Get to Know Your 2024 Kent State Geauga Student Commencement Speaker

~Valedictorian Wayne Nieh shares his unlikely origin story~
Headshot of Wayne Nieh

Wayne Nieh will be the 2024 commencement student speaker during the Kent State University Geauga and Twinsburg Academic Center Pinning and Commencement ceremonies on Friday, May 10. Wayne is not only the Valedictorian of his graduating class, but this inspiring scholar with a promising future has a dramatic backstory, a resolute sense of purpose, a remarkable set of achievements, and an over-arching attitude of humility.

Get to know Wayne, in his own words, in the Q&A below. Then come to the 2024 Kent State Geauga Commencement Ceremony at Parkside Church in Bainbridge to be inspired by his powerful message. The Nursing Pinning Ceremony will begin at 12:30 p.m. followed by Commencement at 2:30 p.m.

1.  When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was a child, I wanted to become a teacher, a scientist, a scholar, and/or an opera actor from the influence of my late beloved grandfather, who was the best mentor and friend of my childhood. He disciplined me to be a reader, a thinker, and a doer. At a young age, he also taught me Peking Opera, and I have enjoyed performing opera on stage since the age of 4. I had many dreams as a young boy; however, I loved my opera tapes and collections of books more than other things.

2.  Where were you raised and when did you and your family immigrate to the U.S.? From what high school did you graduate?

I was raised in a beautiful northern Chinese village on a peninsula named Penglai. Our family owned cherry and apple farms as well as a vineyard. My hometown was very close to the Bohai Gulf, and all the fruit trees grew on the sand.

In December 2010, our family moved to the U.S., and we are very thankful for this country and all the opportunities including educational opportunities. I graduated from Solon High School, and I am truly thankful for my high school principals, guidance counselors, and many amazing teachers who supported and guided me through my high school journey, especially during the first year of my high school days when I could barely speak, read, and write in English.  

3.  Why did you choose to attend Kent State Geauga for your undergraduate studies?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I read an article online about a Kent State University Geauga Campus BSN program and 2018 graduate Bailey Hill, who took the calling to spend four weeks at New York Presbyterian Hospital, an area in the COVID hot zone with a shortage of nurses.

I was moved, encouraged, and inspired by her story. In addition, I truly love the smaller nursing cohort learning environment—students know each other well, and we are like family members.

Moreover, I am very thankful for our BSN program coordinator, Melissa Owen, who loves and cares about all nursing scholars, and I have learned much from her lectures and through her character and leadership. I still remember our very first meeting online when my internet was very slow, and she was very patient in waiting for me. After the meeting, I knew this would be the best learning environment for me to pursue my nursing education and training.

4.  Why did you choose to pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, what is your plan after graduation, and what is your ultimate career goal?

I chose to pursue nursing from the inspiration of my parents, who took good care of my grandfather after he suffered from three strokes, and they also taught me to be a compassionate and kind person, to serve others who were in need during my elementary school days.

When I turned 21, my mother went through cancer surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. My father took such good care of my mother, and I eye-witnessed many nurses who encouraged my mother and made a positive impact during her cancer treatment. I know that’s the desire of my life: to follow in the footsteps of my grandfather, my parents, and the inspiring nurses, serving the community with charity, compassion, and knowledge.

My ultimate career goal is to finish my doctoral degree in nursing and eagerly translate nursing research evidence into nursing clinical practice for better care outcomes.

5.  Please describe how your 2021 and 2022 SURE (Summer Undergraduate Research Experience) research projects and presentations have informed your current work in the nursing field, and how Vitamin K therapy and the Family Willingness for Caregiving Scale (FWCS) may impact the course of your future endeavors in improving healthcare outcomes for patients. 

The 2021 SURE research project entitled “The Healing Potential of Vitamin K, The Forgotten Vitamin” under the supervision of my mentor, Dr. Popescu, opened the door to my path of research at Kent State University. The first SURE research project broadened my understanding of the importance, necessity, and power of research as a nursing student. Through this research project, I worked closely with the director of the Office of Student Research, Ms. Ann Gosky, who has been a blessing to me as a nursing student and student researcher at Kent State University.

After the first SURE research project, I knew I had the desire to broaden my understanding of nursing research. As a regional campus nursing student, I did not know any nursing research faculty from the Kent campus. During the 2021 winter break, Ms. Gosky helped me get connected with Dr. Amy Petrinec for my second SURE nursing research project.

Then I worked under the mentorships of Dr. Amy Petrinec and Dr. Cindy Wilk, testing a new instrument, Family Willingness for Caregiving Scale (FWCS), designed by Dr. Wilk during her PhD study. It measures the willingness of family members to become caregivers to a loved one receiving mechanical ventilation while in an adult intensive care unit (ICU).

I was humbled by this research study in the Summer of 2022, and Dr. Wilk taught me the art and techniques of therapeutic communications when recruiting eligible family members of ICU patients at Summa Health in Akron. This SURE experience surely exposed me to the power of nursing research in healthcare and trained my critical thinking and communication skills in a clinical setting, which helped significantly later in my nursing journey at Kent State University.

Dr. Petrinec and Dr. Wilk are diligent nursing professors, profound nursing scientists, and amazing thinkers and writers. Working under their mentorship taught me the lesson of humility because I can always learn new things from them, such as creative ways of thinking, better writing styles, and effective communication skills.

After my second SURE nursing research study, I was motivated, encouraged, and challenged by Dr. Petrinec and Dr. Wilk to propose my senior honors thesis study entitled “Family Presence During Resuscitation: A Descriptive Study of Perceptions of Nursing Students” in Fall 2022.

I am truly thankful for the support of the Honors College, McNair Scholars Program, and the Office of Student Research for this thesis study. Dr. Petrinec guided me through grant application, IRB application, Qualtrics design for instrumental surveys, and student recruitment as a BSN student. As time is approaching to my graduation, I truly want to express my sincere thankfulness to Ms. Gosky. Without her support, I wouldn’t be able to recruit any accelerated BSN scholars in Summer 2023, my mentor, Dr. Petrinec, the thesis committee (Dean Smith of Honors College, Dr. Wilk, Dr. Popescu, and Ms. Larubina), and Dr. Kutchin, who showed me how to recruit students for the thesis study with enthusiasm and passion.

Now, reflecting on my research journey at Kent State University, I have seen my mentor’s diligence and passion for nursing research, and her love and care for students, and I also learned the wisdom from Dr. Petrinec that nursing education is not merely the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think, to be creative in problem-solving, and to lead with compassion.

Over the years at Kent State University, I participated in the 2021 SURE 3-minute thesis, and the 2022 Undergraduate Research Symposium, and presented my first SURE research work at the 2022 Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium at West Virginia University. I presented my second SURE study at the 2022 SURE 3-minute thesis and won second place; at the 2023 Undergraduate Research Symposium and won first place in the nursing category; at the 2023 Innovation Day for the Northeastern Ohio Public University Research Association (NEOPURA),  at the 2023 KSU Honors Research Symposium and won the poster award, and at the SAEOPP McNair/SSS Research Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

Lastly, I presented my honors thesis study at the 47th Biennial Convention in San Antonio, Texas; at the 2024 Midwest Nursing Research Annual Research Conference in Minneapolis; defended my thesis study on April 2, 2024; presented the thesis study at Sigma Collaboration with Case Western, Ursuline College, Kent State University, and University of Akron; at the 2024 Undergraduate Symposium at KSU and won the first place in the nursing category; at the 132nd Ohio Academic of Science Annual Meeting; and presented again at the KSU Honors Research Symposium on April 26, 2024.

No words can fully express my gratitude to Kent State University, my research mentors, and the supportive nursing faculty members from Kent and Geauga campuses. The opportunities I have had through KSU pave the way for me as a senior BSN student, to recognize the importance of research in clinical settings and provide tools to pursue and implement evidence from nursing research in clinical practice in the future for the advancement of the nursing profession, patient safety, and overall quality of care.

6.  You have overcome many obstacles along your academic journey. Please describe what motivated you to work so hard and excel at many levels—and soon you will address your entire graduating class as their commencement speaker.

As an immigrant, my family has worked hard to overcome financial, cultural, and language challenges, and I have been studying very hard to overcome academic challenges.

However, I am thankful for the obstacles and challenges, for they have strengthened my character which shaped me to be the person I am today. When I was young, my late grandfather often taught me his wisdom in life (he underwent WWII and fought in the Chinese Civil War in the 1940s and lost one leg on the battlefield) that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.

He also often taught me that the intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge. I strongly believe the wisdom and lessons that I learned from my late grandfather, and the exemplary life that he lived, motivated me to be the overcomer to face and work through the obstacles and challenges in my life with hope and strength.

7.  Your grandfather also shared with you: “Diligence is the path to the mountain of knowledge; hard work is the boat to the endless sea of learning.” Please explain how this saying has encouraged you and how other people can be inspired by these words.

My late grandfather was a wise man, and many people including myself gained the benefits and wisdom from him through conversations. When he taught me this statement, I was too young to understand the depth of his wisdom. However, as I got older, I could grasp his wisdom that humility is essential in academia, especially in the nursing profession.

Nursing is a profession that requires both science and compassion, with nursing knowledge similar to the vast ocean. Thus, nursing requires students to be diligent in learning the mountain of knowledge, and it also requires us to be adaptive since evidence-based practices change over time through nursing research for the good. Over the years, I appreciate my grandfather’s words more and more that hard work is truly the boat to the endless sea of learning, and opportunities are usually disguised as hard work.

Through my nursing journey at Kent State University, I have learned that humility is needed in nursing, compassion is required to serve others, and hard work is the mark of a true scholar.

My research mentors are diligent nursing scientists who work hard in the profession, which reminds me of the words of the mother of our profession, Florence Nightingale, “Let us never consider ourselves finished nurses. We must be learning all of our lives.”

8.  As President of the Geauga Student Nurse Association, President of the Geauga Gardener Club, Student Ambassador of the Office of Student Research, Student Leadership Intern of Delta Xi Chapter of the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing, and Geauga Advisory Board Committee Member, please explain the importance of being involved in extracurricular organizations and activities… and how did you find the time considering your demanding academic schedule?

When I was young, my grandfather taught me the essence of servant leadership, which focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of the people and the communities to which they belong. In addition, he taught me to love and serve others and not be rewarded and remembered.

I believe it is very humbling for me to serve others through my involvements in extracurricular organizations and activities, as I can always learn new things from advisors and other peers. Through the mentorship of Dr. Petrinec and Ms. Melissa Owen, I have learned that all nurses are leaders, and we need to be proactive advocates for our patients and our profession. Serving in various student organizations and activities has humbled me to communicate effectively and to serve others with flexibility, empathy, stewardship, and active listening skills which are required in my future nursing career.

Being a farmer disciplined me to think and plan for different seasons, to be responsible for feeding the animals on time, and to be more flexible with multitasking skills. My friends called me the “master of time management.”

I think my farmer background and nursing education at KSUG have trained me to set goals correctly, prioritize activities wisely, plan things ahead, and keep all things organized, which helped me manage all things well on top of the demanding academic and work schedule. I am not and will never be perfect in time management, and I am eager to constantly learn and improve myself in this area.

9.  Please select three life lessons you have learned during your time at Kent State Geauga that will continue to serve you/help others in the future.

   1.  Active listening is powerful and silence is needed at times.
    2.  Clear communication can build trust in relationships.
    3.  Always ask questions in times of uncertainty and never make assumptions.  

10.  What is the essential message of your upcoming 2024 Commencement speech?

“We need each other, humility, and hope in the nursing profession.”

Three students and two faculty members on stage smiling at the camera

Spring 2023 -  Delta Xi Chapter of Sigma International Honor Society of Nursing Induction with former Student Leadership Interns from Geauga Campus and two nursing faculty from Geauga Campus, Professor Kerry Myers and Professor Amy LePard.


Nursing Student Wayne Nieh, with 3 faculty mentors

2024 Midwest Nursing Research Annual Research Conference in Minneapolis with Dr. Petrinec (mentor), Dr. Hasen, Dr. Wang, and Dr. Reed.


Nursing Student, Wayne Nieh with faculty after defending his thesis

Spring 2024 - Senior Honors Thesis Defense Committee 
Dr. Petrinec (mentor), Dean Smith (Honors College), Dr. Wilk (KSU CON), Dr. Popescu (KSU Geauga), and Professor Larubina (KSU Geauga).


Student Wayne Nieh with Geauga Campus Faculty

Spring 2024 - Senior Honors Thesis Defense with KSU Geauga Faculty Members:
Dr. Popescu, Professor LePard, Professor Larubina, and Professor Melissa Owen.


Student Wayne Nieh with mentor

Spring 2024 - Senior Honors Thesis Defense with my wonderful mentor, Dr. Petrinec.

Wayne Nieh with Ms. Ann Gosky

Spring 2024 -  Senior Honors Thesis Defense with director of the Office of Student Research, Ms. Ann Gosky.


Student Wayne Nieh posing with Flash and Director

Spring 2024 - Senior Honors Luncheon with Honors Thesis Advisor, Ms. Marsha Kraus. 

POSTED: Tuesday, April 30, 2024 12:37 PM
Updated: Tuesday, April 30, 2024 03:17 PM
Estelle R. Brown