Nursing and Physician Assistant Students Tour St. Vincent Health Sciences Center

February 21, 2024

A vibrant contingent of students from the Nursing and Physician Assistant (PA) programs within St. John’s University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences were recent recipients of an exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour of the multimillion-dollar St. Vincent Health Sciences Center scheduled to open in the fall on the Queens, NY, campus.

The tour was given on February 15 by the University’s Department of Design and Construction and Shawmut Design and Construction. The 70,000-square-foot building will be the permanent home of the nursing program and house existing and forthcoming health sciences programs in one facility. It will provide state-of-the-art technology, simulation labs, and flexible room layouts to allow for many teaching and learning styles, and ensure that future health-care workers can keep pace with the dramatic advancements in the industry.

Donning hardhats and safety vests over their St. John’s red medical scrubs, the students toured the still-under-construction site guided by Tobias Bisharat, Project Director of Space Management from the Department of Design and Construction.

“There is more to this building than meets the eye,” explained Mr. Bisharat.

Along the way, the student delegation learned about the design plans that will ensure the building is at an optimal level of energy efficiency. The building will make a positive contribution to the St. John’s Climate Action Plan as it will be heated and cooled using a geothermal field made up of 66 wells drilled 499 feet below ground. 

Geothermal energy is a renewable energy source that comes from reservoirs of hot water beneath the Earth’s surface. With innovative applications in several economic sectors—electricity, industry, and buildings—increased use of geothermal energy serves to decrease the use of fossil fuels and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions.

State-of-the-art technology will control lighting, space occupancy, and temperature throughout the building. An array of solar panels on the roof will further help reduce the building’s energy consumption, helping to make it the greenest on campus. High-performance, energy-efficient windows will reduce thermal loss. The elongated, east-west floor plan of the building will maximize daylight and skylights will help reduce lighting usage by 22 percent during daylight hours. The building is designed to obtain a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver certification.

“You are also going to have the best views on campus,” declared Mr. Bisharat, gesturing to the iconic New York City skyline visible through one side of panoramic windows and the bucolic Great Lawn on the other side.

“We’re all super excited to have our own home and to have this brand-new, innovative learning space designed just for us,” beamed Emma DerGarabedian, a second-year Nursing student from Baldwin, NY, who participated in the tour.

Sitting around the on-site construction trailer immediately following the tour, Emma was surrounded by her second-year classmates Niki Karavangelas from Whitestone, NY; Carolyn Moglia from Garden City, NY; and Katelyn Valvo from Massapequa, NY. The four local students are all part of the first cohort that entered the program shortly after St. John’s received approval from the New York State Education Department in April 2022 to offer a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing (BSN) program.

The inaugural Nursing cohort has a decidedly metropolitan-area identity. Another apparent characteristic—as they finished each other’s sentences and laughed among themselves—is a family-like camaraderie.

Niki confessed that for a time she and Carolyn would take weekly pictures together standing in front of the site as they marked the progress of the construction that has been underway since Summer 2022. “Back when it was just a hole in the ground,” Niki grinned.

“A big hole in the ground,” Carolyn observed. The building has come so far, so quickly.”

The recurring theme of new beginnings and an excitement for even better things to come was clear as the students recounted their first year and a half in the burgeoning Nursing program.

“There have been moments when we are literally unwrapping new textbooks that are being used for the first time,” Katelyn recounted. “It is going to be cool once we can start using the mannequins, the simulation labs, and virtual reality to learn even more.” 

Joining the tour of the state-of-the-art facility that will feature active learning classrooms, laboratories, simulation facilities, and collaborative spaces was Francine Laterza, Ed.D., R.N., PNP, CNE, Chair and Associate Professor/Industry Professional, Department of Nursing.

Dr. Laterza has more than 18 years of experience as a registered nurse and a pediatric nurse practitioner and another 14 years of experience as a nursing educator. She is a past recipient of the National League for Nursing Foundation’s Nurse Educator Award and is a National League for Nursing Certified Nurse Educator.

“I am so pleased to see the progress that has been made on this wonderful facility that will house our students this coming fall,” she said. “It was exciting to have our students get a hands-on experience as they toured the building as a work in progress. All students, faculty, administrators, and staff are happy to see the building become a part of the fabric of the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences and the St. John’s campus,” she said.

During the building’s tour, the group found the space for Dr. Laterza’s future office, and she was immediately beset by students angling for selfies with her.

“Everyone around here wants to help you, especially Dr. Laterza,” Emma later remarked. “You can't be scared to go out and ask for help. People here want you to succeed.”

In another corner of the building, Alex Sanchez, a student in the PA program from South Ozone Park, NY, said, “I did my undergraduate work at St. John’s, so I was here when they started construction. I saw the signs that said, ‘Coming in Fall 2024,’ and it really piqued my interest in the PA program. Now that I have toured the building, it's really a full-circle moment to see how far it has come. I love the second-floor lounge that overlooks the Great Lawn.”

The Physician Assistant program within the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences is committed to a student-centered, inclusive pedagogical model that supports student success and personal and professional development.

“I honestly didn't know that a new building was on the way when I enrolled, so it was a pleasant surprise when I got here,” stated first-year PA student Nia Rivera of Fresh Meadows, NY. “I love the open concept of the lobby and the different study areas and lounges. It’s amazing to see where we are going to be for the remainder of our program. It's a challenging program, so having a new home like this will certainly benefit us all.”

Gazing out one of the many picturesque windows on a sunny afternoon, Carolyn offered, “As a member of the first Nursing cohort, I believe our community is strong and only going to grow stronger.”

“The new and improving landscape of the Queens campus develops,” added Mr. Bisharat. “Bright things are on the horizon at St. John’s.”