Nursing, Smeal students team up to address business challenges for SAFE-T Center

Photo: Liz Ruta (left), a senior nursing major, and John George, a senior finance major, present their business proposal to the statewide advisory board of the College of Nursing’s Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Telehealth (SAFE-T) Center in April. The business plan was developed as part of a capstone project for the Smeal College of Business’ Sapphire Leadership Academic Program. Courtesy of Penn State College of Nursing

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When the Penn State College of Nursing launched the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Telehealth (SAFE-T) Center in 2016, it envisioned a solution to enhance access to compassionate sexual assault care in underserved communities. What they still needed: a plan to sustain the center’s operations beyond the initial funding period.

With support from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime, the SAFE-T Center started a virtual training lab for rural nurses and began planning a pilot study including four hospital sites that would become part of a statewide partnership model.

“This partnership provides communities with expertise and support that can ultimately improve care for victims of assault,” said Sheridan Miyamoto, assistant professor of nursing and principal investigator with the SAFE-T Center. “It is imperative that we be able to sustain valued services in our partner communities. We needed a proactive plan to prepare to scale in order to sustain this work.”

Miyamoto approached David Lenze, director of the Applied Professional Experience (APEX) program in the Smeal College of Business, to discuss options for getting help with developing a sustainable business plan. Lenze’s idea: to make the SAFE-T Center one of the capstone projects for Smeal’s Sapphire Leadership Academic Program, a leadership development program for high-achieving Smeal students who want to enhance their academic experience.

“Sapphire provides a richer, more robust experience for a select group of students,” said Lenze, an instructor in management and organization at Smeal. “While all students at Smeal are required to complete a capstone course during their final year, the APEX practicum was created specifically for the Sapphire students, to give them an opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills from their course work to real-world problems.”

For the APEX capstone, Sapphire students work in teams to address a business challenge faced by a real organization. Under Lenze’s supervision, the teams take advantage of the wide variety of resources at Penn State — from its renowned faculty to its vast alumni network and library system — to conduct a competitive analysis and provide clear, actionable recommendations.

The team assigned to the SAFE-T Center included two finance majors, John George and Hailey Kaunert; a marketing major, Sami Evans; and a supply chain and iInformation systems major, Erika Veiszlemlein. In addition to the cross-functional expertise of the Smeal students, Miyamoto and Lenze felt the team would benefit from the perspective of someone who understood nursing culture. They invited Liz Ruta, a senior nursing student, to join them.

Ruta, who had previously taken Miyamoto’s course in child maltreatment and advocacy studies, felt the Sapphire project was an ideal opportunity to collaborate on an interdisciplinary team.

“It got me out of my comfort zone and helped me see an issue from a different perspective,” she said. “And I liked that it was very community oriented.” In addition to earning independent study credits, Ruta used the project to complete clinical hours for the Community Health Nursing course taught by Beth Cutezo, assistant teaching professor in the College of Nursing.

“Liz played a key role in lending her expertise to the project, which helped her prepare for the real world of practice,” Cutezo said. “And collaborating with other professional disciplines as part of a goal-oriented team enriched her learning.”

Ruta took part in nursing-specific aspects of the project, such as attending a two-day orientation and training for virtual teleforensic nurses (VTNs) who would provide actual patient services. Overall, the team had weekly interactions with SAFE-T Center staff and stakeholders to collaboratively address the challenges they faced.

The culmination of the project was a 20-page business plan that the team presented to the SAFE-T Center’s statewide advisory board during its biannual meeting April 17. The plan featured a thorough analysis of the center’s needs and goals, its value drivers and cost structure, and a detailed proposal for funding sources, payment options and organizational partnerships.

“We are confident our products and services bring value to many stakeholders, including patients, providers, society, law enforcement and government,” the team concluded. “The long-term sustainability of our program depends on our ability to secure financial stability from various funding sources.”

Miyamoto felt the team’s effort was “exceedingly professional” and helped the staff and board conceptualize what would be needed to sustain its operations on an annual basis.

“They answered some of the board members’ questions and addressed the next steps for the SAFE-T Center,” she said. “They sought feedback and really drove the process.”

Lenze, for his part, felt the inclusion of a non-business student was a great enhancement to the APEX experience.

“In their future careers, all of our students will need to work effectively in cross-functional teams. This project gave them the opportunity to do just that,” he said. “We hope to build on the project’s success and create more intercollege experiential collaborations in the future.”