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Black History Month: CU Nursing Alumnae Share Experiences During Panel Discussion

Feb. 24 event highlights stories, career paths, and advice from 3 accomplished grads

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Written by Bob Mook on February 27, 2023

Celebrating Black History Month, the CU Nursing Alumni Association and Future Voices hosted an often-emotional panel discussion highlighting diversity and inclusion, on February 24 at the Fulginiti Pavilion at the Anschutz Medical Campus.

Friday’s event featured three accomplished nursing alumnae: CU Nursing Assistant Professor of Clinical Practice, Salwa Mourtada Bamba, DNP ‘21, MS ’20, BSN ’11; Senior Instructor and Pediatric Nurse Practitioner for the Immunodeficiency Program at Children’s Hospital Colorado Kim Pierce, DNP ’09, RN ’08, CPNP ’06; and Chauvonne Foston, BSN ’18, RN, currently a float nurse at Kaiser Permanente.

Over lunch catered by local soul food restaurant, Cora Faye’s Café, the three panelists shared their experiences, career paths, and food for thought in front of a diverse audience of students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

Here are some of the key takeaways and inspiring stories they shared:

Salwa Mourtada Bamba, DNP ‘21, MS ’20, BSN ’11 – As a child, Bamba was drawn to caring for others at relief camps set up in her neighborhood during the thick of a civil war in Liberia. After attending high school in Ghana, she returned to Liberia where she worked for an OB-GYN physician.

Though she lived in New York briefly, she moved to Colorado after she visited the state. She completed her nursing prerequisites at a local community college before enrolling in CU Nursing, where she earned three degrees.

“I've learned so many things from this journey that I am almost as strong as my father,” she said. “He was a Lebanese immigrant who basically spent over 50 years experiencing war in Lebanon before being plunged into another civil war. I think that I got my resiliency from him and my mom. They just never gave up. So, I'm grateful for what they instilled in me.”

When asked what lessons she could teach younger Black children on challenges she faced in healthcare, Bamba was quick to recognize that her experiences as an immigrant were different than Black Americans whose families resided in the country for generations dating back to slavery.

“It took me a very long time to even recognize that I was a Black person,” she said.

However, the protests over the murder of George Floyd in 2020 changed her perspective.

“Having Black children now, I realized they were exposed to things that I have never been exposed to in my life. It was kind of like an enlightenment for me,” she said. “So, if there's anything I can pass on to the younger Black generation, it’s know who you are.”

Bamba was one of the co-founders of Future Voices, which was established to hold administrators at the college accountable for diversity, equity, and inclusion issues, while providing support to students.

Kim Pierce, DNP ’09, RN ’08, CPNP ’06 – As the first African American to graduate with a DNP from CU Nursing in 2009, Pierce joined the Immunodeficiency Program at Children’s Hospital Colorado in 2013. She provides care to children and youth living with HIV. Though Pierce’s mother was a physician who was the second woman ever to graduate from the University of Colorado School of Medicine, she chose a different path.

“Watching her journey as a kid and then watching my sister's journey as well, I knew right away that I didn't want to be a doctor,” she laughed. “But I felt a calling to medicine and to helping others, and I started to think about how I wanted to manifest that. So, my road was a little circuitous.”

Earning her first degree in psychology at CU Boulder, she returned to school with the intention of becoming a certified nurse midwife – even working as a doula in San Francisco for a while.

“Over time, the program I enrolled in turned into the DNP program while we were midstream during our education,” she said. “Then, I had a kind of epiphany that I was more interested in the baby after the baby got here than before it got here, so I went into pediatrics.”

Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood, Pierce said she never met another Black person until she was a teenager.

“Then, when I got into nursing school, I was usually the only person of color in every space,” she said. “In a way, that felt natural because that’s what I was used to.”

While Pierce said while she doesn’t encounter overt racism on the floor, she’s become more sensitive to “micro-aggressions” from colleagues in recent years.

“I have not felt like my race has prevented me from achieving what I want to achieve,” she said. “If there's something I want to do, I do it. It's complicated being the only Black kid in the room.”

Pierce’s advice to nursing students of color: “Find what you’re really excited about – whether it’s research, clinical, or both – and you can make it work.”

Chauvonne Foston, BSN ’18, RN – Rather than go through high school, Foston earned her GED as a teenager. She credits CU Nursing Coordinator of the Integrated Nursing Pathway Program Susan Bonini, EdD, MSN, RN, with navigating her nursing education.

“I don’t think I would be here today if someone didn’t spend time to really help me,” Foston said. “Mentorship has been extremely important throughout my career.”

Foston, who is currently earning her master’s in the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) program at CU Nursing, fought back the tears when she talked about how the faculty and students at CU Nursing have welcomed and supported her throughout the years.

She credited the CU Nursing Alumni Association and Future Voices for hosting the event to honor Black History Month.

It means a lot that CU has put on something like this - celebrating students who are like me,” she said.