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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

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Eneyka Phifer-Bone is set to achieve her goal of graduating from SDSU's School of Nursing. (SDSU) Eneyka Phifer-Bone is set to achieve her goal of graduating from SDSU's School of Nursing. (SDSU)

Finding Her Way Back

Eneyka Phifer-Bone, who experienced tragic circumstances, was active in several programs during her time at SDSU and is now graduating with a nursing degree.
By Aaron Burgin


When Eneyka Phifer-Bone reflects on the totality of her journey to commencement, she can’t help but give way to tears. 


These aren’t tears of sadness, though. They are tears of conviction. Tears of joy. Tears of accomplishment. 


Phifer-Bone said she overcame an especially turbulent start to her college career, and that she has experienced the loss of several loved ones and friends due to tragic circumstances, including the loss of parents.


But Phifer-Bone found her stride. 


“Growing up, not a lot of people do much in my hometown (Fairfield, California), I never saw it as a place I wanted to stay forever,” Phifer-Bone said. 


“One of the people I looked up to was my cousin, Terrell Kirtz (former track athlete at Sacramento State University), and when he went to college, I began to see higher education as a way out of Fairfield.” 


As Phifer-Bone got older, she saw education as a way to improve her life. She turned her focus to a career in nursing after an International Baccalaureate class she took at Armijo High School. 


Phifer-Bone, one of two Black students in San Diego State University’s School of Nursing’s 136-student graduating class of 2023, and she is finishing her undergraduate career with a 3.2 grade-point average. 


At SDSU, she became active with the Office of Educational Opportunity Programs, Outreach and Success (EOPOS) and its Summer Bridge program. She worked as a public information assistant and as a Summer Bridge program assistant and served as a SOAR mentor for incoming students. 


“I noticed that I had a knack for numbers, but when I took a class called Environmental Systems and Societies, that really turned my attention toward doing something where I could have an impact on my community, and nursing was the way forward,” she said. 


Getting Back on Track


After graduating high school with a 4.6 weighted GPA, Phifer-Bone had her pick of schools. She chose SDSU in part because she obtained a Guardian Scholarship, which provides full tuition for students who identify as current or former foster youth, wards of the court, under legal guardianship or unaccompanied homeless youth. The Guardian Scholars program, housed in the Division of Student Affairs and Campus Diversity, also offers students tutoring, mentoring, personal and academic counseling, a year-round housing award and other support.


But Phifer-Bone’s first year at SDSU was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic that forced a majority of students, faculty and staff to work and study remotely for nearly 18 months. Phifer-Bone moved back to Fairfield and got a full-time job in addition to her full-time school course load. 


While back home, things began to spiral down for Phifer-Bone. In the span of six months, two of her friends passed away unexpectedly, her aunt died of cancer. The combination of working and studying full-time was overwhelming, and family life was strained. 


“It was hard for me to get through that time mentally,” Phifer-Bone admitted. 


She returned to campus in Fall 2020 as one of several thousand students to live on campus, but said she opted to return to Fairfield in Spring 2021 as she was overwhelmed at having lost loved ones in different tragedies. 


It was that spring when she turned the corner. 


“Something happened to me during that spring semester and that summer before I came back, with all of the things that were going on in my life, that made me realize that nursing was for me,” she said. “I wanted to be that last line of defense for patients who look like me and my community.”


Part of returning to campus for Phifer-Bone meant learning to find support networks and being open and honest with them about her struggles. 


She turned to her academic adviser, Peter Strachwitz, and former nursing program director Philip Greiner to explain what was going on in her life and to seek help. 


Rather than turn her away, she said, they lent a sympathetic ear and helped her to get back on track. “After that I kicked it into high gear and told myself, ‘I’m gonna get done and I’m gonna get done on time.” 


Strachwitz, who remembered meeting Phifer-Bone at New Student Orientation, said that being her adviser was a rewarding experience. 


“The nursing program definitely has a lot of academically and personally strong students, no doubt, but Eneyka has been one of the strongest I've met,” Strachwitz said. “She faced and overcame more obstacles than most of her peers just to get into the program — and faced and overcame even more while in the program.


“She communicated with me consistently and took my recommendations to heart but took ownership of what needed to be done to succeed. Not all students have the resilience and fortitude to live life as she does,” he said. 


A Future in Nursing


Phifer-Bone’s perseverance didn’t go unnoticed by the people at EOPOS, who said that she has been an exemplary student and mentor. 


“She's been an amazing, strong, smart and welcoming person,” said EOPOS Director Shareka White. 


“The fact that she was able to stick with the (nursing) program while struggling with always being the only Black girl in many of her classes and while also upholding and going above and beyond all the expectations of her as a Guardian Scholar … She is simply awesome. Everyone should have the opportunity to get to know her, and I look forward to seeing what her future has in store for her.”


Phifer-Bone’s next step: to get a nursing job in San Diego or somewhere nearby. 


When asked if she ever thinks about what her parents would think about how she’s turned out, Phifer-Bone said she doesn’t focus on it. 


“A lot of people around me remind me enough,” Phifer-Bone said. “I just feel like I want them to be proud of me but, overall, I’m proud of me. Even if it was hard, I am proud I made it here.”