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Nursing students Garrett Aini, Sydney Cotton and Olivia Williams with the director of undergraduate retention services Deborah Gray, all involved in the iLEAD program.

Nursing students Garrett Aini, Sydney Cotton and Olivia Williams with the director of undergraduate retention services Deborah Gray, all involved in the iLEAD program.
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Publish Date: 11/19/18
Media Contact: Bill Bangert, 513-558-4519
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iLEAD program at the College of Nursing creates a community

Mentoring program provides a comfort zone

"College is a very transitional time and I think a lot of people get homesick and are very uncertain of themselves when they come here,” says Olivia Williams, a third-year bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) student at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Nursing. "So to have a community you can fall back on and people you know you can fall back on, I think it’s really important.”

The support community Williams references is iLEAD at the College of Nursing. iLEAD is a mentoring program that is in its first full year after two pilot years. Deborah Gray, the director of undergraduate retention services in the college, says the seeds for the program were planted three years ago by a group of students working on their final senior capstone project. They created the program based on their experience, while also doing research on what students needed that they weren’t getting in college. 

"They came up with a ladders model where every freshman is attached to a sophomore, junior and a senior to create a family, and then hopefully as that family grew, there would be alums attached as well,” says Gray. "That first capstone group asked me to work with them, and from that point on, I helped out and I loved the idea. I don’t think there could be a better way of getting our students more engaged, feeling more confident along the way and having other students to be there to mentor them and let them know they’ve been down that road before them.”

The iLEAD families are structured with two freshmen, two sophomores, two juniors and then seniors can opt in. In addition to providing moral support and guidance, the families are asked to participate in activities to earn points in what’s called the iLEAD Bearcat Battle. Points are awarded for activities done as a family, including engaging in a health and wellness community event, a College of Nursing community event, a UC event such as a football game and a Greater Cincinnati or beyond community event. Monthly awards are given for the highest points accrued and there are also some scholarship dollars awarded at the end of the year. 

"I really enjoy the model because everyone is going to participate and contribute something to it,” says third-year BSN student Garrett Aini. "Everyone gets something out of it, whether that be just developing professionally with each other and seeing where you can go and network, or developing and growing yourself personally and seeing how you can help others in the community.”

Gray says while the students see her advising office and the team there as a safe space, they still see them as attached to the college, so they aren’t as likely to share all of their worries and concerns as easily as they would with a peer.

Second-year student Sydney Cotton agrees.

"As a sophomore I’m stressed and sophomore year is the hardest, and my juniors and seniors are awesome,” Cotton says. "They tell me it’s going to get better and what they did to fix it. Then my freshman is stressed too, and I help her, telling her I was in her situation and got through it.”

The final piece to the iLEAD family puzzle is adding College of Nursing alumni. Those interested in joining the program are asked to complete a brief survey. Questions can be sent to

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