campus news

School of Nursing fosters mentor experience

From left, mentor Tineka Pace and student Lilian Igwe and pictured outdoors.

Nursing student Lilian Igwe (right), who will graduate in May, is paired with mentor Tineka Pace. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki


Published April 26, 2024

“It was evident Black nursing students felt they needed additional support to help them navigate racial tensions following the murder of George Floyd. It was important to share my knowledge and experience with the next generation of nurses, especially those from underrepresented groups. ”
Tineka Pace, UB alumna and nurse manager
AmTrust Workers Compensation Utilization Review Unit

Tineka Pace is a Buffalo native and 2002 School of Nursing graduate “continuously haunted” by the memories of blatant and inconspicuous racism, cultural ignorance and bigotry that she has experienced during her career.

Because it matters to what she does now for the School of Nursing, she will explain what those strong words mean.

After a warning that some of the words she needs to use will be “offensive,” Pace will tell you about the numerous times she has been called “the N-word” by patients; the time when she walked into a room as a nurse manager and was asked by patients to see “your boss” and “empty the garbage” on her way out; and when her supervisor, who otherwise valued her work, looked the other way when she was clearly the target of racism.

“There has certainly been no lack of instances of inconspicuous racism that have plagued my life as a nurse. It feels as though the occurrences became more frequent as I progressed in my career,” says Pace, who is now nurse manager for the AmTrust Workers Compensation Utilization Review Unit.

“I want to emphasize that one of the most challenging aspects of my career has been dealing with microaggressions from colleagues and leadership.”

Here’s what she’s doing about it. Pace was singled out as one of — if not the most enthusiastic — participant in the School of Nursing’s mentorship program. It was clear that after George Floyd was killed in 2020, students were asking for extra support, Pace says, and she felt compelled to step forward.

Stick around. The story gets hopeful soon. But Pace is so invested, so committed to filling what she clearly sees as a need, it’s important to hear her out and understand where her urgency comes from.

“I have also been asked about my upbringing and my education in a way that suggests that I must have come from a disadvantaged background or a lower level of academic achievement,” she says. “How statements that imply that I must have been accepted into the UB SON through an affirmative action program or that I was hired into management to satisfy a diversity quota find their way into conversations still amazes me. The constant need to feel that I must prove myself is exhausting. My measurable accomplishments and achievements are constantly being overshadowed by notions that advancements were handed to me because I check two diversity boxes (female and black).”

The mentorship program Pace holds in such high esteem did indeed start in response to Floyd’s death in May 2020, according to Sophia Overton, clinical instructor and program lead.

A Sept. 14, 2020, panel entitled “Filling in the gaps: A discussion about professional challenges with racism in nursing” was led by Amy Hequembourg, the school diversity officer at the time. Pace was among the panelists who volunteered to become mentors for Black and African American students who desired support.

“It was evident Black nursing students felt they needed additional support to help them navigate racial tensions following the murder of George Floyd,” Pace says. “It was important to share my knowledge and experience with the next generation of nurses, especially those from underrepresented groups.”

Overton says the program provides nonacademic support to interested students.

“The support is student-driven based on their concerns, needs and interests. Some topics include self-care strategies, how to manage microaggressions, prejudices in the workplace, etc. The overarching goal,” she says, “is to help the mentees develop skills, confidence for their personal and career success.”

‘Support continues’

The mentors are registered professional nurses employed in various areas of the nursing profession, according to Overton. Many are members of the first professional nursing sorority in Buffalo, Iota Eta Eta of Chi Eta Phi Inc. Mentors correspond with their mentees at least twice monthly for 30 minutes to discuss topics of the students’ choosing.

“Some mentees still maintain contact with mentors,” says Overton. “The support continues.”

Lilian Igwe is a great example. A traditional nursing program student who will graduate in May, Igwe is paired with Tineka Pace.

“Prior to submitting my application, there was a rumor suggesting that individuals of color were frequently overlooked during the admission process,” says Igwe, who Pace described as “a brilliant and enthusiastic young woman with a bright future ahead of her.”

“Hearing this rumor definitely put fear in my heart about whether I would get in or not,” Igwe says. “Or if I should even consider applying.”

Now, Igwe is glad she did.

“I am on the e-board of the Multicultural Nursing Organization as the activities coordinator and am happy to be an African American who can give courage to other people of color like me to apply so I can invalidate that rumor,” she says.

 “Tineka is always connecting me with resources. I even won a scholarship she encouraged me to apply for. She checks in on me often to make sure I am staying on track.

“Knowing her has been a consistent reminder about how successful a Black woman can be. That is reassuring while being in a predominately white institution,” Igwe says.

“I would definitely keep in touch with her after I graduate from the UB nursing program, and I recently asked her to do the honor of pinning me for my nursing pinning ceremony.”