Carroll launches first associate degree program

Author: Linda Spice '89, M.Ed. '19

Published Date: 10/7/2021

Categories: Alumni Health Sciences Nursing


nurse working with a young patient

Carroll launched its first-ever associate degree program in partnership with the United Community Center in Milwaukee this fall, helping students interested in nursing to find an accelerated  path into the field while also tackling a shortage of nurses in the community.

The Community-Based Latinx Nursing Education Initiative (CBLNEI) is an educational degree pathway primarily – but not exclusively - targeting residents living within the UCC area on Milwaukee’s south side. Students enrolled are educated as nurses who can then serve the community’s healthcare needs. The program’s aim is to increase diversity in the nursing workforce but also to build a pathway for students who cannot pursue a four-year nursing program because of social determinants that might provide obstacles to education, said Dr. Teri Kaul, Ph.D., APRN-BC, chair for Carroll's Department of Nursing.

To counter those potential obstacles, Kaul emphasized that “number one for us is that we are bringing the program to them, and that’s different from what we’re accustomed to.” Carroll has equipped the program at the UCC with a lab and classroom space. Faculty from Carroll teach the courses.

“It’s fast-paced. It’s rigorous still but it is one of the fastest ways to becoming a nurse,” Kaul said. She said of UCC, “This was the route they chose and we chose with them. We were really dedicated to making this program come to fruition because it is our mission in action.”

The UCC sought to establish the program on its site after identifying a shortage of nurses in the community but also to find those who are bilingual or bicultural to serve a growing Hispanic population, according to UCC Executive Director Laura E. Gutierrez, a 1995 graduate of Carroll. She said the organization chose Carroll as a partner because of the UCC’s history with the school to create programs designed to increase the diversity of candidates pursuing healthcare careers. 

Plans for the program were in the works prior to Kaul’s arrival at Carroll in 2018 but she was given the directive when hired to see it through to fruition, she said. That day came in the fall of 2021 when 19 new students ranging in age from 18 to 60 began their journey in the two-year associate degree program. Kaul said the group includes students just out of high school but also non-traditional students who are older and have been in the workforce but are seeking another career.

Javier Luciano, 26, of Milwaukee, is working as a certified nursing assistant at Waukesha Memorial Hospital and said he sees the need for not only bilingual nurses but male nurses as well. After the associate’s degree, he would like to pursue his bachelor’s degree.

He said of the program, “I think this would really help build upon those caring lessons that we learn from when we are children until we’re all the way up adulthood that we keep giving back to our communities.”

Luciano said he thinks some people in the Latino community might see the pursuit of a nursing career as “too hard” or as an area where they might be treated fairly as a person of color.

Having the program actually in the community, though, might encourage others to seek enrollment when they realize their peers are finding success, said Tulio Gonzalez, another certified nursing assistant enrolled in the program.

Gonzalez, 25, received a culinary arts degree from Madison Area Technical College and worked as a sous chef before later discovering his passion for health care when he took a job at an assisted living facility. Now employed in the Intensive Care Unit at Meriter Hospital in Madison, he found his bilingual skills in demand in helping with patient care. He also recognized the lack of Latinos in the nursing field and wants to change that. 

“Maybe it’s time to push people from different backgrounds into the field so we can build a better system in the hospitals,” said Gonzalez, who plans to continue his education after the associate degree. He would like to become a nurse practitioner.

He said unlike other nursing programs he explored before enrolling at Carroll, the UCC-Carroll partnership provides him support and resources that he didn’t find elsewhere.

“I’m really excited and not just because of the program but I know I’m going to get the support I will seek,” he said. “That is really something that is important for me."

In some cases, the extended time away from school poses academic challenges for some when they are facing the rigor of a nursing curriculum but also figuring out the technical aspects in returning to school, such as how to upload an assignment through a computer. Carroll is striving to provide the students the academic support and services they need not only to retain them in the associate program but to also provide encouragement so that they might consider a bridge to Carroll, where they could later pursue a full bachelor’s degree in the field.

“They are making a wise choice and making a really educated choice to come back at this time,” Kaul said. “It does present them with some challenges when it comes to economics, paying for school, having to put some of their work on hold while they are trying to achieve their degree. So, these are some of the social determinants that we recognize, that we need to attend to and help them with."

Other partners working to make the program a success include Ascension health system, which is providing students the opportunity to experience clinicals in their facilities and The Greater Milwaukee Chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Nurses, whose members have expressed interest in mentoring students.

“I think everyone sees the value in it and sees this as a good path for students,” Kaul said.