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Hidden GEM Among Graduates

Hidden GEM Among Graduates

Student overcomes struggles, joins fellow RUSH graduates

By Anthony Giornalista

After being laid off during the Great Recession, Natalia Wright vowed to earn a college degree so she could provide a more stable life for her son. Now she has been accepted into the generalist entry master’s (GEM) program at RUSH University’s College of Nursing, one of the nation’s highest-ranked nursing schools, after earning a bachelor’s degree in health sciences from RUSH.

Wright received her bachelor’s degree at the University’s 43rd commencement ceremony, after making her way into RUSH’s College of Health Sciences via a pipeline program at Malcolm X College, a City Colleges of Chicago school that awards two-year degrees. She’s part of the first graduating class from the collaboration with Malcolm X College, which is located just blocks from RUSH on Chicago’s West Side.

The partnership was developed as part of a $5 million grant RUSH received from BMO Harris Bank. The donation funded five scholarships for RUSH to provide to Malcolm X College graduates, giving them the opportunity to continue their education by pursuing a bachelor’s in health sciences at RUSH.

Wright is one of the first beneficiaries of the program, but she wouldn’t have made it into the GEM program without hard work and smarts.

“For me to get a bachelor’s degree and move on to get a graduate degree — that is something so huge,” said Wright, whose son will also be pursuing a degree in a nursing. “I’m just blessed and grateful for everything.”


Wright was one of nearly 800 students who received degrees at this year’s RUSH University graduation ceremony. Larry Goodman, MD, president of RUSH University and CEO of RUSH University Medical Center; and Thomas Deutsch, MD, provost of RUSH University and dean of RUSH Medical College, presided over the ceremony and award degrees to students graduating from the University’s four colleges.

Rebecca Onie, JD, co-founder and chief executive officer of Health Leads, delivered the commencement address. Onie co-founded Health Leads in 1996 as a sophomore at Harvard College, with Dr. Barry Zuckerman, at Boston Medical Center.

In the clinics where Health Leads operates, physicians prescribe food, heat and other basic resources, as well as prescriptions for medication. Health Leads’ corps of nearly 1,000 well-trained college student advocates then "fill" those prescriptions by working side-by-side with approximately 11,500 patients annually to help them access the community resources they need to be healthy.

She received her juris doctor degree from Harvard Law School, where she was an editor of the Harvard Law Review, and has received numerous honors in recognition of her work, including a MacArthur Fellowship.

“The very things that are often seen as liabilities in health care — relative newness to the field and to the profession, and a relentless optimism that is often confused with being naive — have proven to be powerful assets for me and for Health Leads, and they will be for you too,” Onie said at the ceremony. “Today, you are as ready as you ever will be — and possibly more ready than you ever will be — to be leaders and to create the new health care system that we as a nation so desperately need.”