A coalition of local nursing colleges has been awarded a $960,411 federal grant to increase diversity in the nursing workforce.
The coalition is composed of Gwynedd-Mercy College in Montgomery County, Immaculata University in Chester County and Neumann University in Delaware County.
The program will be led by Neumann Professor Mary Powell and will provide additional support to underrepresented students in undergraduate nursing programs.  The grant covers three years -- $276,007 for 2012-2013, $406,346 for 2013-2014, and $278,058 for 2014-2015. 
"The demographic across the country is changing, and the nursing workforce has not kept up with the population," said Powell. Nationwide, she said, there is a need for more nurses who are Latino, Native American, African American, Vietnamese, Laotian and other ethnicities.
"There's evidence that health outcomes are improved when there's a better connection between patient and nurse," Powell said, adding: "ethnicity, culture, personal background enters into that connection."
Over the next three years, each school will pick 20 students from an underrepresented population to receive assistance. Students who plan to apply for a nursing major can receive coaching in language and communication skills, time management and small group work.  Once in the program, students may receive tutoring, test-taking skills, and academic advisement. 
The program will also include faculty development on cultural diversity and optimal learning environments.  Some stipends will be available to students as well, Powell said.
Although the grant is only for three years, officials hope that the students who complete the program may serve as peer mentors in the future.