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GNSA Leadership Council

The Leadership Council consists of 10 graduate nursing student members who will serve a two year term to help shape the formation of the GNSA and provide direction on what programs, services, and resources should be developed to meet the needs of nursing students in master’s and doctoral degree programs. 

Please direct any questions to AACN Director of Student Engagement Marta Okoniewski at mokoniewski@aacnnursing.org.

GNSA Leadership Council 2021-2023

Tamu Abreu headshotTamu Abreu
PhD Student
Texas Woman's University

Tamu Abreu, MSN, RN-BC, CPPS, is a PhD in nursing student at Texas Woman’s University. She earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Texas Health Science Center in 2012, and then completed her Master’s in Clinical Nurse Leadership at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Tamu has been a nurse for 12 years and has worked in various settings in Medical-Surgical Nursing, Telemetry, and Neuro-Oncology/Neurosurgery Ambulatory nursing. She holds certifications in both Medical Surgical Nursing (RN-BC) and as a Certified Professional in Patient Safety (CPPS) and currently works as a Clinical Patient Safety Specialist in the Texas Medical Center. She is a member of several professional nursing organizations and is actively involved as a board member of the Texas Gulf Coast Association for Healthcare Quality (TGCAHQ) coordinating education activities for its members. Tamu is passionate about many things, including research, patient safety and quality, advocacy and mentoring nurses. In her free time, she likes spending quality time with her family, reading, hiking, and volunteering with different organizations.

Marissa Bartmess
BS to PhD Student
University of Tennessee-Knoxville

Marissa Bartmess, BSN, RN, is a PhD student at the University of Tennessee- Knoxville and is also pursuing a graduate certificate in Health Policy. Marissa has worked as a medical-surgical nurse since 2017 with a passion for bedside nursing care. With interests in nursing workforce related research, Marissa aims to study nurses’ experiences within state-mandated, hospital-based staffing committees. Marissa is a Tennessee Fellow for Graduate Excellence with the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. She is passionate about the health, preparedness, and engagement of nursing workforces so that nurses can effectively meet the needs of patient populations. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, scuba diving, cooking, dancing, and spending time with loved ones. Marissa resides in West Columbia, SC with her husband and dog. 

Maria Burfiend
BS to DNP Student
Rush University

Maria Burfiend is a DNP student at Rush University in Chicago specializing in geriatrics. She plans to pursue a scholarly project in using technology to improve access to quality care. Maria has a BSN from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana and has worked as a nurse for five years, primarily in inpatient critical care earning CCRN certification, but also in pediatrics, orthopedics, telemetry, and a rheumatology infusion clinic. She volunteered at neighborhood health clinics and is passionate about health prevention and promoting access to care. She is a member of the Rheumatology Nurses Association, Sigma Theta Tau, and the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society (HIMSS). Her passions include health policy and expanding the scope of practice for advanced practice nurses in rural and urban areas. Outside of healthcare, she enjoys traveling, cooking, and outdoor activities.

Akeeka DavisLT Akeeka Davis
PhD Student
Villanova University

LT Akeeka S. Davis, MBA, MSN, BSHCS, BSN-(AMB-BC)-(CLSSGB), enlisted in the United States Navy in 1993, she completed her 4 year contract obligation and re-affiliated as a selected Reservist from 1997-2005. LT Davis has a Masters and Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a Double Minor Psychology and Human Biology. Her nursing background includes Critical Care/Trauma, Neurology, Transplant, Cardiac, Executive Medicine, Ambulatory Care (Board Certified), Nursing Informatics (Certificate of Completion at OHSU), and Performance Improvement, and Data Science and Analytics. She received her MBA and Bachelor of Science in Health Care Services degrees from The University of Phoenix where she was selected to deliver the commencement speech to her graduating class. LT Davis graduated in 2018 with her MSN- Nurse Educator Degree from Purdue University and aspires to become a Nurse Researcher later in her career.

Cassandra Dziobek
Post-Doctoral Fellow
Dartmouth College

Cassandra Dziobek, MSN, APRN, is a post-doctoral fellow at Dartmouth College with a focus on sleep's impact on mental and physical health in patient populations. Cassie attended the University of Vermont as an undergraduate, where she received a BS in Neuroscience and Psychology. She received her BS and MS in Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing at Regis College in Massachusetts, and her PhD at University of Massachusetts Medical Center.

Kyle Durrant
DNP Student
Johns Hopkins University

Kyle Durrant, MSN, RN, is a Doctor of Nursing Practice candidate in the Family Primary Care Nurse Practitioner program at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing. He received his MSN in Nursing Practice from Columbia University School of Nursing (CUSON) in 2018 and a BS in Public Health from the University of Washington (UW) in 2014. Some of his achievements include being named a Jonas Nurse Scholar, an American Association of Nurse Practitioners scholarship recipient, Sackler Institute Scholar by the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health, a Global Fellow by CUSON, and receiving the Rattlinggourd Award from the UW School of Public Health. Considering Mr. Durrant’s background, he is interested in addressing health disparities experienced by LGBTQIA+ and Indigenous people in his future career in primary care through research, advocacy, and policy change. 

Maria McDonald
PhD Student
University of Virginia

Maria McDonald, MSN, FNP-C, is a first year PhD in nursing student at the University of Virginia. She earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from James Madison University in 2015 and has experience in the operating room and the pediatric intensive care unit. In 2019, she completed her master’s degree in nursing at James Madison University and was certified by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners as a Family Nurse Practitioner. She is a member of Sigma Theta Tau International and the International Society of Nurses in Genetics (ISONG). Her research interests include mental health and genetics with a focus on Major Depression and it’s implications in pregnancy. In her spare time, she enjoys outdoor activities and spending quality time with her family and friends.

Shazia Mitha
PhD Student
Columbia University

Shazia Mitha, MSN, AG-ACNP-BC, RN, Chair, is a Robert Wood Johnson Future of Nursing Scholar, who is currently pursuing her PhD to develop phenotypic risk identification and predictions models of high-risk breast cancer patients experiencing treatment-related cardiotoxicity, using natural language processing and other informatics approaches at Columbia University. She is an exceptional student, leader, clinician and scholar interested in developing leadership opportunities for current graduate students through the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) Graduate Nursing Student Academy (GNSA) Leadership Program. She believes that nurses are born leaders and every nurse should strive to participate and engage in community, local, state, regional, and national decision-making platforms to improve patient outcomes at all levels.

She has served in many leadership positions, including engaging graduate students, as a GNSA Liaison and also serving her school and regional community as the chair of the Interschool Governing Board at Columbia University, overseeing over 80 student groups, serving as the Leadership Chair for the Sigma Theta Tau Honor Society of Nursing, Alpha Zeta Chapter, and contributing as a co-founder in developing the inaugural Student Council at Columbia Nursing, increasing student leadership and promoting student interests on campus. At the regional level, she serves as the nursing member on the Health Information Technology Advisory Committee at Academy Health and contributes her scholarly talents in cardiology as a reviewer for the Journal of American College of Cardiology. She is a cardio-oncology nurse, who has significant experience in the cardiology and oncology patient populations and has worked at NYU, Columbia, Maimonides, and Northwell as a nurse in medical oncology, radiation oncology, and phase 1 clinical trials and has worked as an acute care nurse practitioner with solid and liquid organ transplant patients in cardiology and bone marrow transplant. With her vast clinical and leadership experience, she hopes to contribute to the GNSA Leadership Council in engaging graduate students at the national level by promoting the mission and vision of AACN GNSA and enhancing student experience at all levels.

Denise RobertsonDenise Robertson
DNP Student
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Denise Y. Robertson, MSN, RN, NEA-BC, is an advanced practice Registered Nurse with 26 years of nursing and leadership experience in a broad array of specialties. She was introduced to the Alabama State Nurses Association (ASNA) in 1993 as a student nurse and became an official member in 2019. She completed her Bachelor of Science in Nursing and Master of Science in Nursing degree from The University of Alabama. Also, she is Nurse Executive, Advanced board certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, and is currently a doctoral candidate in the Executive Nurse-Doctor of Nursing Practice program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). Ms. Robertson is Nurse Manager at the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama where she is responsible for providing managerial, operational, and clinical direction for two departments.

Melissa VeraMelissa Vera
PhD Student
University of Washington

Melissa Vera, BSN, RN, is currently a third-year PhD student in Nursing Science at the University of Washington in Seattle. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle University and her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Boise State University. Melissa is a citizen of the Tsimshian and Yaqui First Nations and her research focus is on Indigenous women’s reproductive health disparities and climate change. Currently, she works as a Research Assistant for the University of Washington and Washington State University. On campus, she serves as a data mentor for DNP students and is the student rep for the PhD Coordinating Committee. In her free time, Melissa enjoys practicing kung fu in the park, cooking vegan food, and hiking in the forests of the Pacific Northwest.