May 2, 2006


The MSU College of Nursing's first graduates to go through upper division education in Bozeman.
May 02, 2006 -- By Carol Flaherty MSU News Service

Montana State University's College of Nursing will graduate 160 students with Bachelor of Science degrees this spring, and 16 of those are a close-knit group that was able to stay in Bozeman through upper division education.

Upper division is the term applied to the last two years of a nurse's education. That is when students add experience in a variety of clinical settings like hospitals and county health offices while continuing rigorous course work. For many years, some students from MSU's College of Nursing have taken upper division courses in Billings, Great Falls, Missoula and Kalispell. This is the first graduating class, however, in which students have completed upper division work in Bozeman-area medical facilities.

"The clinical opportunities for learning in the community have been excellent. We have received wonderful support not only from local facilities, but also from those in the surrounding areas like Livingston," says Deb Kern, director of the Bozeman-based nursing program. "We had a lot to learn about the clinical sites we would need to give the students a solid background. And we couldn't have done it without the financial assistance of Bozeman Deaconess Hospital and the university in allocating funding even in tight budget years."

Bozeman's upper division students also support each other, says Kate Keenan, a student originally from Darby. "I think we will always respect each other as colleagues," she says. "We are like a small family. We have our bickering. We have people we get along with. We were able to rely on each other for support. It will be sad to leave them. I think probably few classes get to experience this kind of closeness."

Each nursing student has brought a special background to the program. Jon Balgeman, a student from Manhattan, had served as a missionary for three years before coming back to Montana with a determination to become a nurse. Keenan had planned to become a teacher, but "fell into nursing and loved it." With two nine-year-olds at home, she says the most difficult task was "dealing with kids homework and then my own." Brandom Jones had a bachelor's degree, an emergency medical technician's license, experience working in Nepal and leading Forest Service trail crews before starting in the MSU College of Nursing.

Being pregnant brought classes and rotations in maternity and newborn care alive for Sarah Bogan, who grew up in La Mesa, N.M. She is one of several students who were pregnant or gave birth over the past two years of her upper division work. Her son Arlo was born between her junior and senior years.

Rachel Schweitzer, a Bozeman native, added to her college experience by working as a certified nurses aide at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital (as well as working all four years at Rocky Mountain Roasting Company's coffee shop), and counts her summer internship in the hospital's operating room as one of the high points of her education.

"The most rewarding experience in nursing school is just knowing that even if it doesn't seem like it, I am doing my best to make a difference in someone's life. If I have touched one life," e-mailed Schweitzer, "then my day has been worthwhile."

Other students in Bozeman's upper division include Jessica Barnes, Tracy Cashman, Tracy Edwards, Chelsea Kostrba, Ian McInroy, Mayra Morgado Dominguez, Amber Overcast, Kahrin Phillips, Jessyca Small, Libby Archibald and Sarah Atwood.

It took exceptional students to be accepted into the nursing program, Kern says. For the 2004-2005 school year, 410 people applied for the 168 student slots available.

Graduates of the MSU College of Nursing enter a hot job market. The supply of working RNs is projected to be 20 percent below requirements by the year 2020.

Contact: Deb Kern, (406) 994-2781 or

Picture: The MSU College of Nursing's first graduates to go through upper division education in Bozeman are: Kneeling Kathleen Keenan, Ian McInroy, Mayra Morgado. Middle row: Sarah Atwood, Jessyca Small, Tracy Cashman, Tracy Edwards, Rachel Schweitzer, Amber Overcast, Sarah Bogan, Brandom Jones and Jessica Barnes. Back row Libby Archibald, Kahrin Phillips and Jon Balgeman. Missing from the photo was Chelsea Kostrba.