Weber State Honors Inaugural Class of Doctoral Graduates

OGDEN, Utah – Weber State University, along with the Dumke College of Health Professions and the Annie Taylor Dee School of Nursing, celebrated the graduation of the first cohort of Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) students as part of the class of 2021 on May 1.

“It is a privilege to be a part of this historical moment for the School of Nursing and WSU,” said Sally Cantwell, School of Nursing chair and professor. “Our faculty have been pivotal in ensuring our students have quality learning experiences and opportunities that have prepared them for the DNP leadership role. We are excited to watch them continue to make positive impacts in the workforce.”

The DNP program offers two emphasis areas: Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) and Leadership. The program provides education to all levels of nurses, with both masters-to-doctorate and bachelors-to-doctorate options. Students earn a clinical degree rather than a research-based doctorate.

The program currently has 25 students enrolled in the Post Masters to DNP program and 42 in the Post BSN to DNP-FNP.

The 12 students graduating from the Post Masters to DNP-Leadership program reflected on their time at Weber State since their journey began in fall 2019 when the program launched.

“The DNP program has increased my confidence as a nurse,” said Holly Wright. “It refined my writing skills, taught me how to implement quality improvements and increased my ability and desire to improve the world around me.”

Despite the challenges a pandemic presented, DNP students persevered through their program to complete their education.

“We had already started working on our DNP quality improvement projects when COVID-19 changed everything,” said Mindy Robert. “It was amazing to see that none of us gave up. We all came up with creative solutions to implement our projects.”

While in the program, students were challenged to expand on their previous knowledge of nursing to become effective leaders in the industry. 

“The DNP program improved our understanding of nursing science and theory, healthcare policy and interprofessional collaboration,” said Catherine Harmston. “We have been well prepared to engage in advocacy, develop new knowledge and improve healthcare in our communities.”

Through research projects that aimed to improve the healthcare industry, the program helped students begin making changes in the workforce before they even graduated.

“I am thrilled with the quality of education I received and the DNP project I was able to create,” said Heather Clark. “I was able to implement a sustainable change in my department that will impact nurses for years to come.”

The DNP program also helped students improve their understanding of the complexities of the nursing industry to become better healthcare practitioners.

“WSU has stretched my ability to understand the healthcare system and the interactivity of its many components,” said Marie Blacker. “I better understand the vast concept of population health and my role in facilitating improved health outcomes while limiting health disparities and inequalities.”

While earning a DNP does not typically increase a nurse’s salary, many students feel the value of the knowledge and skills gained from their degrees outweigh the cost.

“A DNP increases an important skill set of leading in evidence-based practice, public policy and management for improving health outcomes and health systems,’ said Megan Barney. “It's been exciting to be a part of this new program and to interact with the faculty. I have learned a lot and stretched myself in new ways.”

As they continue their nursing careers, graduates are looking forward to further utilizing the knowledge they have gained at WSU from their mentors and courses.

“I am grateful for the wonderful mentors I have had through the DNP program and work,” said Kristyn Steedley. “I have already put to use many of the leadership skills we have learned in the DNP program and plan to use more as I help plan education programs for multiple hospitals.”

Each graduate has grown throughout their time at WSU and expressed gratefulness for the people met along the way and the experiences they will cherish.

“I have had many memorable moments this past year,” said Emily Daines. “Being a member of a cohort of an inaugural DNP program during a worldwide pandemic is not something I will soon forget. I will forever be grateful to the professors who have gracefully guided and encouraged me through this program.”

For some, the DNP helped them continue growing even when they thought they had reached their full potential.

“At 60 years old, one would think you would have reached full maturity,” said Roxanne Butterfield. “But I know I have reached a new level of maturity by being a student at Weber State. I am proud to say that I am a graduate of WSU.”

For many students, earning their DNP degree marks the end of a long educational journey at WSU, with some graduates having earned all their nursing degrees at WSU.

“My most memorable experience at Weber State was as an undergraduate student,” said Emily Ostarcevic. “My best friend and I attended the nursing program together and we would study and eat down at the Ada Lindquist Plaza. I have been lucky to have wonderful professors who have mentored me and pushed me to reach my potential.”

Throughout it all, DNP students overcame obstacles, rose to the occasion and improved their skills, paving the way for future DNP students.

“Weber State has always pushed me to be the best I can be,” said Shane Archibald. “I have been challenged, encouraged and inspired to keep going until it’s my turn to retire and pass the torch to the next generation.”

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Allison Barlow Hess, Public Relations director
801-626-7948 •


Marisa Nelson, Office of Marketing & Communications
801-626-7948 •