First class of nurses graduates from CMC Steamboat

Jackie Siegel holds a candle Friday as she reads the Nightingale Pledge along with other students who earned an associate of applied science degree in nursing from the Colorado Mountain College's Steamboat Springs campus. The college hosted a pinning ceremony and recognized the 13 new nurses who make up the first class of students to graduate from the school's nursing program. (Photo by John F. Russell)

They started during the year of the nurse. Little did they know, the profession they were working to enter was about to be on the frontlines of a global pandemic. Still, Matt Resignolo’s view of nursing didn’t change over the past year, even if he thinks everyone else’s did.

“I think a lot of people realized how hard it is to be a nurse, how much commitment it takes,” he said.

Resignolo is one of 13 students in the first cohort of nurses to graduate from the Colorado Mountain College Steamboat Springs campus. The students had their formal pinning ceremony Friday, the eve of the school’s graduation, which is a traditional rite of passage for nurses.

“Nursing school is always hard,” said assistant professor Courtney Smazinski, the lone instructor to teach them from start to finish. “I think it was significantly harder for these students.”

They started in-person in January 2020, but by March, like the rest of the world, their class was turned upside down. They needed to figure out how to teach them a very hands on job while not leaving their homes.

Graduate Megan Jonathans, co-class president, has her pin placed by her sister Aryn Sherman during a pinning ceremony at Colorado Mountain College on Friday afternoon. The college recognized the first class of students to earn an associate of applied science degree in nursing from the college as part of the event. (Photo by John F. Russell)

“It was awful. We had to make up all our clinical online, so we just sat at our computers for hours and hours doing simulations,” said Hannah Davis, co-class president.

Davis said it was frustrating when hospitals were not allowing them in because of the pandemic, because she wanted to step up and help. For graduate Brandy Bunn, she said it was a really hard year — she nearly dropped out halfway through.

“Actually taking care of a patient was the best experience, and it was the best experience I have ever had, and it changed my mind,” Bunn said. “It made me really realize, ‘Oh, I really do want to do this.'”

During prepared remarks at the ceremony, every speaker brought up the word “adaptable” to describe how the class was the past year. But they also watched as their profession adapted to take center stage against a deadly virus. Lindsi Koen said she was inspired by the pandemic.

“I thought, ‘Holy moly, I need to do this.’ We need more nurses, we need more doctors, we need more people helping the world, getting in there and not being afraid,” Koen said.

She isn’t from Steamboat originally, but Koen and her fiancé bought a house in Steamboat last fall, and she hopes to eventually work in town at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. Kelly Gallegos, the chief nursing officer at the hospital, said the nursing program and the hospital have a symbiotic relationship to support each other.

Callie Drury hugs her husband Jake Drury during the pinning ceremony for the first graduating class of the Colorado Mountain College's nursing program. The college’s first nursing class included 13 students who earned a associate of applied science degree in nursing. (Photo bu John F. Russell)

The hospitals, both YVMC and Memorial Regional Hospital in Craig, serve as a training ground for the nurses who will one day staff the hospital. Gallegos said nurses are the largest part of their workforce at the hospital.

“It is imperative we have a local pipeline for this profession, so we can keep talent in our community,” Gallegos said in an email. “If we did not have a program in Steamboat, students would be forced to transfer to other parts of the state and would likely be recruited to other hospitals.”

Vice president and dean of the Steamboat Springs Campus JC Norling said they had seen a lot of interest in the college’s nursing program at other campuses, so it made sense to offer the program in Steamboat as well.

“We had a lot of students taking pre-med, pre-nursing, that guided pathway. Why get them going and then have them go somewhere else?” Norling said.

Graduate Johannah Peterson said she worked as a certified nursing assistant for four years before starting nursing school, and she feels the profession “is starting to bloom” because of the pandemic.

Smazinski agreed, saying people are seeing and respecting nurses now.

“Being a nurse is a true honor, so it is nice when the community rallies together for nurses,” Smazinski said. “At the end of the day, you are making peoples lives better, and you are getting them back to their version of health to the best as you can. That is a pretty big honor; patients and their families are trusting you.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.