Alumni Spotlight:

Jennifer McCowan Sonsiadek ’97 MSN-FN BSN BA RN SANE-A

Art education may seem like the opposite end of the spectrum from teaching nursing, but it’s not.

Art is about solving problems through diverse media to better understand the beauty of human experience and our world. Nursing is also about solving problems through extensive evidence-based treatments while appreciating and honoring the human experience of healthcare.

It’s truly an honor to be a part of the sacred and unique journey of each student and patient I am blessed to work with and I appreciate the profound lessons they have taught me along the way.

–Jennifer (McCowan) Sonsiadek ‘97

My professional journey started at Avila on a track to become an art teacher back in 1992. Little did I know that years later this journey would lead me to my true calling as a nurse and an advocate for abused women. 

I chose Avila because it felt like home. My mother, Jesdon Myers Haake McCowen, was an alumna and had known Sr. Olive Louise Dallavis since she was in kindergarten (she was her teacher!). Sister Olive and many of the sisters took a special interest in me and would check in on me each week to make sure I was supported while I was a student. 

Avila was the perfect combination for all of my passions: art, teaching, sports, faith, community, and academic support for success. When I met with Charles Chrisman during my campus tour, he took the time to review my portfolio to discuss my technical strengths and how he would personally provide mentorship through the curriculum to become an art teacher. I enjoyed being an ambassador to prospective students, teaching freshman orientation, and planning the yearly conference as the State Coordinator of the Missouri Association of Catholic College Students.  I graduated in 1997 with a BA in Art and minors in secondary education and psychology with certification to teach K-12.

After graduation, I settled into my first teaching career at Louisburg High School and enjoyed every moment with my students, never dreaming where my passion for teaching would take me. Three children and a “part time” career shift later, I found myself with a nursing degree and was on the path to find my life’s passion.

I got my first taste of teaching nursing peers as our hospital was working towards Stroke Certification. Because of my prior teaching experience and time in the ER and medical surgical ICU, I was selected to teach NIH Stroke Scale/Score and dysphagia screening to all nursing staff.

Then in 2008, I met a 15-year-old patient who would solidify the direction of my career in a way I could never anticipate. The patient presented for care after a sexual assault.  I had heard of sexual assault kits but had not been trained, and our hospital did not have anyone trained on staff to perform these exams. An OB nurse who had been trained in the past, came to my patient’s room to help. I witnessed this nurse conduct the exam and the awe-inspiring bravery of this young patient, and immediately sought out training to be a sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE). I knew this was my calling.

I spent the following years providing 24/7 coverage at St. Luke’s South, then managing the Kansas City SANE program, returning to Saint Luke’s again in 2015 to be the system manager for the Clinical Forensic Program. I pursued my MSN with a specialization in forensic nursing in 2019 and will graduate from my Doctorate of Nursing Practice program in 2024.

I have cared for thousands of patients impacted by violence, abuse, and neglect over the past 15 years. I testify regularly in both criminal and civil cases as a fact and expert witness, splitting my time between managing the program and teaching new forensic nurses, law enforcement, prosecutors, victim advocates, and community partners. And I have published several manuscripts and collaborative projects on the subject matter. 

My passion and care for my students and my patients began with the values taught to me at Avila.  I have been fortunate to bring my passions back on to the Avila campus, working with Avila University Eagles Aware Title IX team over the past several years to bring awareness to sexual assault issues. 

Lauren Chiodo-Benmhuvar ’04

What do you do with a music major? At Avila, the sky’s the limit!

Lauren came to Avila to study pre-med, but when Dr. Amity Bryson heard her playing the piano in a practice room, her academic path broadened. Graduating with degrees in music, English, and human biology (yes, THREE DEGREES), Lauren began her adulting life. She experienced successful careers in multiple theatres, mystery shopping administration, and book editing, but it wasn’t until recently that Lauren truly found the perfect blend of all her passions. In May 2023, ApothoGothic was born.

With friend and business partner, Taylor Mills, Lauren combines her marketing skills, business acumen, musical talent, and passion to create a holistic experience through scent and music. ApothoGothic products create “handmade sensory experiences through body products and candles, that are elevated by musical mood playlists and pairing menus curated intentionally for each scent.” It’s her passion for music and creativity, honed at Avila, that really shines forth in ApothoGothic. We love seeing her soar!

Click here to check out the ApothoGothic product experience:

Dr. Amity Bryson and Lauren Chiodo-Benmuvhar ’04 at Dinner Theatre
Lauren Chiodo-Benmuvhar ’04 and business partner Taylor Mills

Lauren’s words to live by: “Bringing your authentic Self to the table creates magic (and music) in your life and the lives of everyone you meet.”

Rose Marie Carrollo Falco, Sociology, ‘47, Passionate Educator, Arts Enthusiast

After graduating with a sociology degree in 1947, Rose Marie began a teaching career in the Hickman Mills School district that would last 34 years. “I fell in love with teaching. It was the best of everything.” Falco taught 1st grade in a two-room schoolhouse before moving to Symington Elementary in 1958.

Falco says her years at Avila prepared her for her role in the classroom.  “Avila impacted how I felt about a lot of situations and how I felt about the world. Because of Avila, I had the opportunity to do what I could for the children in my community. I was the children’s first teacher (there wasn’t a preschool or Kindergarten at the time).

In 2019, the school district recognized Falco for her many years of service at Symington Elementary School, before closing permanently.  “I follow many of my old students still today. I stayed in the same district and saw the kids grow for years. It was a wonderful time in my life,” recalls Falco fondly.

While a student at Avila, Falco was passionate about the arts. “I was always in the plays. I got to play the men’s roles because we were an all-girls college back then. I loved being in the theatre.” said Falco. She remains a frequent patron of Avila theatre.

Along with attending theatre performances and annual Heritage Society luncheons, Falco returns to Avila homecoming celebrations every five years and is close with her 3 remaining classmates (including Rosemary Flanigan). Falco has passed her love of Avila down through her family and is proud to be a part of a triple legacy of Avila alumnae: her daughter, Rozanna J. Zaccagnini, ’91, B.A. in Mathematics, and granddaughter, Alexis Thomson, ’14, B.F.A. 

“I hope all alumni have as many happy years at Avila as I had. I graduated 75 years ago. That seems like a long time ago, but it goes by fast.” Falco said. “My education certainly has paid off in so many ways. I’m so grateful.”

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