Inaugural nursing cohort is ready to learn

An enthusiastic crowd of students, faculty and staff gathered at Spokane’s newly restored, turn-of-the-century SIERR building to celebrate the new home of EWU’s Nursing and Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSMD) programs.

The SIERR Sneak Peak event, held on Aug. 22, gave visitors a chance to enjoy complimentary ice cream while touring EWU’s main-level Nursing Program suite, which includes simulation labs, offices and classrooms, and the upper-level classrooms for the long-running CMSD program.

Located on the eastern end of the University District, the building is part of a health sciences hub developed by McKinstry Co.

“It has been a long time coming. It’s been very exciting for us and to see the faces of the students yesterday was even more impactful,” said Emilie Crawford, operations manager for the Nursing Program.

The event was held on the second day of classes for EWU’s inaugural cohort of 40 nursing students. They were admitted to the program based on an innovative holistic admissions process that looks beyond standardized test scores and grade point averages to assess applicants based on their education, community service and personal experience.

“I think that they are well-rounded students,” Crawford said. “I’m excited for them and it’s going to be an exciting year.”

Sierr Building, interior sign for EWU
Nursing students practicing on simulation station with dummy

David Bowman, dean of EWU’s College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math and interim dean of the College of Health Science and Public Health, served up ice cream to dozens of nursing and CMSD students who stayed after classes ended to connect with their peers.

“Think about the lives that they are going to be able to change for their patients and the patients’ families,” Bowman said. “This is some of the most impactful [work] we can do as an institution.”

SIERR’s interior, which melds brick, wood and metal work with high ceilings, open spaces and glass walls, impressed nursing student Alayna Cristlieb. “This building is really beautiful and amazing,” she said.

Cristlieb, 24, took nursing prerequisites through EWU and, after taking a break from college during the pandemic, is back to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing. After graduation she hopes to pursue a career as a neonatal intensive care unit nurse.

“Since I was about 12, I’ve always wanted to be a NICU nurse,” said Cristlieb, who recalled growing up hearing firsthand stories about the inspirational work that NICU nurses do from a close friend of her mom. “Once I found out what she did, I was like, ‘that is what I want to do.’”

Julianne Newhinney, 21, took her nursing prerequisite courses through EWU’s Running Start program and was thrilled to learn that Eastern was launching its own degree program in nursing.

“I was so excited to continue my education through Eastern, because I’ve loved Eastern’s curriculum so far and everything that’s going on,” said Newhinney, who considers the program’s location in Spokane as an added bonus.

Clinical Assistant Professor Brenda Hulett, new to Eastern’s faculty, has experience in working as a nurse in both urban and rural hospitals and clinics. She has also taught nursing at Washington State and Gonzaga universities.

“I am very excited to be a part of something new. We’re doing nursing education a little different than any of the other programs in the area – which is really exciting – and I think the students will enjoy it,” Hulett said.

As a nurse who works part-time at Lincoln County Hospital in Davenport, Washington, she said it’s particularly gratifying that EWU’s program includes a component that helps students develop skills specific to working in rural communities.

Hulett said colleagues at Lincoln County Hospital have asked, “Why don’t we get nursing students?” She tells them, “I’m working on it.”

Bowman noted that the location is ideal. EWU shares the SIERR space with the University of Washington, and the center that houses the UW School of Medicine-Gonzaga University Regional Health Partnership is located right across the parking lot.

“It’s such a great opportunity for us to keep this connection here in downtown Spokane – especially for all the health sciences,” Bowman said.