Lyssa Nowakowski, Fuld Fellow (ABS Program)

Lyssa Nowakowski.

About Lyssa

  • Program: ABS Nursing
  • Hometown: Buffalo, NY
  • Favorite Self-Care Activity: Running and hiking
  • Previous Education: Bachelor of Science, Art Education, SUNY College at Buffalo

Why nursing?

I’ve run a proverbial gamut of career and life experiences, most seemingly on a different planet than medical care, but I’ve always found that among these diverse realms that cultivating relationships with people and proactively supporting their needs were always my most treasured experiences extrapolated from each. As an outdoor enthusiast, my interest in the symbiotic relationship between human and environment led me to undergo the certification process to become a Wilderness First Responder. Though I’ve always had a passion for medical sciences, an interest in “the why” behind everything, and the curiosity for discovery, it was this WFR training that confirmed where I was meant to go next. Words from my instructor inspired the initiation of forward momentum: “You will consistently be with people on the worst day of their lives. It’s up to you to have the strength and mental fortitude to make their situation different.” It was then I knew I wanted to give back more literally to others through nursing.To me, demonstrative care within this profession is reflected in the time spent developing relationships with patients, actively listening while also reading between the lines, understanding the sources of diverse mindsets, maintaining consistent inclusivity of multiple perspectives, developing emotional intelligence, creative problem-solving, and educating and supporting patients and the community in becoming their own champions. To propagate this process, I refer to a childhood hero, Fred Rogers, and his remarkable view on interaction: “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”This is why I began the journey to become a nurse.

Why UB?

UB was in my top three immediately, from the start of my career transition. Personally, returning to Buffalo for a year to spend time around family, after living elsewhere for well over a decade was a massive perk. I always loved the opportunity to visit my friendly hometown and all it has to offer, sothe idea of calling it home again was amazing. Buffalo is called the city of neighbors for a reason. It also has an incredible variety of institutions and learning/volunteering opportunities for unique experiences within the medical field. Logistically, financiallyand statistically,UB’s instate tuition rate, the efficiently expedited 12-month ABS program (versus other 16-month to two year programs), the two year run of 100% NCLEX student passing rate, and top national nursing school rankings made it stand out as a front-runner. To speak more specifically to the school and program itself, from the get-go, I was encouraged and advised by the nursing school admissions department of everything required to ensure I was completing all prerequisites and meeting all stipulations for application. It can be daunting to begin the process to return to higher education after being away for so long, and they made it much less so, which speaks highly of the institution. After touring the facilities, I found the simulation labs quite impressive and the learning environment in general to be professional yet comfortable (a duality I hadn’t felt while touring my other front-running universities). Finally, after program offers were made and it was decision time to pick from my accepted list, the accepted student event was the final push to select UB. Hearing from current ABS students, faculty and other higher learning professionalswhile meeting some of my potential classmates confirmed that this was the right environment and the correct match.

Areas of Interest

I think it’s important to evolve within a profession as versatile as nursing to find the best fit as an individual, to be malleable to life changes, to keep the hunger alive throughout a career, and to accommodate and acknowledge when a transition is best, with the intention to always continue to provide the best care for patients. Coming from a background of work with much travel, fast-paced decision-making, self-structure, and creative problem-solving, I knew immediately that when considering a career change into nursing that my eventual direction of interest was in emergency medicine. My ultimate career goal is to become a flight nurse, after my education, training, and experience is developed in the critical care unit and ER. I would also like to work with people with limited resources or means of access to health care. I’d like to organize my life to allow extensive volunteer service in tandem with paid work, whether it be domestic disaster relief, remote medical camp treks abroad, or even creating new opportunities to give better support and access to those who need it. In fact, this type of lifestyle, along with my WFR training, was my catalyst in pursuit of nursing: to take advantage of my less traditional ways of life by serving others in a vital capacity. While these are my main goals, on a different wavelength, I am also deeply interested in the environmental impact of medical waste and the increasing research and development of bio-based and biodegradable disposables as well as methods of anaerobic digestion systems being used in other countries for responsible disposal. Contributing to this research in some way, no matter the amount, would be amazing. Lastly, coming from an education background and fostering a love for teaching, eventually becoming a nurse educator is a long-term interest for my career journey within the profession.

Activities and Accolades

Some organizations I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer with include Aspire Center for Learning in Buffalo (educationvolunteer), Museum of Art and Design in NYC (education volunteer), NYC Cares in NYC (volunteer coordinator through Sitters’ Studio), and Early Stages Live Theater Non-Profit Program in NYC (photographer). My most recent and consistent volunteer opportunities were with Groundswell Community Mural Project in Brooklyn, NY, as the summer program intern volunteer and the Umhverfisstofnun Environment Agency of Iceland as a wilderness conservation volunteer. Groundswell is a non-profit organization that links local muralists, youth and the community together to promote social change. The summer program also provides job opportunities and means of self-expression regarding current social issues to teens. I worked with several artists and youth groups to produce large-scale collaborative art pieces serving local organizations, provided project support and established a non-profit partnership with a local company.

In Iceland, as part of an international group of volunteers, we worked directly with local rangers of national parks across the country and the Umhverfisstofnun (environmental agency) to ensure species survival, proper trail usage, and visitor safety in a full-immersion cultural experience while living outdoors.

Throughout my career span, I’ve worked for many years as a dance, fitness and/or art educator at several capacities with Center Stage Dance Studio in Buffalo, Contemporary Lady in Buffalo, Amherst School District in Amherst, NY, and Red Apple Child Development Center in NYC. I’ve also worked as a private caregiver in NYC, a muralist with Sports and the Arts in Newark, NJ, and a creative, photographer and editor for Dirty Sugar Photography in NYC. For the past 11 years (often in tandem with the aforementioned experiences), I’ve toured with StarQuest International, a multi-tour production company established to bring opportunities in the performing arts to young performers across the country. I began as an auditor, transitioned to become a stage manager, and was then promoted to a tour manager. After a few years, I created the new role as the Experience Development Director when seeing a need for a more collaborative team culture. Hiring, trainings, leadership and continual professional development of our large"Road Warrior" staff and tour managers, preparation and orchestration of event logistics, big picture maintenance of competition culture, extensive equipment trouble-shooting, and guest relations and experience development were among my top responsibilities.

In 2012, I founded Be Guerilla, Inc., a custom mural production and photography company serving clients around the tri-state area, including a 40-foot collaborative mural with Sports and the Arts in the New Jersey Prudential Center Arena, home of the New Jersey Devils.

Additional certifications I’ve received include Fire and Arson Safety (FIRE), School Anti-Violence Education (SAVE), Alcohol and Other Drugs (ALC), Child Abuse Identification (CAI), and Wilderness First Responder (WFR).


Throw me outdoors and I am happy! Running and hiking are my mental, emotional, and physical support. I’m an avid hiker/backpacker/camper, a marathoner just recently turned trail ultra-marathoner, and am also getting increasingly more into kayaking. Aside from the usual day or week stints and national park hopping, as a long distance thru-hiker I’ve completed the Laugavegur Trail in Iceland and have only the two final states, New Hampshire and Maine, remaining on the 2,200 mile Appalachian Trail. I have a passion for the family-like communities that surround these experiences and volunteering my time and resources as a “trail angel” and support crew is not only exceptionally fun, but a staple of these environments. I also love country line-dancing, traveling, reading non-fiction, learning new things, (attempting to) snowboard, spending time with friends and family, meeting new people, volunteering, cooking, and saying yes to as many new experiences as possible.

What's Next

Upon graduation, I hope to take a few weeks to complete the Appalachian Trail before moving into a nursing position in a critical care unit or ER (fingers crossed)! Career-wise, after getting a healthy amount of experience under my belt, I’d like to work as a CCU/ER travel nurse in order to continue to evolve and grow within the profession, exercise malleability through changes in work environment and leadership, continue to travel, and allow the balance of paid work with involved volunteer opportunities, as aforementioned. Eventually, my five-year goal is to become a flight nurse with a long-term plan of transitioning into nursing education. In my personal life, I’d like to continue to take on longer ultra-races, hike the Pacific Crest Trail, and explore other new outdoor sports. I also want to convert a van into a self-supported mobile home to be surrounded by nature every day! Additionally, providing a financially stable and happy environment for my family, specifically my parents and spit-fire of a niece, is a main priority always. When looking at the big picture of life, I really just want to help catalyze actions to help make the world a little better each passing year.


As a single female, I have spent nearly the past 20 years in the workforce strategically balancing jobs, chasing experiences, reducing expenditures to seize opportunities, upheaving thwarted circumstances, and utilizing creativity to provide for myself and contribute to my family’s well-being. Independence comes with struggle, perseverance, humility, failures, successes, ingenuity and consistent effort. While earned autonomy is greatly valued, it also has a demanding nature in the need for absolute forward motion and absent outside safety nets. This is a period of my story where time, though it may not be bought, can be invested in. This scholarship is not just a much needed monetary achievement in financial support, but more importantly, an investment in time. Scholastically, this means more time to concentrate, to have established study patterns outside of work lunchbreaks or 4:00 a.m. multi-tasking, to immerse myself deeper into clinical rotations and patient care, and to truly work to my full potential with less distraction and worry. Professionally and logistically, this scholarship will allow lesser student and personal loan payments which leads to less stress and more flexibility in work/volunteer balance. I can’t be more grateful for this opportunity of fellowship and I greatly look forward to paying it forward!