URI doctoral nursing student represents URI in prestigious national scholarship program

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North Kingstown resident is Navy veteran

KINGSTON, R.I. – February 25, 2013 – Lisa DiMaria didn’t always know that she wanted to be a nurse.

“It was an aha moment for me,” she explained. “I was planning on an entirely different career and then one day, all of a sudden, I just knew that I was supposed to be a nurse.”

This moment of self-discovery has led to the University of Rhode Island doctoral student being named a 2012-2014 Jonas Scholar for her excellence in nursing.

This scholarship was awarded to approximately 250 doctoral nursing students last year in each of the 50 states.

DiMaria is the first Jonas Scholar to represent Rhode Island. “I’m proud to be the first to represent URI and the College of Nursing,” she said.

The Jonas Nurse Leaders Scholar Program was established in 2008 to combat the critical shortage of nursing faculty in the United States. In partnership with the American Academy of Colleges of Nursing, the program is designed to support doctoral nursing students in their research efforts with the ultimate goal of improving health care throughout the nation.

DiMaria received a nomination from the URI College of Nursing to become a Jonas Scholar. She gives most of the credit to the College and her mentors there. “It was really their belief in me. My involvement in the grant process was minimal,” she said. However, DiMaria’s doctoral work speaks for itself.

Her work has mainly been in chronic disease prevention, specifically cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and the effects of chronic stress on the progression of diabetes in high-risk individuals. “I’m interested in designing interventions that are tailored for populations most affected by health disparities,” she said. “Populations affected by health disparities often have stressors that reach beyond family obligations and work. I’m interested in looking at stress as a variable. It’s a complex variable however, which is frustrating.”

Her dissertation work, according to her Jonas Scholar biography, is in “pursuing innovative methods for improving overall quality of life with the aim of enhancing behavior change.” This includes a biopsychosocial perspective – or what most people know as the “mind-body connection.” “You can’t just look at the person. You have to consider their life and environment as well. Stress affects people physiologically, but also behaviorally. You have to bring it all together,” she explained.

DiMaria began her career in the U.S. Navy at the age of 17 as a hospital corpsman. She credits that decision as a defining moment in her life. “It was perfect, because I needed that structure,” she said. During her time in the Navy, she was stationed on both coasts of the U.S., and spent time in the Philippines and Italy. DiMaria attended nursing school while in the Navy and received a commission as a nurse corps officer. She spent 14 years on active duty and retired from the Naval Reserves after completing 20 years. “It was the best thing for me,” she said.

DiMaria also practices what she preaches. She is an avid exerciser, and is currently training for a half marathon with a good friend. “Exercise with a buddy!” she said. “It keeps you in check and makes you accountable. That’s key in helping me stay on track with exercise.” She also said that she finds talking to her friend about life and bouncing ideas back and forth while exercising therapeutic.

DiMaria has her preferences when it comes to the type of exercising that she does. “Trail running is my favorite thing,” she said. “I love looking at the trees and the sky. It’s sort of like a meditation for me.” She recently ran an 8-mile race at Burlingame State Park after Hurricane Sandy. “It was crazy,” she said. “People were jumping over trees that had fallen, and it made it that much harder to finish. But once I start something, I have to finish it.”

As for stress management, DiMaria admits that is an area that she needs to work on. “That’s why I identify with it,” she said. “I can relate.” As for healthy eating, she has that covered. “As a family, we try to eat well as often as we can,” she said.

DiMaria admits that her studies can sometimes interfere with life outside of school. “There’s never a weekend during the semester when I’m not doing schoolwork,” she said. “Right now, we’re able to balance everything because my husband has taken on a bulk of the responsibility. He supports me 100 percent.” However, the DiMaria family has been able to hold onto some normalcy. “Thursday night is still Glee night in our household!” DiMaria explained. “You don’t stop traditions. It keeps the routine going.”

She credits her job as a graduate assistant as another piece in the puzzle of how she is able to juggle her life. “I don’t have a nine to five job, and that works for me. It allows me the freedom to spend time with my kids and husband, or to go for a run, or to complete my class work. I’m blessed.”

While DiMaria is from Western Massachusetts, and now lives in North Kingstown with her family, she has always had Rhode Island ties. Her stepfather is from Cranston. “I spent most of my summers on Scarborough Beach,” she said, fondly. “I love it here.”

So what is next on the horizon for DiMaria? “I have this fear that after I get my Ph.D, I won’t find a job,” she said. “But I have to remember that the right thing for me will come along. I’m open to the possibilities – research, teaching, or something in between. Or maybe a little bit of everything.”

DiMaria graduated from Russell Sage College in 1993, and went on to receive her master’s degree in nursing eduction at URI in 2008. She began the Ph.D program at URI in 2009.

This release was written by Rachel Donilon, a URI Marketing and Communications intern and a writing and rhetoric major.

URI Ph.D nursing student, Lisa DiMaria, recipient of the 2012-2014 Jonas Scholar Award. URI Communications & Marketing photo by Michael Salerno Photography.