Commencement 2018: Nursing student ‘pays it forward, ’ helping ‘anybody and everybody’

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Shannon McIsaac
Shannon McIsaac. URI photo by Randy Osga

KINGSTON, R.I. – April 20, 2018 — Much of Shannon McIsaac’s life has been lived in service to others, and her time at the University of Rhode Island has only helped to further her mission to help as many people as she can.

Within the College of Nursing, McIsaac, an Avon, Mass., native, has received a first-class education that’s not only provided her with everything she needs to know but has prepared her to go the extra mile for her future patients. She describes her clinical experiences as invaluable; the work and service she did on campus was noticed well beyond her own college or even the University.

When she first joined the URI Rotaract Club — a group dedicated to providing community service locally and internationally — McIsaac said she didn’t anticipate the big part it would play in her university experience. On top of a demanding course load and her already heavy involvement in a number of other student organizations, McIsaac joined the club expecting to serve a short time. Instead, she became the president.

“I ended up falling in love with the service we were doing and the people I met,” McIsaac said. “When I joined, I think we only had seven people, maybe. Since then, and since I’ve been working with Rotaract, we now have more than 50 people in our organization. We have meetings every week and we have people who are really engaged.”

Her efforts to engage students and connect them to service opportunities for the betterment of the community has been a big success. This past year alone, Rotaract has worked with the Welcome House homeless shelter and the Jonnycake Center’s Food Bank in Peace Dale, and with students at Peace Dale Elementary School, among other organizations across the state.

She’ll carry all of these experiences and many others with her when she earns her bachelor of science degree in nursing at URI Undergraduate Commencement May 20.

In addition to the services McIsaac helps facilitate thought Rotaract, her clinical experience in respite care has inspired her to find more opportunities for future students. Working with the College of Nursing, McIsaac connects caregivers who need help caring for a loved one with students looking for valuable experience.

“It’s widening more opportunities for people to do respite care, and also providing more families in the area the opportunity to connect with someone who can provide services,” McIsaac said. “So many families have members with disabilities but not enough resources. My goal for respite care nursing is to make more opportunities for students to find out about this and for families to get the help that they need.”

McIsaac said role models inside and outside the classroom, and especially her parents, have inspired her to pay her good fortune forward.

“I’ve had a pretty lucky draw with the people that have surrounded me in my life, and growing up in the family that I did,” McIsaac said.

Those who have benefited from her efforts said they’re the lucky ones. Sophomore Sydney Reich first knew McIsaac as her personal care attendant, but she’s since become one of Reich’s best friends. For the past two years, McIsaac has provided Reich, who lives with cerebral palsy, with the help she needs completing daily tasks. Whether helping Reich get ready for the day, walking her to class, or just going on a fun trip to the beach, McIsaac goes above and beyond to help make Reich’s college experience as typical as anyone else’s.

“She was the first person to help me out,” Reich said. “She was the only reason I was able to come to college without my mom and dad. I have no idea where I would be without her.”

While McIsaac tends to downplay her role, Reich said her hard work has been invaluable, making her feel equal and important, and helping her overcome any obstacle, once even carrying her up four flights of stairs after the pair encountered a broken elevator. One of her favorite memories with McIsaac, Reich said, is going to an Ed Sheeran concert, during which McIsaac held her up so she could dance and sing along with one of her favorite performers.

It was selfless acts like these that prompted Reich to nominate McIsaac for the 2018 Robert L. Carothers Servant Leadership Award, one of the three individual Rainville Award winners this year. Rainville Awards are among the most prestigious University awards.

It was no surprise to Reich, or likely anyone else who knows McIsaac, when she won.

“She helps anybody and everybody,” Reich said. “She was the perfect candidate. She’ll brighten up anyone’s day and give it her all.”

McIsaac has given it her all in her service, her classes and her leadership roles on campus. She’s found success as a student senator, an orientation leader, a student-athlete on the rowing team, the spirit director at the Student Alumni Association, the president of URI Rotaract, and a peer mentor at the Leadership Institute, where she got her start. Her efforts and achievements have not gone unnoticed by her peers, who’ve selected her as this year’s College of Nursing Commencement Speaker.

As she prepares to enter a nursing residency program in Nashville, Tennessee at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, she reflects back on her time at URI, saying the university provided her the best possible preparation.

“I’m sad to leave, but I’m very happy with the involvement I’ve had, and the opportunities I’ve been given, and the people I’ve met,” McIsaac said. “Although it is sad to leave, I couldn’t imagine any better college experience.”

Reich said she’s also sad to see McIsaac leave, but knows she’ll continue doing good in the world wherever she goes.

“There is nothing she can’t do,” Reich said.