Newswise — When you’re the new kid in town as frequently as Leah Woienski has been all her life, you learn to read a room, a school, or even a moment of potentially great social change—and see exactly where you fit. It’s how the daughter of a U.S. Navy officer, a bit younger than most colleagues at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, becomes their Student Senate leader. It’s how, once more, Woienski has turned a strange city into home, unfamiliar faces into a family.
Her skeleton key? “Learn to meet people where they are. Know when to step forward, but also when to step back and give space, to listen.” It also helps to believe in magic, or at least know how to plug into it. For Woienski, that’s the “tiny humans” she has cared for through the years as a volunteer (Make A Wish, Children’s Hospital of Orange County, and Be the Match, for bone marrow donors), as an intern at House of Ruth Baltimore, and now in clinicals at Dayspring Programs, Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Sibley Memorial. “Magic is still real for them,” Woienski says of even the sickest pediatric patients. “A hospital shouldn’t ever have to be a home. But if it has to be for a kid …” Presto! A pulse oximeter is a “princess finder.” Shazam! A blood pressure cuff is a “superhero muscle tester.”
A healthy imagination, people skills, and a sense of self are essential to thriving in a childhood spent relocating every two to three years. “My mom always said that home was wherever the military sent us.” For better or worse: Woienski’s brother was born in Japan; her sister in Hawaii. “I was born in Carson City, NV.” Her folks finally settled on rural Montana as a permanent residence. (Remote, but “so beautiful!”)
Woienski earned a bachelor’s degree at Chapman University, then moved east in August 2019 from Southern California, “where everything is sugar-coated all the time. … In Baltimore, it’s just real, and raw.” Charm City won her heart anyway. As did her classmates. “So many incredible backgrounds. There are attorneys in my cohort! To come in as a 23-year-old and find my seat at that table and my voice in that environment … I’ve grown more being in Baltimore and being at Hopkins than I ever could have otherwise.”
Woienski is determined to make a difference here, there, and everywhere. “As a white woman, I feel a tremendous responsibility in this moment in history.” So she’s stepping forward, helping establish several Student Senate positions devoted to diversity, and she’s listening. “There is often a separation between MSN vs. DNP vs. PhD students, and it’s something we are working on to allow for and encourage more networking, collaboration, and relationships between the programs.”
There is no magic wand, but that’s OK. “Something my parents always told me growing up is that nothing worth having ever comes easy.”