For Self, Family, Profession

Adult Student Finds More through Notre Dame's Online Nursing Program

Jacqueline "Jackie" Denson ’10 earned her B.S.N. from Notre Dame College to advance her earning potential. Now she is pursuing an M.S.N. at the College so she can advance her profession.

But she is not just striving to become a nurse educator. A first-generation adult student and a working nurse, Denson also is thriving to empower her daughters.

"I wanted to better myself and leave a lasting impression for my children," Denson said.

And soon she will be leaving a lasting impression on a generation of new nurses, as well as her children. The Cleveland native expects to graduate with a master’s degree in nursing, earned completely online, from the College in 2016.

"My daughters see where I came from and that I am motivated to do something more with my life," Denson said.

More Motivation

Denson, who had worked as an inventory and distribution clerk, first decided she wanted to study nursing after the birth of her youngest daughter—but not just to improve her circumstances.

Her daughter K’larissa, now 15, was born three months premature. She weighed only 1.5 pounds at birth. Hospital staff who saved the infant’s life inspired Denson to pay it forward.

"The nursing care she received made me want to go into nursing," she said.

While raising both of her daughters— she also has a grown daughter, Marsha, 27—Denson took classes part-time at a community college to earn an associate’s degree.

But she still yearned for more—for herself, her family and her field.

More Education

When Notre Dame started its on-campus B.S.N. program in 2006, Denson inquired.

With the help of an academic scholarship from the College, she enrolled full-time as a first-year undergraduate in 2006. She was 30 years old.

"Without that aid, I wouldn’t have been able to go to college," Denson said.

The Finn Center for Adult, Graduate and Professional Programs at the College helped her get in. The faculty helped her stay.

"My professors always had an opendoor policy and gave me their cell phone numbers. Anytime I needed help they were there," Denson said.

More Encouragement

While a B.S.N. student, Denson started her career as a working nurse. She also started to think about a career as a nurse educator.

Denson said faculty members Colleen Sweeney, RN, M.S.N., J.D., Ph.D., associate professor of nursing and director of the graduate program, and Diane Jedlicka, B.S.N., M.S.N., Ph.D., former chair of the Notre Dame Division of Nursing, both encouraged her to consider becoming a teacher.

"They saw something more in me," Denson said. "And teaching has always been there for me. As one of the older students in the class, I would take the lead on projects and share different thoughts and perspectives on the coursework."

More Experience

As part of her curriculum field experience in the B.S.N. program at Notre Dame, Denson started working as a sitter, monitoring patients who could not be left alone, at the Cleveland Clinic in 2008. Her supervisor allowed her to study on her down time.

It turned into a full-time nursing position after graduation.

She is now a nurse in the thoracic stepdown unit at the Clinic. But her desire for more is still present.

"The work gets pretty intense, but I think about the good I’m doing for patients and that balances everything out. I love my job," Denson said, "but I don’t want to be a bedside nurse forever."

As soon as Notre Dame offered the M.S.N., Denson applied. She took her first class in spring 2014—but she admits she was, at first, a little wary of an online degree.

"I thought I would never be able to take an online class because I thought I needed my professor right there to answer my questions. But it’s not any different. I just shoot her an email, and she answers right back. She’s always right there," Denson said.

More Options

Denson works at the Clinic mostly on weekends now, so she can focus on her studies, all of which are online, during the week. Her husband, Jack, an electrician, helps with household chores.

She said the added benefit of an online degree is, again, that she gets to set an example for her children.

"My daughter is home-schooled, so by taking classes online I show her how it will be in college. She sees the way I approach study and that you have to be motivated. You have to want it," she said.

Denson’s youngest daughter wants to go to medical school and study pediatric surgery. By that time, her mother may be in school again, too— as a faculty member.

"Even teaching one course, that’s going to be phenomenal," Denson said.

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