Celebrating 60 Years of Nursing Education Excellence
December 12, 2022
For six decades, the University of Northern Colorado’s School of Nursing in the College of Natural and Health Sciences has had a strong history of educating nurses to provide compassionate, courageous and competent care to patients across Colorado and beyond through research and practice.
Like the health care industry, the School of Nursing has evolved throughout the years since it was founded in 1962. The first class was enrolled in 1963 and the following year, the first capping ceremony was held with five nursing students. Sixty years later, in the fall of 2022, 477 students were enrolled in the 10 programs currently offered. And in total, more than 6,000 students have graduated from the School of Nursing prepared to assume leadership roles in practice, education and research, since its inception.
To celebrate this achievement, a ceremony was held on Friday, Dec. 2, in the Campus Commons where faculty and alumni were honored for advancing the health of the public.
“We are incredibly grateful to the previous faculty and alumni who have, and still are contributing to, the strong foundation of excellence of the School of Nursing programs, for which we continue to build upon,” said Director Melissa Henry, Ph.D.
The anniversary celebration included an open house in Gunter Hall and a reception that featured live music, a silent auction and dinner. Attendees were also able to enjoy pictures throughout the last 60 years, reminisce on the evolution of nursing attire and take a picture with Florence Nightingale, one of the founders of modern nursing, in a photobooth.
Meet four inspiring health care professionals and UNC alumni who are impacting patients' lives:
Jennifer Higgins ’92, ’15 MSN, RN,NPD-BC, CNL
Manager Professional Development Northern Region, UCHealth
At UNC, I was inspired by: I’m a two-time grad from UNC’s School of Nursing. In my undergrad program, my biggest influence was my mom. She’s a nurse and I grew up with conversations about the hospital at every dinner. I loved to go to her work after school to wait for her and I felt comfortable in the hospital setting even as a kid. (At UNC), I was influenced by all my professors, but the one that made the biggest impact was Dr. Deb Leners. I appreciated the perspective I got on nursing from her that nurses are professionals with an invaluable contribution to the world. In my grad school experience, the person who affected who I am as a master's-prepared RN is Dr. Kathleen Dunemn. I appreciate her kind, calm, realistic approach to the rigor of a graduate program. She inspires me through her career and the level to which she has impacted the profession.
What brings me back to work each day: The idea of long hard days at work took on a new perspective with the pandemic. Never in modern times have we faced the kind of challenges we did during the COVID surges that changed life for everyone. I equated leaving work to escaping a burning building with my friends inside, day after day. As a nurse, I took on the task of caring for patients alongside my peers, and as a leader I had to help create processes to protect patients and staff all the while having the rules continuously changing. Direction given in the morning oftentimes changed by lunch. Keeping my team focused and moving forward together without losing morale was the biggest challenge I've faced. I kept coming back and continue to come back every day because that's what nurses do.
I know I’ve made a difference when: Every nurse remembers certain moments in their career. I have had a long career and have gotten to do many things with my nursing degree. Each of those experiences have given me moments of knowing I was meant to be in that place at that moment. The kids I’ve taken care of have made a mark that will be with me forever. One newborn I took care of was very premature and had a difficult start in life. I took over her care one night and realized she didn't look very good. I had cared for her since birth and there was something about her that was a little "off.” I followed procedures for alerting providers and within hours, she was transferred to a higher level of care to be treated for sepsis. This is a very dangerous diagnosis for a fragile preemie and she did very well, partly because it was caught early. My proudest moments are those when I find out that something I did impacted someone in a way I couldn't have imagined. Being an educator means that every patient is your patient. I tried to include pediatric education because kids are my thing, and because they can show up anywhere at any time. I ran a mock pediatric code blue where the child experiences a cardiac arrest. Just a week later, I was contacted by that manager to say "You know what you taught us last week? We had to use it last night. Everything went well. Thank you." Asking any nurse about one moment in their career that stands out is impossible because every day is an opportunity to have that moment.
UNC’s Nursing program stands out because…: I am now a leader in a department where new RNs are supported, educated and developed into professionals. I get to work with those nurses who used to be my instructors and mentors. I see their dedication and the passion they put into taking a novice and turning them into the enthusiastic and knowledgeable new nurse. I have gotten to teach alongside some of them and see their world in a whole different way. Just as I feel educators impact every patient, I also realize that the nursing instructors at UNC have the same impact on the future of nursing itself.
Donnie DeCamp ’11 RN, MSN, VA-BC, CRNI
Guest Lecturer, University of Northern Colorado
At UNC, I was inspired by: I was really impacted by one of the courses in advanced pathophysiology. I was allowed to explore a topic of interest to me, HIV, and create an interactive teaching PowerPoint that was impressive. The cohort I was in started calling me “Mr. Megabyte.”
What brings me back to work each day: The look on a learner’s face when things click and make sense to them, especially with difficult topics and concepts.
I know I’ve made a difference when: As a vascular access specialist RN, I’m often praised by patients when venous access is obtained on first attempt.
UNC’s Nursing program stands out because… of the caliber of the faculty and staff.
Melissa Chevarria ’18 MSN, RN
Practical Nursing Faculty at the Community College of Denver
At UNC, I was inspired by: So many faculty members and clinical instructors at UNC made a difference in my life and education! Professors Deb Rojas, Barb Garrity and Wayne Potter specifically acted as mentors for me during nursing school and supported me through difficult times in my career. I recently obtained my master’s in Nursing with an emphasis in Nursing Education so I may have the same impact on others one day. This past summer, I was fortunate to complete 150 practicum hours for my MSN alongside Deb Rojas, with the opportunity to connect with Barb and Wayne again. It was one of the best experiences of my life.
A program in the School of Nursing that not only set me up for success but introduced me to some of my closest friends was the Student Nurses Association (SNA). I was an active member throughout nursing school, and SNA opened so many doors for me. I had the opportunity to connect with students in other cohorts, volunteer within the community, and build leadership skills. I encourage all nursing and pre-nursing students to join SNA!
What brings me back to work each day:My nursing students encourage and inspire me every single day. I teach in a nursing program that serves culturally diverse students and disadvantaged populations. My students come from various backgrounds with incredible experiences and powerful stories. Their drive, courage and resiliency motivate me to be the best nurse and educator that I can be each day.
I know I’ve made a difference when: I don’t have a specific moment or memory to share, but I do believe that small moments of compassion and caring can change our patients' lives. Before my current position, I worked in the Emergency Department at Children's Hospital. As an Emergency Department nurse, you’re continuously meeting new patients and families. It can be challenging to build relationships with patients when you’re providing care for a brief period. To connect with my patients and improve their experience, I always made an effort to learn something new about them every time I entered their room. This small gesture went a long way; it allowed me to build trusting, therapeutic relationships. I encourage my students to take the time to get to know the person they're taking care of; everyone comes with a story that we can learn from.
UNC’s Nursing program stands out because…I can speak to the rigor of the program and clinical experiences that impacted my path as a nurse, but it wasn't just these aspects that stand out to me and impact how I practice. The nursing program at UNC never felt like school to me, it always felt like my home. Our professors were more than educators; they were our mentors, our support system, and always went the extra mile for us. They created an incredibly safe and nurturing environment for their students to grow in that was impactful to our development. I strive to bring that same level of compassion and dedication to the growth of the nursing profession.
Mari Schlie Mutter ’03, ’11 MSN, RN, FNP-BC
UNC School of Nursing instructor; St. Matthew’s provider – free clinic
At UNC, I was inspired by: So many outstanding faculty members currently and throughout the years! Faye Hummel inspired me from the first time she walked in the classroom. Never have I known of a woman/person who is able to inspire so many people just by the way she carries herself and her overall confidence. Faye walked her talk, which was international education, vulnerable populations, transcultural nursing and social justice. Faye’s contributions to Vietnamese medical education for 20-plus years has been invaluable through Friendship Bridge Nurses Group. Alison Merrill inspired me by her example of standing up against great odds with kindness. And, through the years, Melissa Henry has been my trusted colleague, gentle advisor, and friend. When I was not sure of myself, Melissa encouraged me of what I was capable of and was meant to do.
What brings me back to work each day: Caring changes us—meeting the needs of people at the most vulnerable time of their life and being there for them is a privilege. The connection made between nurses and patients is one of trust.
I know I’ve made a difference when: It is all the simple things that we do each day. It is when we see a need and meet that need. And, being an advocate for our patients every day.
UNC’s Nursing program stands out because… We are taught to validate people—to listen and ensure dignity. To be advocates. To show up each day remembering that we are there to serve and not expect anything in return. The returns are great.