The scholarship honors DeLuca’s mother, Elsa Kosgalwies Adomat, a firm believer in the power of a college education.

For Rubert, the scholarship was a godsend. It meant she didn’t have to take out another loan. But she still struggled to make ends meet.

“There were times when I cried over not knowing if I had enough money to just buy lunch,” Rubert recalled. “I remember crying over finances on top of my mom being sick. I wasn’t going to ask my mom, who was in the hospital, for money. I relied on myself.”

When DeLuca heard Rubert tell her story about caring for her mother during a scholarship lunch at the UConn School of Nursing, it reminded her of her own mother and she was moved to tears.

“When I think about Maria’s commitment, the financial stress that she was feeling, the burden of balancing her coursework with her mother’s illness, I still get a little choked up. I was reminded of how devoted I was to my own mother, who inspired me to become a nurse,” DeLuca said. “Maria is one of so many scholarship recipients I have met over the years who faced similar challenges and demonstrated a passion to pursue their career in nursing.

After the lunch, DeLuca called UConn and arranged to pay off the rest of Rubert’s college bill. Rubert was overwhelmed with gratitude when she found out.

“It was a big relief just to know that I could focus my senior year on studying or being with my mom rather than trying to catch up to my tuition,” said Rubert, who graduated in May and is now a nurse in Hartford Hospital’s Emergency Department. “It was so heartwarming that she would do all of that for me. And paying off the bill? That was just above and beyond.”

This is DeLuca’s way. She is not one to seek the spotlight, but when she sees a need at her alma mater, she steps forward. This happened again when DeLuca attended a “Shark Tank” like competition at UConn. The event paired nursing students with engineering and pharmacy students and challenged each team to come up with an innovative product or method to improve nursing and then pitch it to the audience.

“I was amazed by the presentation skills of the senior nursing students. I don’t remember myself having that poise and confidence at that age to stand in the front of an auditorium, make a presentation, and try to convince people that this was a really good idea,” she said. “They had done research and were able to identify innovative and creative ways to improve the care given to patients.

Some of the products presented were so well conceived they now have patents pending.

DeLuca was so inspired that she went to the dean afterward and said she’d like to support innovation at the School of Nursing. The dean replied that the students needed someone to guide them through the innovation process, so DeLuca decided to fund a professorship.

Tiffany Kelley PhD, MBA, RN became the DeLuca Foundation Visiting Professor for Innovation and New Knowledge two years ago. Already, she has worked innovation into every part of the nursing curriculum and introduced a certificate program in innovation.

“What we’re trying to do by focusing on innovation is have students think beyond what’s present today: how can we make it better?” Kelley said. “Whether that’s a new treatment, a new process, or a new way of looking at something, I want them to see that it’s a possibility. By helping one person, you could help a million people.”

DeLuca says she is glad to see that her gifts to UConn have made such an impact and encouraged that they seem to be inspiring others to pay it forward.

“I get thank-you notes many times from students at UConn,” DeLuca said. “Very often they say, ‘I will always remember that you helped me, and I am going to help somebody in the future.’ Inspiring students to help others is pretty powerful.”

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