CU South Denver nursing cohort at graduation
The first CU South Denver nursing cohort gathered for a group photo at their recent graduation ceremony.

PARKER – Christina DeBello’s life was complicated when she decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing. She and her husband were busy raising four children, including their youngest, a daughter who has cerebral palsy and epilepsy as well as vision and hearing impairments.

DeBello says she’s always wanted to help people and initially she planned to become a physical therapist. But Ellainie’s health issues gave DeBello a new perspective – and a new calling.

As she became immersed in appointments for Ellainie – now 10 – she grew passionate about nursing. “I have been with Lainie as she went through her journey of multiple surgeries, trips to the ICU and ER and many other doctor visits,” she said. “I have met some wonderful nurses along the way that have shown me empathy and supported me in very difficult times.”

DeBello at CU College of Nursing graduation
Christina DeBello poses with her family at the College of Nursing commencement ceremony at CU Anschutz this spring.

DeBello found the perfect educational fit when the College of Nursing at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus expanded its B.S. in Nursing program to the CU South Denver location in summer 2014. DeBello lives in southwest metro Denver and CU South Denver is much closer to home than CU Anschutz in Aurora.

“It made it much easier for me to navigate the program,” she said of the location. “And I do like the idea of a smaller class.”

Thirty-six students made up the initial nursing cohort at CU South Denver, and nearly the entire group celebrated together this spring at the College of Nursing commencement ceremony at CU Anschutz. “It was a tight-knit group,” DeBello said. “We’d have potlucks and get together after class. I really enjoyed it.”

‘Exciting opportunity’

First cohort in nursing at CU South Denver
The first cohort in the nursing program at CU South Denver formed a tight-knit bond.

Sarah Thompson, PhD, RN, FAAN, dean of the College of Nursing, said the CU South Denver location allows the College of Nursing to prepare more graduates and thereby help fill a great workforce need for nurses. Also, the students benefit from clinical rotation placements at Centura Health facilities in the south-metro area as well as at Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree. “That’s an exciting opportunity on both sides: It allows the student to look at the hospital in terms of whether it’s a place they want to work and vice versa,” Thompson said. “It allows the students to develop relationships with the hospitals and nursing staff.”

Thompson also noticed the close-knit nature of the CU South Denver cohorts. “They seem to gel in terms of a community,” she said. “They’ve been very excited about that.”

The two subsequent nursing cohorts at CU South Denver are larger – they both have 48 students. Like the first cohort, they are enjoying the camaraderie of the group, the convenience of the classroom location to their homes and the simulation laboratory (just like the one at CU Anschutz), which offers exemplary opportunities in clinical education.

‘Neat mix’

Marcia Gilbert at CU South Denver
Marcia Gilbert, associate professor and director of the College of Nursing’s CU South Denver location, says the Liniger Building creates a unique setting for higher education.

Marcia Gilbert, DNP, APRN-BC, associate professor and director of the College of Nursing’s CU South Denver location, said the Liniger Building creates a unique setting for higher education with its natural history museum and large-screen movie theater. Both attract families as well as school field trips from the community. The blend of young kids, university students, parents and grandparents coming through the building makes it “kind of a neat mix,” Gilbert said. “You don’t see that in most places.”

‘Nurturing families’

Luella Chavez D’Angelo, vice chancellor for enterprise development, said the “cultural energy” of CU South Denver enhances the high-value academic experience for our students. Not only are they exposed to the cutting-edge technology that is used in their disciplines, they also enjoy a comfortable student lounge, spacious classrooms, a café, pleasant outdoor patios and excellent instruction from experts in their field. “They’ve got everything they need right here, plus this positive family environment,” D’Angelo said. “For nursing students, it reinforces one of the reasons they went into this field – they want to support their community by nurturing families.”

Simulation laboratory for CU College of Nursing students
CU South Denver offers nursing students all the amenities of the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, including a nursing simulation laboratory.

She called the first cohort of nursing students at CU South Denver “trailblazers,” as they willingly pioneered a new academic environment. “They helped us think about the space, what was needed in the space and what would make their experience even more comfortable,” D’Angelo said.

With their clinical rotations at south-metro hospitals – and some students getting hired at those hospitals after graduation – College of Nursing students are emblematic of the way CU South Denver fuels the state economy and engages the local community to improve Colorado’s quality of life.

D’Angelo said it’s not uncommon for members of the nursing cohorts to interact with young children who are visiting the museum. “They tell the kids what’s involved with becoming a nurse,” she said. “It matches up our CU students with younger attendees and getting them to think, ‘Maybe I could be a nurse someday.’ It’s just icing on the cake.”

For DeBello, who plans to be a pediatric nurse because of the perspective she’s developed as the parent of a chronically ill child, the icing on the cake came when her family saw her receive her diploma. Ellainie, who was her inspiration throughout school – “My daughter fights every day with a smile on her face; how can I give up when she never has?” – watched the ceremony with her customary beaming grin.

“She was excited for the graduation, but she was especially excited about the graduation party,” DeBello said with a laugh.