Lasting impression: After making mark in grad school, nursing instructor gives back to community

June 1, 2017

Cynthera McNeillWhen Cynthera McNeill was a WSU College of Nursing graduate student in 2012, she wanted her doctoral project to connect with the community in a lasting way. It’s safe to say she succeeded.

On the second Saturday in April for the past five years, McNeill has presented Stomping Out, a free health education program and resource fair for Detroit high school students.

“It’s a chance for the community to surround and support our youth as they creatively express themselves, while teaching their peers about health promotion and disease prevention in a culturally sensitive way,” says McNeill, who herself was born and raised in Detroit and is now a College of Nursing clinical instructor after having earned her D.N.P. in 2013.

Stomping Out features a different health theme each year, such as HIV/AIDS or pregnancy prevention. To choose each year’s topic, McNeill gets input from teenagers on issues that affect their age group, ranging from unhealthy dietary behaviors to drug use. The 2017 focus was on diabetes.

The centerpiece of the Stomping Out events is a student talent show and competition. Through step routines — which include skits, singing and dancing — participants express their creativity while imparting lessons about health and disease prevention to their peers and parents. Groups are evaluated primarily on how well they communicate the event’s theme as they compete for a $1,000 prize, earmarked for the winning school to use toward healthy lifestyle initiatives.

In 2014, McNeill, along with co-directors and College of Nursing faculty members Umeika Stephens and Tara Walker, obtained 501c3 nonprofit status for an umbrella group she named SAVE THEM, which stands for Stomping Away Various Epidemics by Teaching Health Education and Mentoring. Community members Roszetta McNeill and Christopher Covington are also on the board.

In order to keep Stomping Out free of charge for attendees, the group appeals to local businesses and community organizations, who generously contribute educational resources, tons of food and supplies such as giveaways for the kids. 

McNeill appreciates the College of Nursing’s ongoing support as she focuses on adolescent health promotion and disease prevention. “A lot of colleges talk about urban engagement, but this is a hands-on, community-based initiative that takes place every year,” she says. “I’m proud of what we’re accomplishing — seeing the look on the children’s faces is a huge reward.”

McNeill says she’s also grateful to Wayne State for giving her the opportunity to come full circle — from being a Detroit child to helping the children of Detroit. “The College of Nursing gave me the tools I needed to address health disparities within my own community,” she says. “I believe that my foundation gives me perspective needed to reach the members of my resilient community as well as provide insight to overcoming barriers and health disparities. Because I could not have been this successful without my community supporting me along the way, I feel obligated, humbled and blessed to make a difference here.”