School of Nursing 2021 Honorees

Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Join us in celebrating this year’s Honorees.

These outstanding graduates were selected as Honorees for their exceptional academic achievements and service to the profession, department, and community.


Katherine Hernandez
Graduate Student Award for Distinguished Achievement Recipient

Katherine Hernandez has a resume of extensive work in the area of Tuberculosis control and continued to exhibit an enthusiastic hunger for more experience.  As Katherine was in the middle of her 4th semester in our program, we were faced with the challenges of the international COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of dampling her spirit, Katherine was energized to jump in and help. In the summer of 2020, as she was about to enter her final year, Katherine was onboarded by the SFDPH as an official clinical volunteer in COVID response. She did COVID-19 testing in community settings as the DPH was scaling up testing with few personnel resources. She performed test disclosures, provided in-person COVID prevention and education to vulnerable residents of single-resident occupancy hotels (SRO), and later in the summer began to perform case investigations on COVID positive persons. This new assignment marked the start of her graduate internship. She was quickly recognized as a remarkably competent professional and was soon assigned the responsibility of managing the entire case investigation staff scheduling for DPH, an enormous task. Throughout the academic/pandemic, year, Katherine was used in various high-level positions within DPH and excelled at all. Yet, with mounting high level responsibilities, she never missed an opportunity to help out in the clinical duties of COVID testing and vaccination. Katherine is exceptional. We fully expect to see her as a public health nurse leader in the future.


Brian Sumstine
Graduate Student Award for Distinguished Achievement Recipient

Brian Sumstine designed, developed, and implemented a best practice Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and infection control protocol in response to the COVID-19 pandemic for the CNS preceptorship at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in San Francisco (SFVA. Brian also participated in simulation training for the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), collaborated with peers on Operating Room time study, and provided direct patient care in the ICU. Brian’s preceptor at SFVA gave overwhelmingly positive feedback regarding his performance, commenting that “Brian is capable of performing at the highest levels of nursing practice.” Brian Sumstine went beyond the expectations of our program. He has volunteered to work with nursing faculty (Larry Vitale, RN, MPH) to provide clinical preventive services to residents of low-income housing in San Francisco. He was elected by peers to serve one-year term as the Nursing Student Association Co-Director of Community Health. In this role, he developed multiple volunteer clinical opportunities for fellow students. He kept track of volunteers and schedules, maintained ongoing communication with community partners, and used this initiative to promote the SoN’s Health Disparity Reduction Project. In fall 2019, after taking an extensive training in influenza vaccination, Brian volunteered to serve as a team leader in the annual effort to immunize the vulnerable homeless of SF against influenza, organizing and managing the influenza immunization clinics in many of the SF homeless shelters. He coordinated safe transport and storage of the vaccine with shelter staff, and assured adequate nursing staff. Everyone involved with the project has appreciated his organizing skill. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brian did COVID-19 testing, performed test disclosures, provided in-person COVID prevention and education to vulnerable unsheltered residents in Richmond. He handled the challenges of these distinct populations with skill and compassion, providing excellent nursing services, assessment, and referral.


James Alexander Speaks
Undergraduate Honoree

James Alexander Speaks was selected as a 2020 Tillman Scholar by the Pat Tillman Foundation, earlier in the year. The scholar program supports our nation’s active-duty service members, veterans and military spouses by investing in education and professional development. As a 2020 Tillman Scholar, James is one of 60 leaders united by their military service, academic passions, and desire to make an impact. In recognition of their service and leadership potential, the scholars receive scholarship funding to pursue higher education and continue their service in the fields of health care, business, law, public service, STEM, education and the humanities. Like so many of our students, James has demonstrated qualities that we want see in a nurse: self-motivation, responsibility and accountability, willingness and eagerness to learn, cultural competency, and autonomous decision-making. But James’ story starts much earlier James was eight years old when he watched the attacks unfold on 9/11. Motivated by the countless tales of heroic men and women serving in the ensuing War on Terror, he enlisted as an infantryman in the U.S. Marine Corps shortly after finishing high school. During his four-year tenure as a Marine, James served on two combat deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. Those deployments proved to be transformative for him as he was struck by the staggering amount of civilian casualties and the general lack of medical infrastructure in the war-ravaged communities. At the same time, he was moved by the actions of the Navy corpsmen with whom he served as they plied their life-saving craft on the many military and civilian casualties they encountered. Ultimately, these experiences sparked his desire to bring quality healthcare to vulnerable and underserved populations. As a Student Nurse, James has gone beyond the expectations of our program; he has volunteered extensively to work in community service and has provided clinical preventive services to residents of low-income housing SF. James is a natural leader as well. He was elected by his peers to serve one year as the NSA Co-Director of the Hepatitis B Free Ambassador Program: a special program in partnership with the SF Hepatitis B Free Coalition. In this role, he worked tirelessly to coordinate outreach events to promote Hepatitis B awareness and screening for chronic Hepatitis B. James’s diligent work was recognized by the Hep B Free SF Coalition and was awarded the prestigious ‘Be a Hero' award at the Coalition’s Gala in 2020. He has clearly demonstrated a commitment to public service that serves low-income, medically indigent, and otherwise vulnerable populations. In the fall 2019 semester, James stepped up to take an extensive training in influenza vaccination. He volunteered on his own time to participate in the annual effort to immunize the vulnerable homeless of San Francisco against influenza, working with faculty as a team leader, organizing and managing the influenza immunization clinics in many of the SF homeless shelters. He was responsible to coordinate with shelter staff, assure adequate nursing staffing, and to safely transport and store the vaccine. Everyone involved with the project has appreciated his organizing skill. He excelled in this complex project, and demonstrated advanced critical thinking skills. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, James again exceeded all the clinical objectives. James’s clinical activities within the SFDPH were varied, but were all related to COVID-19 pandemic response. He did COVID-19 testing, performed test disclosures, provided in-person COVID prevention, education to vulnerable residents of single-resident occupancy hotels (SRO) and Shelter in Place hotels (SIP), and provided flu vaccination in homeless shelters. As before, he volunteered for many more shifts to provide COVID-19 testing at community clinics, far exceeding the scheduled clinical hour requirement. After completing his undergraduate Nursing degree at SF State, James hopes to move on to a dual Master of Nursing/Master of Public Health degree program. He plans on combining his leadership experience and medical knowledge to have an impactful career with Doctors Without Borders. His goal is to help transform health care on an individual and structural level for the countless victims that are caught in humanitarian crises throughout the world.