Nursing students get involved in associations at local, state, national levels

February 21, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The nursing profession has many specialized societies that help influence the priorities and development of the profession as a whole. Nursing school programs, specifically, have associations at the local, state and national levels, and for the first time ever, the Penn State College of Nursing has student representation at all three levels.

Nursing students Connor Forjan, Rachel Runatz, Elise Krikorian, Vanessa Stenulis, Alyssa Tygh, and Sarah Heidler represent the college with their work outside of the classroom, having real world implications and receiving serious attention from the college, the profession, and their peers.

The National Student Nurses Association (NSNA) is the professional organization for nursing students in the United States. The NSNA has member state associations, like the Student Nurses Association of Pennsylvania (SNAP) and local school constituents, such as the Student Nurses’ Association at Penn State (SNAPS).

“Over the past 25 years SNAPS has grown from four officers doing all the work of the organization, including planning a yearly pinning ceremony in Music Recital Hall, to hundreds of students attending meetings and in the past few years running and serving for offices at the state and national level,” said Mary Ellen Yonushonis, assistant teaching professor of nursing and SNAPS adviser at University Park.

Due to having a split nursing curriculum with time spent at both University Park and the Hershey campus, SNAPS has co-presidents Connor Forjan and Rachel Runatz. Forjan is a 4th year, bachelor of science in nursing student, representing the college at University Park; and Runatz, also a 4th year, bachelor of science in nursing student, represents the college at the Hershey campus.

SNAPS coordinates their own professional development events, including resume workshops, nursing career fairs, an annual NCLEX Bowl, and panel discussions with Penn State nursing alumni offering their members valuable professional insight. SNAPS also is heavily involved with THON, the largest student-run philanthropy in the world. Students involved with THON help families affected by childhood cancer, holding different fundraisers and bonding activities with their THON family throughout the year.

SNAPS also holds other philanthropic events, like food and blood drives, and attends local fundraising events like the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, and Relay for Life. The Hershey branch cooks dinners for families at the Ronald McDonald House and makes crafts with the kids in the Children’s Hospital.

“Connor’s selflessness was evident when she elected to skip the excitement of THON 2019 and remain at Hershey Medical Center so that she could be with the children THON supports. They were too ill to attend the weekend-long event at University Park,” said Yonushonis. “These student leaders demonstrate their commitment to the community through their leadership and hard work with these organizations.”

Through Runatz and Forjan's leadership, SNAPS had their largest-ever representation at the state SNAP convention. Between the two campuses, there are now over 200 active members and SNAPS holds at least two weekly activities for members to bond or work on professional role development. This level of involvement has paved the way for Penn State to have student leaders at the state and national levels.

At the November SNAP convention in Lancaster, Vanessa Stenulis, a 3rd year, bachelor of science in nursing student, was elected vice president of SNAP's board of directors. As vice president, she leads the organization comprised of over 5,000 students across Pennsylvania and oversees the influence the organization has on standards of nursing education, the educational process, promotion and recruitment enhancement efforts, student activities, and educational opportunities in Pennsylvania. Some of the goals Stenulis said she hopes to implement throughout the year include promoting education regarding nurses’ role in the legislative process, emphasize “Breakthrough to Nursing’ ideals, inform students and healthcare professionals about the Future of Nursing IOM Report for 2020. Lastly, she will continue to connect the local chapter leaders with the state board members to enhance statewide communication and facilitate the exchange of ideas and resources.

Alyssa Tygh is a 2nd year, bachelor of science in nursing student who works simultaneously as the legislative coordinator for SNAP, the legislative chair for SNAPS, and participates on the legislative committee for the NSNA. Through her position on the state board, she hopes to encourage more student nurses to register to vote, providing them with the tools necessary to do so and inform them on particular political issues and where specific candidates stand with various health care policies.

Sarah Heidler, a 3rd year, bachelor of science in nursing student, is the SNAP south-central regional coordinator. She facilitates communication within the south-central region and will promote SNAP by planning and organizing events to help student nurses gain professional experience. Her other goal, she said, is to increase SNAP members in the schools of her region throughout the year.

In 2019, Elise Krikorian, SNAPS’ fundraising chair and 3rd year, bachelor of science in nursing student, became the first nursing student to represent the college at the national level. Krikorian was elected director of the NSNA board of directors. The board is comprised of nine nursing students elected at the organization's annual convention. Krikorian is assigned six state chapters of the NSNA in the eastern region and ensures that the chapters are informed about NSNA updates and events and supports them by representing them at the NSNA board meetings. She also chairs the Population and Global Health Committee that spreads awareness for public health issues like climate change, natural disasters, and socio-economic inequalities, and is part of the Membership Committee.

“The National Student Nurses Association is dedicated to the professional development of nursing students and has 60,000 members nationwide," said Yonushonis. "We are immensely proud of Elise, our first Penn State student nurse to be elected to a national position and we will be working hard to help Penn State freshman Kyle Loose in his run for [the position of] director east at the national convention this upcoming April."

These are just a few of the more than 20 nursing students serving in leadership roles at University Park and Hershey. More information about each of the officers is available on the SNAPS website at For more information about SNAPS, their involvement, and current happenings, check out the SNAPS website at

The college congratulates all the students on their achievements outside the classroom and looks to continue Penn State College of Nursing’s representation at the local, state, and national levels.

  • Alyssa Tugh
    IMAGE: Penn State
  • Connor Forjan
    IMAGE: Penn State
  • Elise Krikorian
    IMAGE: Penn State
  • Vanessa Stenulis
    IMAGE: Penn State
  • Sarah Heidler
    IMAGE: Penn State
  • Rachel Runatz
    IMAGE: Penn State
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Last Updated February 21, 2020