Growth, Opportunity Top Graduate's Baccalaureate Address

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As she videotaped her baccalaureate class address last month for Dominican University of California’s virtual commencement ceremony on May 15, Vanessa Groppetti ’21, a double major in nursing and psychology, reflected with amazement about her Dominican experience.

“I could have never imagined myself speaking at my college graduation. It just goes to show the things that Dominican has done for me,” Vanessa says. “Dominican focuses on all aspects of our lives and allows us to grow not only as students but people overall.”

That is the theme of her speech as she has grown from a shy freshman to the outgoing Associated Students of Dominican University (ASDU) student body president.

Utilizing both her majors, Vanessa has had dueling field placement assignments with the County of Marin Jail. First, her preceptorship for nursing led her to shadow an RN, Dominican alum Philip Tow ‘19, and evaluate the health of incoming inmates at the jail and also consult with any inmates who submitted sick call slips.

“It was incredible to think as a student that not a lot of people get that type of opportunity, if ever in their life, to work inside of a jail,” Vanessa says.

The experience was so rewarding that Vanessa approached the internship coordinator with the County of Marin and was given a placement in the Jail Mental Health unit for her Psychology placement. She was tasked to research and create a resource guide – “it’s almost like an interactive journal” – that provides inmates with skills and techniques to help with anxiety, relaxation, anger management, problem solving and conflict resolution.

The field placements validate Vanessa’s career path choice. Vanessa discovered that path her freshman year when she attended the Scholarly and Creative Works Conference and heard a presentation about reentry programs for parolees.

“That sparked an interest. Ever since I have been really interested in working in corrections,” Vanessa says. “Just having the psychology background really helps in my career ambitions. I want to merge the two majors and eventually become a nurse practitioner and work in a corrections facility.”

Vanessa came to Dominican from St. Joseph High School in Santa Maria upon the recommendation of a high school classmate, Patricia López-Chávez ’20, who was attending Dominican and is now seeking her MS in Education at the University.

Vanessa clearly recalls meeting her nursing program advisor her second year, Dr. Alicia Bright, associate professor of Nursing in the School of Health and Natural Sciences. Alicia helped turn nursing from a potential profession into a calling.

“She is absolutely amazing and has been very motivating for me. She has been probably one of my biggest role models among the professors on faculty at the University. She talks so much about integrity, honesty, diversity, and leadership, which very much aligns with my values and who I want to be,” Vanessa says. “This fits in more with who I am as a person overall. That’s why I chose nursing.”

Vanessa chose psychology too. She originally thought of minoring in psychology but a change in curriculum at Dominican during her sophomore year connected her with professor Dr. Afshin Gharib, her advisor in the Department of Psychology in the School of Liberal Arts and Education. He helped her arrange her classes and supported her so she would major in it.

“With nursing I have always been interested in working with underrepresented populations and more specifically I have always been interested in those with substance abuse and addiction disorders,” Vanessa says. “That led to my initial interest in psychology.”
In addition to taking two majors, Vanessa stepped out of her comfort zone and decided to join ASDU. Then ASDU president Noreen Hassan ’19, ’20 MSOT, encouraged Vanessa to seek the diversity and inclusion position.

“I became interested in that. Not because I thought I knew so much about this topic – and I didn’t – but I thought it was a great opportunity for me to learn and grow,”  she says.

Vanessa was ASDU’s Director of Diversity and Inclusion for two years when Gaby Bermudez, Assistant Director of Student Engagement, suggested she run for ASDU President.

“I’m grateful that she did,” Vanessa says. “Gaby has been my greatest influence on Dominican’s campus. She continues to push me to be the best I can be, while supporting me in my aspirations, and supporting me emotionally outside of being a student. She is someone who saw my potential as a leader and my goals, and worked with me to achieve them.”

Being ASDU president presented a new set of challenges in a pandemic year – particularly when it came to keeping the campus connected. Vanessa helped develop and publish a new ASDU monthly newsletter. She offered more support and updates through DUOC-moodle. She met regularly via Zoom late into the night with her ASDU board, roughly 20 students who have made Vanessa quite proud with their participation and willingness to create institutional change. ASDU started evolving from a mostly program/events focused organization to an organization more in tune with campus policies and initiatives and current events – including impacts on Dominican’s diverse student population.

“It’s been a fun journey and it’s been challenging, not only internally but externally. It’s thrown me in a lot of directions,” Vanessa says. “ASDU is a great avenue to open doors to opportunity at Dominican.”

It has allowed Vanessa to meet students from different counties, states, and countries. The diversity and depth of Dominican has left a lasting impression on her.

“It has exceeded my expectations,” Vanessa says. “You think it might be a small university with not a lot of resources, but it’s not. Four years later here I am seeing everything I have done well and everything my classmates have done well and we have so many faculty and staff here who are published and well known. It is amazing how much a university our size produces. Dominican really breeds great students.”

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