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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI College of Nursing honors
Travelers Aid clinic nurse coordinator
North Scituate resident named Alumna of Year

KINGSTON, R.I. -- April 25, 2001 -- North Scituate resident Marilee J. Elias has been named the University of Rhode Island College of Nursing’s Alumna of The Year for her devoted care of the homeless.

Dayle Joseph, dean of the College of Nursing, said Elias is the youngest recipient during the six-year history of the award. In fact Elias was a student when the award was established.
"This year’s award reflects the College’s commitment to helping its students understand their societal responsibility, and to pay attention to economic and social issues that affect patients. Graduates like Marilee serve as an outstanding example, and she has more than met our expectations."

Elias, who has held the position of clinic nurse coordinator at Travelers Aid Society of Rhode Island since earning her bachelor’s degree in nursing from URI in 1996, talked about her road to Travelers Aid with students, faculty and administrators during a recent ceremony honoring her accomplishments.

"Marilee is known as a strong advocate for this vulnerable population," said the awards ceremony program. "Colleagues and visitors to Travelers Aid are often heard praising her accomplishments. Her contributions to the care of the homeless are well known throughout Rhode Island."

While raising her family in the late 1970s and 1980s, she earned an associate’s degree from Cape Cod Community College, and then in the mid-1980s, earned bachelors’ degrees in zoology and French from URI.

"I had this idea that maybe I’d be able to combine the disciplines, and do work like Jane Goodall or Jacques Cousteau," she joked with the students.

Instead, she took her knowledge of human biology to Memorial Hospital of Rhode Island, where she became a research technician in 1986. Following that position she became a senior research assistant at Rhode Island Hospital, and in 1990 became an embryologist in the In Vitro Fertilization Program at Women and Infants’ Hospital.

"In 1991, I had an epiphany, and realized that as a zoologist, the only animal I had ever studied was the human being. I wondered what kind of career would allow me to work with most closely with my animal of choice – people."

So while holding down her full-time job as an embryologist at Women and Infants’, she entered the nursing program to earn her bachelor’s degree and obtain her certification as a registered nurse. But she didn’t just go to class: She was an undergraduate representative for the College of Nursing Curriculum Committee, a nursing tutor for students in Special Programs for Talent Development, treasurer of the URI Student Nurses’ Association, and president of the Rhode Island Chapter of the National Student Nurses Association.

As she moved through her nursing studies, she wondered where she would find her niche, and then she met Assistant Professor of Nursing Diane Martins, a tireless worker on behalf of providing health care for the homeless. Elias wound up doing a clinical rotation at The Healthcare for the Homeless Project at Travelers Aid and never left. In her current role, she coordinates medical, dental, psychiatric, women’s health and podiatry services for homeless individuals. She also provides triage assessment and nursing care to clients during clinic sessions, as well as during all walk-in, urgent and emergency situations.

"I have learned to use a holistic team approach," Elias said of her work with the 1,800 patients at Travelers Aid.

And while not running at Travelers Aid, she runs daily, and has completed the Boston Marathon. She is a preceptor for nursing students from URI, Salve Regina University, and Rhode Island College. She has also taught students from Brown University’s Medical School.

In closing, she mused, "So who am I? I am a mother, a wife, a stepmother, a nurse, an amateur fly fisher, an alumna of URI who is privileged to work with the devoted staff at Travelers’ Aid," she said.

For Information: Dayle Joseph 401-874-2766, Dave Lavallee 401-874-2116

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