As an undergraduate student, Sara Ross DiGirolamo took part in the Mentoring Program administered through the College of Health and Human Development. Her mentor, Maureen Connelly Jones ’91, was a perfect match for her career interests and goals.
“I was interested in pediatrics and emergency medicine, both of which are Maureen’s specializations,” said DiGirolamo. “It worked out really well. She helped guide me through school and get to where I wanted to be.”
After graduating in 2009, DiGirolamo took a job in the progressive care unit at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). From there, she transitioned to the emergency department and, after completing her master’s degree as a pediatric acute care nurse practitioner, became an NP there.
In 2015, with a few years of experience under her belt, DiGirolamo decided it was time to pay it forward. She applied to be an alumna mentor in the newly relaunched College of Nursing Mentoring Program. “I knew that after I graduated I wanted to give back and be a mentor myself,” she said. “But I wanted to work for a few years first.”
DiGirolamo was matched with sophomore Vanessa Fulton, whom she helped apply for an externship at Main Line Health in Philadelphia. When Fulton decided she wanted to live and work in southeastern Pennsylvania following graduation, DiGirolamo gave her suggestions on where to look for a position.
“Sara has been and continues to be a strong presence in my nursing career,” said Fulton, now a graduate nurse resident in the emergency department at Lankenau Medical Center in Wynnewood. “She has given me the tools to succeed in my goals and inspires me to continue growing as a nurse.”
Helping to guide the way for students and young professionals is important in the nursing profession, DiGirolamo believes. “We need to help them grow by providing better opportunities for networking and relationships.”
As a mentor, DiGirolamo felt the experience was just as beneficial as it was during her undergraduate mentee experience. “It was exciting to come back and see the growth and development in the college since I graduated,” she said. “It’s interesting to see how much the student experience has changed. And I made good positive connections that will help with my future career endeavors.”
DiGirolamo was especially pleased to meet other mentors who work at CHOP that she didn’t know previously. “It was good to see where others are in their careers and reconnect with those I went to school with,” she said.
DiGirolamo encourages other alumni to get involved in the Mentoring Program. “It’s a great way to stay connected to Penn State and the College of Nursing,” she said. “And the relationships don’t end when your year in the program does. I still see Maureen when I come back for football games and Nursing events. And I expect my connection with Vanessa will continue through the transitions in our lives and careers. I want her to know that I will always be here when she needs me.”
Fulton concurs. “I can’t imagine these last two years without her in the Mentoring Program,” she said. “I am very thankful for the guidance Sara gives me. I wouldn’t be where I am without her.”