DSU Student Nurse of the Year honored

May 2—DICKINSON — Dickinson State University's Department of Nursing recently held its annual Student Nurse of the Year (SNOY) Banquet where they highlighted the 2021-22 academic year and started planning ahead with the Nursing Student Association for the upcoming year.

During the banquet, DSU student Erica Martinez-Meza was named the 2022 Student Nurse of the Year.

The SNOY selection committee was tasked with narrowing down an awardee from six nominees after an interview process based on criteria including being an outstanding junior nursing student, displaying dedication to the nursing profession and promoting high quality patient care.

Ultimately the judges selected Martinez-Meza for exceeding all criteria, all the while she had the sinking feeling she blew the interview she said.

"I was surprised, truly. I was surprised," Martinez-Meza said.

Assistant professor of nursing at DSU Lynette Silbernagel feels Martinez-Meza is well deserving of an award like this as she exemplifies the wholeness of nursing.

"She is a well-rounded student who is able to balance both family and school commitments," Silbernagel said.

Martinez-Meza is a nontraditional student in many aspects but has only let this motivate her and propel her throughout her nursing career.

She grew up in Mountain Home, Idaho the youngest of four siblings where she remembers always having a knack for taking care of others.

"I think ever since I was a little kid, my mom used to babysit kids and I always used to help her take care of babies, even though I was like eight myself," Martinez-Meza said.

Growing up Martinez-Meza said she didn't have the worst childhood, but she did experience a rough time during her teenage years.

"I've always wanted something for myself to be somebody and to help people," Martinez-Meza said.

When she was a teenager and feeling her lowest, it was a nurse who served as a beacon of light for her.

The nurse sat her down and gave her a message of encouragement to stick with her dreams of becoming a nurse, a message that continues to find her when she needs it most.

"She gave me this big giant bear hug when I didn't know I needed a big giant bear hug. I want to be that because you never know, just like a simple act of touch a simple hug can change somebody's life for the better," Martinez-Meza said.

She would go on to be the first high school graduate in her family, the first to attend college, all the while being the mother of two sons.

While Martinez-Meza now knows that upon graduation she wants to work in a NICU department, it wasn't until her own child fell ill during her second year of college that she solidified what exact nursing path she would pursue.

In the middle of the night, she and her baby were airlifted off to a hospital in Sioux Falls, SD having to leave her oldest child behind with her fiance without getting to say goodbye.

"It was just a very big shock, I didn't really get to process much before we had to leave," Martinez-Meza said.

During that time, Martinez-Meza stayed up all hours every day and night with her baby, but of course, it started to take a toll and the nurses took notice and stepped in to help.

"They were like 'Just go to bed' and we will take care of him for the night. So they did that a couple of nights and it was just amazing...they just cared for my child and for me, so it was like whole family care," Martinez-Meza said.

After that experience, Martinez-Meza said she knew she wanted to provide that same level of care and solidified her plan to go into a NICU department.

As Silbernagel said, there is something to be said about life experience.

"Erica is able to take the experiences she has had and mold them into making her a better nurse," Silbernagel said.

Silbernagel looks forward to seeing Martinez-Meza succeed in whatever aspect of nursing that she finds herself in and feels it has been a privilege to be one o her faculty and NSA advisors this year.

Martinez-Meza said she owes everything to her family, especially her fiance and her mom who moved her life to Dickinson to help with the kids.

"By the time I graduate, they'll be the ones that will receive the degree with me because they have been doing it with me," Martinez-Meza said.

Martinez-Meza looks forward to her senior year and graduating with her cohort, but has also appreciated the journey it took to get there.

"I know that God has always had a path for me even if it took the long way around, around the mountain up and all the things. I didn't go straight through it, but I still made it around," Martinez-Meza said.