Weber State nursing program graduates 13

Posted: Thursday, May 15, 2003

Fate played its hand in the life of Syerenna Van Bruggen this week as she and 12 other students graduated from Weber State University's extension nursing program in Soldotna.

Van Bruggen, a mother of three, now is a fourth-generation nurse, but she said the family heritage isn't what motivated her educational pursuit.

"I just kept ending up in nursing programs," she said at her graduation ceremony Monday night at the Kenai Senior Citizens Center. "I dropped out of one in 1991 when I got married, but I just kept taking classes.

"When this came along, I had to do it. There was no rhyme or reason to it."

The Weber State program is a collaborative effort with Kenai Peninsula College, Central Penin-sula General Hospital and the Heritage Place nursing facility.

Weber State, which is based in Ogden, Utah, provides outreach nursing programs in several different parts of the country.

The idea is that students who are trained in their rural hometowns will stay there rather than moving to a bigger city.

That's important because of a nationwide nursing shortage that is leaving many rural communities without adequate health care options, said Weber State nursing outreach program coordinator Pam Hugie, who flew up from Utah with nursing program director Debra Huber to attend the Soldotna graduation ceremony.

The program started last year, offering students an opportunity to train to receive certification as licensed practical nurses. It continued this year, offering anyone with LPN certification to advance into positions as registered nurses.

A couple of Monday night's graduates were local LPNs who opted to increase their education this year. Most of the students, including Van Bruggen, were graduates of the Weber State LPN program last year.

"You've come a long way," said Lynn Senette, the clinical nursing instructor who provided the keynote speech at the ceremony.

"Luck shines upon the person who is prepared," Senette quoted. "My first impression of this group of students was admiration. They've spent years preparing for this chance to study on the peninsula and that includes almost a year of prerequisites before they could even take a nursing course.

"They've learned all the skills they thought would make them a real nurse,' and found out along the way that being highly technical isn't what makes you feel good."

Senette lauded the graduates' compassion, patient advocacy and sensitivity. Then, she listed the strengths of each graduate individually, from the "calm, quiet manner" of Jeremy Chace to Stacey Espy's patient advocacy and from Heather Knudsen's organizational skills to Diana Padgett's joy of living.

Other speakers at the ceremony included Hugie and Huber, KPC nursing faculty adviser David Wartinbee and CPGH staff development coordinator Susan Shoemaker. Kenai Mayor John Williams and Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey also spoke, issuing proclamations of thanks and congratulations to the program partners and graduates.

All the speakers thanked Weber State, as well as the Kenai Penin-sula health care facilities, for their "pioneering spirit" in bringing the program to the peninsula. They also thanked the students for their hard work and the students' families for their support.

Many of the graduates, including Van Bruggen, completed the two years of study while not only holding down a job but also raising a family.

In fact, the youngest of Van Bruggen's three children, 9 1/2-month-old Robert, was born in the middle of her educational pursuit.

While many people might think raising a young family would present an obstacle to completing her training, Van Bruggen said her family has been one of her most important support systems.

Twelve-year-old Nick, standing by his mother's side after the graduation ceremony, proved her point.

"(My mom's) cool," he said. "I knew she was going to be able to get to her graduation."

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