CAHSS alumna charts a future for caregiving and tech

Rebecca Nelson brings together ethics, justice, technology, and care

For 2021 CAHSS graduate Rebecca Nelson, majors in Political Science and Philosophy led to a post-grad program that will help her advocate for emerging technologies in the healthcare field.

Her path may seem like an unusual one, but for Nelson — who worked as a certified nursing assistant at an elder-care facility while learning about topics like social justice and artificial intelligence at UMD — it makes perfect sense. 

“I came out of college knowing I definitely want to be in healthcare, and I definitely want to incorporate ethics,” she says.

As an undergrad, it was Nelson’s diverse interests that earned her a spot working with Alexis Alder, assistant professor of Philosophy, on a multidisciplinary study that looked at burnout in caregivers and how AI might provide relief and improve outcomes for patients. The study also spoke to Nelson’s interest in how technology can promote autonomy for older people and provide care based on their preferences and needs.

“It ended up being a phenomenal base for what I’m doing now,” Nelson says.

These days, Nelson is in a Masters of Nursing program specifically for folks without a BA in Nursing, where the multidisciplinary spirit Nelson experienced at UMD is a great fit. 

“It’s the coolest program, because people are coming in from all different perspectives,” she says. 

In her post-grad courses, she found that many of her peers were skeptical of applying recent technological advancements to nursing. “I was able to come in with my perspective and say, ‘Actually, I’ve done research on this, and I know we can do such great things with the care we provide’,” Nelson says.

From there, Nelson will have an opportunity to become a Certified Nurse Leader. Nelson’s ambition is to influence her peers in healthcare. Echoing one of Elder’s catchphrases, Nelson says, “‘Robot’ isn’t a dirty word.”

Advice to new Bulldogs

Asked what guidance she would offer incoming UMD freshmen, Nelson pointed to her own unique path as an example of how academic exploration can lead to success. “Be willing to try different classes. Look for opportunities,” she says.  

She also referred to the important role mentors like Elder played in her undergrad journey. “Professors aren’t scary. Go talk to them,” Nelson says. “They are professors because they care about students.” 

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