All summer, in addition to her full-time job, Emily Swiderski worked weekends as a certified nursing assistant at a rehabilitation facility, a high-risk place to be during a global pandemic.

But the senior nursing student wouldn’t have missed it, even though the first full shift she had to wear her protective equipment—a thick cloth gown, an N95 face mask, a cloth face mask, and a face shield. She described it as a workout.

“It’s a perfect time to be a student rather than a nurse because it allows you so many opportunities to learn,” she said from her home in Arlington Heights.

Her 40-hour a week job was working with a health care technology company that’s developing tablets for older adults to use in assisted living facilities, allowing them to communicate with family and friends they’re isolated from.

Swiderski was recently named a Bone Scholar for 2020-2021, the highest university-wide honor an undergraduate student can receive. The scholarship is named in honor of the late Robert G. Bone, president of Illinois State University from 1956-1967, and includes a monetary award.

One of the projects Swiderski’s been recognized for is her research on a possible link between depression and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). She’s working with the McLean County Health Department to collect data on women in underserved communities in Central Illinois. When a woman is diagnosed with an STI, she is screened for depression.

“In the Midwest, we don’t have enough information,” Swiderski said. “That’s why I wanted to do the research. If there is a correlation, what can we do to help the community? I wanted to do something that would have an impact on the community.”

She’s already made a difference on campus. As a service area manager and resident assistant in University Housing, she works with freshmen and sophomores. She’s also active in the Student Nurses Association, Mennonite College of Nursing’s Pre-Entry and Retention Opportunities for Undergraduate Diversity (PROUD) program, and the Change Agents for the Underserved: Service Education (CAUSE) grant. During her first two years at ISU, she played clarinet in the Big Red Marching Machine, which she said played a big role in her transition to campus as a first-generation college student.

When she graduates in May, she wants to pursue her master’s degree to become a nurse practitioner, focusing on acute care emergency medicine or intensive care. Her love of nursing started in her teens when she was babysitting a child who had a febrile seizure. The child was taken to the hospital and admitted to the intensive care unit. Throughout the week-long hospital stay, Swiderski was by the family’s side.

“The care the nurses provided, and their willingness to answer all questions, sparked my interest,” she said. “I want to make an impact on my patients and their families by providing quality care just like the nurses provided us.”