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CU Nursing student Erin Newton and her family

Giving Guidance and Support

Mentoring Program Pairs CU Nursing Students with Alumni

Written by Molly Smerika on April 2, 2024

The struggles of earning a nursing degree are real. Classes. Studying. Clinicals. For some students, add in work and balancing family life. And for all students: trying to figure out what to do after earning their degree.

The University of Colorado College of Nursing Alumni Association is helping nursing students navigate their future and learn from a fellow nurse. The Alumni Association created an Alumni Mentoring Program. A student earning their BS in Nursing through the Traditional (TRAD) or Accelerated (UCAN) track is paired with a CU Nursing alum.

The idea is for alums to offer advice and guidance to a student while providing a positive impact on both. Alums can share their nursing and educational experiences, while students have someone to talk to and build a connection with.

CU Nursing student Erin Newton

CU Nursing student Erin Newton

Erin Newton, a student in the UCAN program, signed up for a mentor and got paired with Assistant Professor Joshua Zucker, DNP, FNP-BC, GNP-C.

“I have a lot of areas of interest when it comes to nursing, so when I talk to Josh I’m looking for the positives and negatives of working in different areas,” Newton says. “I want to understand how different nursing tracks can fit in with my lifestyle.”

Newton is earning a nursing degree after spending ten years as a geologist and teaching music. Since she’s making a career change – and is getting back into the habit of going to class and studying – she says Zucker has helped her adjust to being a student again.

“He’s empathetic when I ask him questions about how to study for a certain class,” she says. “He’s offered me advice for some online resources, and tips like making sure I look up certain medications I’ve used in clinicals when answering exam questions.”

Becoming a Mentor

Assistant Professor Joshua Zucker, DNP, FNP-BC, GNP-C

Assistant Professor and mentor Joshua Zucker, DNP, FNP-BC, GNP-C

Zucker graduated from CU Nursing with his BS in Nursing in 1999 and has worked at CU Nursing at Anschutz Medical Campus for the past six years. He was interested in being a mentor because he had important leaders and mentors in his life.

“My mentors helped me get to where I am today,” he says. “It’s really a big community. Yes, you’re a team of one with a patient, and yes, you’re studying by yourself for the NCLEX, but people are coming together to help you succeed. I wanted to help the next generation of nurses and pay it forward.”

Zucker knows nursing school isn’t easy, and since he graduated from CU Nursing’s program, he knows first-hand what students are going through.

“It’s a tough program. It’s exhausting, stressful, and heartbreaking at times, but it’s also incredibly rewarding and joyful,” he says. “No one knows all of those things unless they’ve been there before. It’s been a while since I’ve been in nursing school, but I found myself listening to and supporting students in any way I can.”

He says for students who want guidance or help, one of the best ways is to ask someone – whether it’s a professor, clinical preceptor, or another nurse – to get coffee or send them an email.

“Several people are willing to make the time,” he says. “I think most people are nervous to ask for help, and you’re more likely to find someone who will say ‘I’m happy to help, or if I can’t help, I can get you connected with someone who can’.”

He also acknowledged the willingness of other CU Nursing faculty members to meet with students. He suggests students should go to office hours and ask questions and make themselves known to make a connection with a faculty member.

“We all went through nursing school, and we all want you to be successful. You’re going to be taking care of us – and our family members – and we want you to be the best that you can be,” he says. “I tell this to my students all the time: you’re using resources available at CU Nursing. You’re paying fees and tuition, so make the most of it.”

“Knowing you have someone in your corner to support you is so important” — CU Nursing Assistant Professor Joshua Zucker, DNP, FNP-BC, GNP-C

Offering Resources and Expertise

Zucker and Newton were first paired together in December. Once a student and an alum are paired, they are encouraged to stay in contact in a way that fits in with their lives and schedules. Zucker and Newton have met in person a few times, but most of their communication is through email, phone calls, or texting.


Alumni interested in being paired with a student mentee should update their contact information and indicate “mentoring” at the bottom. You will be offered the chance to sign up before the general alumni population when the next program round launches.


Each fall, all current undergraduate students will receive an email with more information to sign up. Be on the lookout! The program is first come, first served, and fills up every year.


Questions? Please contact Katelyn Nolan, the Alumni Program Manager at katelyn.nolan@cuanschutz.edu or call (303) 724-1699.

“Erin has a busy schedule and I have a full-time job in addition to teaching at CU Nursing, so she’ll email me a list of questions and I’ll put in my two cents and hopefully it will benefit her,” he says.

Newton says being paired with Zucker is a huge asset. She says since he’s been involved on campus for 25 years (as both a student and faculty member), he is a great source of resources and gives honest feedback on the nursing profession.

“Knowing you have someone in your corner to support you is so important,” Zucker says. “We’re all busy, but I don’t mind taking half an hour of my time to talk to somebody about their goals. We’re here at CU Nursing because we want our students to be successful. We care about them.”

“He can answer questions that might take me years to figure out,” Newton says. “It’s great that we can have a candid conversation and he’s not always going to put a sunny spin on everything. He’ll tell me the challenges in healthcare and how to navigate them. He’ll also talk about his challenges and successes in his career.”

Newton wants her mentorship with Zucker to continue after she graduates in August.

“The best advice he’s given me so far is that if I get into an area of nursing that doesn’t seem to suit me, I can always change,” she adds. “There are so many different ways to get into nursing, and every area offers you more experience and insights on what you want to focus on. I’m hopeful that this mentorship with Josh turns into a friendship.”

Topics: Faculty, Alumni, Students