SRU connecting health care executives with students as part of mentorship program


Student walking down a hospital hall with her mentor

Slippery Rock University student Allison Bruno tours the Allegheny Health Network Grove City Hospital with the hospital’s president, David Tupponce, as part of a mentorship program through SRU’s Health Care Theory and Research Capstone Seminar.

March 10, 2023

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — It's not every day a college student is able to say, "I have a meeting with the CEO later today." But for 27 health care administration and management students at Slippery Rock University, access to CEOs, presidents and other C-suite executives is part of their classwork.

The access they receive to senior executives in the health care industry is unlike anything they would find in even most graduate programs across the country.

David Tupponce


"This is more than informational interviews; it's about building relationships," said David Jordan, professor of health care administration and management and department chair.

Jordan created a mentorship program where students taking the Health Care Theory and Research Capstone Seminar are matched with a C-suite mentor, including presidents, chief executive officers, chief administrative officers and chief financial officers of health care organizations. They meet with their mentors at least an hour each month.

Allison Bruno, a senior health care administration and management major from Apollo, meets regularly with David Tupponce, president of Allegheny Health Network Grove City Hospital.

"College seniors don't often get to meet with a president of a hospital," said Bruno, an aspiring physician assistant. "This is a great way to get comfortable talking to administrators and people with other roles to get an understanding and how the business side of health care operates before actually getting into it."

While most mentors meet with their students virtually, Tupponce and two of his colleagues at AHN Grove City meet in person because of the hospital's proximity to SRU. Tupponce has previously taught a course at SRU and he serves on the health care administration and management program's advisory board.

"It's been really fun for me to take what I've learned over the last couple of decades working in health care, and provide the information that students are looking for to help them on their journey," Tupponce said. "One of the things I tried to do is expose them to other things they may not have considered in health care, whether that's more administrative or leadership opportunities, or going down a particular clinical path."

Tupponce, who started his career in family medicine before moving to administration in 2013, said that knowing people in the profession is not only good for graduates to get their foot in the door but also when making transitions from a clinical practice to administrative roles.

"When I started my career, I didn't have the confidence to go up to someone I didn't know and ask for help," Tupponce said. "As I've gone through my career, what I've realized is that the people you know and the relationships you build can be so much more powerful than trying to convince people that you are smart."

Now in its second semester, SRU's mentorship program has been well received by students and mentors alike. Mike Herald, president and CEO of Guardian Healthcare, said his participation reminds him how important mentorship is within his organization among Guardian's employees.



"This is a great way for our students to develop their personal and professional skills with someone who can impart their knowledge and experiences in an informal setting," Jordan said. "Health care administration is a massive industry and students often wonder what they are going to do. Having a mentor is invaluable because it helps solidify their early career trajectory."

In addition to Tupponce and Herald, the 27 mentors include the likes of Angela Hogue, chief medical officer of the Primary Health Network; Eric Conley, president of Froedtert Hospital in Wisconsin; Stacey Vaccaro, president and CEO of Familylinks; and Michael Grace, president of West Virginia University Hospitals and the WVU Health System's chief administrative officer. Conley, '90, Vaccaro, '99, and Grace, '92, are SRU graduates.

Although most of the monthly meetings take place virtually, the students meet their mentor at least once in person. Connor Linnon, a senior health care administration and management major from Butler, even made arrangements to meet his mentor, retired hospital CEO David Boucher, '80, for a Pittsburgh Pirates spring training baseball game in Bradenton, Florida, as the two happened to be there at the same time.

"We each have our meeting agendas and we talked about some of the specialties I'm interested in," said Bruno, who as a physician assistant, plans to stay in western Pennsylvania and specialize in women's health, oncology and pediatrics. "It's been great to learn more about what I'm interested as well as things I didn't know about administration. We've been talking about getting acquainted with some physicians within AHN in those specialties. It's really beneficial to be able to make these connections."

More information about SRU's health care administration and management program is available on the department's webpage.

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