As a sophomore nursing student, Edward C. Bennett Jr. stepped into an elevator one day feeling overwhelmed. By the time he stepped out, he’d gained two new mentors and a clear sense of direction.

Bennett had given then-postdoctoral scholars Kathy Wright (now at Ohio State University) and Lenette Jones (now at the University of Michigan) his literal elevator pitch. In turn, they directed him toward research opportunities and gave him insight into the nursing field.

With guidance from Wright and Jones, and adviser Diana Morris, Bennett, now a senior who expects to graduate in December, has flourished. Most recently, he won the National Black Nurses Association Student Nurse of the Year Award.

When Bennett had that impactful elevator conversation a few years ago, he had just switched his major.

Upon arriving at Case Western Reserve University in 2014, he intended to study political science and follow the pre-medical track. But after an internship as part of the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program at Duke University, his focus shifted.

“Everywhere I looked, there were nurses and nurse practitioners doing exactly what I wanted to do: interacting with the patient, advocating for the patient and having that really hands-on experience,” Bennett said.

In changing his major, Bennett also was following in his mother’s footsteps.

“She was shocked at first, but really happy at the end of the day,” Bennett said.

Though she has been a nurse for about 30 years, even his mother was surprised by the myriad opportunities available for her son in the field. Bennett has taken advantage of as many of them as possible.

He estimates that, upon his graduation, he will have completed more than 1,000 hours of clinical work. In addition to the clinical experience all students get at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing, Bennett has worked with several other local institutions in several areas, including case management and the cardiovascular intensive care unit.

His work at local institutions has not only helped him enhance his skills, but it’s also placed him in situations in which he can advocate for his patients.

“I want to be that advocate who says, ‘I don’t care who you are, I don’t care where you come from, I’m going to treat you with the best care that I can and make sure that you have the best experience that you can so you come back and get that treatment that you need,’” Bennett said.

After one interaction with a patient, Bennett was inspired to do more than just provide in-the-moment treatment—he wanted to help provide better lasting care.

The patient, who had sickle cell disease, felt as though his voice often wasn’t heard in health care settings. It was a feeling with which Bennett was familiar, especially as a double-minority in the nursing field as an African-American male.

Inspired by that experience, Bennett now is working to improve care for patients with sickle cell disease, with hopes of implementing a fast-track system for those with the disease, so they can get the immediate care they need.

“That experience really made me see how I could use my nursing knowledge and my nursing skillset to be an advocate for patients with this disease,” Bennett said.

Take a moment to learn more about Bennett in this week’s five questions.

1. What do you like most about Cleveland?

I really appreciate the opportunities it has for young people. I’m originally from Buffalo, New York, and when I came to Cleveland, I saw that young people are involved in so many different things, getting the skills and tools they need to succeed, as well as internships. It really makes me proud to be living in Cleveland. Every time I see the investment that Cleveland puts into its youth, I am in awe.

2. What’s a hidden skill or talent you have that most people would be surprised to know?

I really enjoy writing, whether it’s writing for the newspaper, writing poetry or writing articles on LinkedIn. One of my joys is writing and editing.

3. Who is the best teacher you’ve had throughout your education?

I was a political science major before I switched to nursing and I really enjoyed Professor Pete Moore and his comparative politics class. That class was amazing. He’s a great professor.

4. What moment in history do you wish you could have experienced firsthand?

Malcolm X actually made a speech in Cleveland in 1964 called “The Ballot or the Bullet,” and that was a very influential speech. I think it kind of sets the stage for what we’re experiencing in 2018 as far as election season.

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?

My favorite thing is probably the accessibility for a wide variety of different people. Case Western [Reserve] has a ton of opportunities locally involving hospitals, but also just being able to engage and interact with people from across the world, whether it be China, India, Canada, etc. I’ve had the pleasure of becoming friends with a ton of different people who I don’t think I would have met in any other situation.