This content was published: April 23, 2018. Phone numbers, email addresses, and other information may have changed.
Emotional evening showcases power of education and student determination
Photos and Story by James Hill
It may have been a temporary training program, but it will have a lasting impact on its graduates.
A final pinning ceremony was held Thursday, April 5 at Portland Community College’s Cascade Campus where the last cohort of students in an emergency nursing teach-out program graduated with two-year associate degrees, as registered nurses.
Thanks to emergency funding by Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC), the Oregon State Legislature and resources from PCC, the temporary program was established in 2016 to support nursing degree completion for former students of ITT Technical Institute, which abruptly closed its doors. To ensure these students had an avenue to completion, PCC developed the curriculum quickly so that the state’s healthcare industry would not lose out on these qualified nursing students.
Of the 140 displaced students who enrolled in the PCC program, 133 students, or 95 percent, graduated. At the commencement, the final cohort of 22 freshly minted RNs received their pins in front of hundreds of family, friends and faculty. They were the final cohort to finish the program, effectively ending the teach out.
“All of us have worked harder than we have ever worked in our entire lives and overcame odds that were stacked against us,” said Melissa Cliffton, who lives in Longview, Wash. “Being the last cohort of this teach out, we’re kind of a mismatched group of students willing to do whatever it takes to reach our goals and have that ‘RN’ behind our names. In doing so, we’ve learned many things about ourselves, about each other and the world around us.
“We have proven to ourselves that we belong and deserve to be here,” she continued. “No matter where our next chapter leads, we will be kickass nurses when we get there.”
Back in fall of 2016, Cliffton and her fellow ITT nursing students were stranded with few if any options for continuing their education when the institution suddenly closed. Following the closure, HECC spearheaded efforts to develop options for the students. PCC’s associate degree program was approved as a temporary program specifically to serve nursing students of the former ITT Technical Institute Breckinridge School of Nursing and Health Sciences in Portland, to ensure they could finish their degrees. The legislature’s Emergency Board quickly and unanimously approved $1.6 million to fund it.
“Congratulations to the graduates for their dedication and success, and tremendous thanks to our student-centered partners at PCC and the Oregon Legislature who came together to make this possible after these students were displaced by the ITT Tech closure in 2016,” said Ben Cannon, HECC’s executive director. “Many of these students were so close to finishing their degrees but without viable options when the state stepped in. This was an innovative partnership that resulted in the exact outcomes we hoped to see.”
The closure of the ITT chain affected students of 130 campuses across the nation that fell under the national organization’s umbrella. Oregon’s effort to support students who were affected locally had little national precedent and has given the graduates new hope as they transition into the nursing field, which is in dire need of trained, qualified workers.
“Believe me this was no small feat,” said Jolie Ann Manning, Breckinridge teach out director. “We literally put in blood, sweat and many tears into this journey. This particular group is very strong in their skills, integrity and level of academia.”
Hillsboro resident Carolyn Granum is one of those Breckinridge teach out graduates.
“I wanted so badly to be a nurse,” she said. “The opportunity to be able to help others was a dream come true. The teach out was nothing more than a blessing. Without it, I would not have had a place to go to complete the last three terms. I am working in our cardiology clinic as a cardiac nurse and learning new things every day. Without the teach out I never would have been able to work in such a great place.”
Kala Johnston of Kelso, Wash., now works at Vibra Specialty Hospital and with Assured Home Health. She said her new employment has given her the encouragement she needs to get into the residency program with Providence Health & Services in the Pediatric Care Unit.
“This is right where I want to be,” Johnston said. “My goal eventually is to be an ICU nurse, and this residency program will get me there. I am so grateful, and have an abundance of gratitude for all those who have chosen to take part in this teach out to ensure we had the opportunity to become nurses. I hope that sometime in my life I can repay those individuals. I will never forget your dedication to us nursing students.”