Childhood impressions led Helen Papeika into the nursing field. It was a desire to help more people and extend her reach that led her to teaching.
Early in life, a father who was ill and an older sister who had entered the nursing field showed Helen that nurses are critical to helping patients and communities. Fast forward to the present and Helen is now the Bennington site coordinator for the Castleton University Nursing program.
“Like so many, I was influenced by others as I was growing up. My sister, Linda, is a nurse and I always looked up to her,” Helen said. “In addition, my father was ill for much of my life. I saw the pivotal role that nurses took in his care. I wanted to do that for him and for others.”
While Helen has more than 30 years of experience as a nurse, she has always been attracted to teaching.
“No matter the position I have held within the profession of nursing, I’ve always been drawn to being a teacher within that role,” Helen said. “Seeing new nursing students grow, develop, and mature into professionals that then work beside me at the hospital and care for my family is a feeling like no other.”
Helen is also a lifelong learner. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Georgetown University, then her Master of Science in Nursing from Catholic University of America. She is now taking classes toward a doctoral degree from Quinnipiac University.
Helen says there is no greater privilege than to help and support a person when they are going through the most difficult time in their life.
“People look to nurses to be knowledgeable, kind, caring, and compassionate - all while being smart, assertive health care providers capable of helping acutely ill patients,” Helen said. “The challenges and rewards that come with achieving that goal are like none other.”
Helen finds teaching roles in the nursing profession to be fulfilling because sharing her experience allows her to extend her reach.
“When I work as a nurse, I impact a small number of patients and families each day. However, when I provide new nurses with the knowledge and skills necessary to go out in the world and practice as a nurse, I am influencing the care of so many more,” Helen said.
Helen feels that having Castleton University in the Bennington community is an exciting opportunity. She said Castleton’s long-standing tradition and reputation for quality education and strong community partnerships are already evident at the Bennington campus.
“I am pleased we are able to establish a presence in this area of Vermont where ‘The Castleton Way’ can bring together faculty and university resources to positively impact the need for highly skilled and educated nurses in the community,” Helen said.
While Helen said there is a lot to be excited about with the facility, it always comes back to the students.
“The students are amazing and they are why we are here. We have some students who would be considered ‘traditional’ students – those coming out of high school directly into a university setting,” Helen said. “But we also have non-traditional students who are typically a little older and have had some life experiences of other careers and/or raising a family. They are all dedicated to their learning and have a strong desire to be out in the Bennington area making a difference as a professional nurse.”
Helen and her husband, Tom, came to Vermont from Pennsylvania after years of considering a move. She said the opportunity to impact the community presented by Castleton’s expansion into Bennington was the deciding factor - and, of course, the opportunity to work with students.
“What impressed me most about the students upon my arrival was the care that they already show to one another. Each class has formed a bond and they want each other to be successful. By showing those characteristics to me, they are already on their way to being great nurses.”
Castleton University began delivering its Nursing program at the Vermont Mill in Bennington in the fall of 2019. Southwestern Vermont Health Care (SVHC) has designated Castleton University as its preferred partner for nursing education.