Kelly Martin-Puleo, Colorado Northwestern Community College nursing program director, was named the CNCC 2010-11 faculty of the year in February. Martin-Puleo initially had plans to become a neonatal nurse practitioner but decided to enter the teaching field after she began pursuing her master’s degree at Regis University.

Photo by Bridget Manley

Kelly Martin-Puleo, Colorado Northwestern Community College nursing program director, was named the CNCC 2010-11 faculty of the year in February. Martin-Puleo initially had plans to become a neonatal nurse practitioner but decided to enter the teaching field after she began pursuing her master’s degree at Regis University.

A path unplanned: CNCC nursing director lauded

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At a glance:

Name: Kelly Martin-Puleo

Position: Colorado Northwestern Community College nursing program director

Age: 42

Education:

— 1991: Associate of Applied Science in nursing from Lakeland Community College, in Kirtland, Ohio

— 2004: Bachelor of Science in nursing from Metropolitan State College of Denver

— 2007: Master’s degree in nursing leadership and health care education from Regis University

— Late 2012: Anticipated graduation date from Capella University with a doctorate in education with a specialization in nursing education.

Quotable:

“When you’re a nurse, it becomes such a big part of your identity. And I wanted to share that.”

— Kelly Martin-Puleo, Colorado Northwestern Community College nursing program director, on choosing to become an educator

Kelly Martin-Puleo doesn’t leave the future to chance.

Instead, she plans.

She always has a five-year blueprint for her life, “and I pretty much stick to it,” said Martin-Puleo, Colorado Northwestern Community College’s nursing program director.

The college nursing program has blossomed under Martin-Puleo’s guidance, CNCC nursing instructor Julie Alkema said. She attributes its growth to the director’s characteristic ability to look past the immediate future.

“She’s just got a great vision for what we can be … that we can be a center of excellence, even though we’re in rural Colorado,” Alkema said. “… I feel we’re very lucky to have her as a leader here.”

Alkema isn’t the only one to take notice of the program director’s work.

At a Colorado Community College System luncheon in early February, Martin-Puleo was recognized as CNCC’s 2010-11 faculty of the year.

She was one of several faculty members to receive the award from schools throughout the college system.

When hearing the passion with which she speaks about nursing education, it’s difficult to imagine her anywhere else except a classroom.

Nursing is a science, but a good nurse must know more than the mechanics of the human body. Nurses-in-training also must learn “the art of caring,” said Martin-Puleo, 42, who worked as a nurse for 17 years.

Yet, becoming a teacher wasn’t part of the plan, at least, not initially.

Martin-Puleo’s career as a teacher resulted from an unexpected departure from the life she envisioned.

When Martin-Puleo was a new master’s student at Regis University in 2004, she wasn’t thinking about nursing education.

Instead, she was on her way to becoming a neonatal nurse practitioner, a specialty she grew to love while she was pursuing her associate’s degree in nursing at Lakeland Community College, in Kirtland, Ohio.

She spent part of her training at a neonatal intensive care unit, where premature and ailing newborns were nursed back to health.

“(I) knew right then and there I wanted to take care of babies,” she said.

She pursued that passion throughout her nursing career, first at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, and later at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center in Denver.

Yet, when Martin-Puleo returned to school for her master’s degree, something unexpected happened.

“Going back to school … and being with the nurse educators, it just sparked my interest in teaching,” she said.

Her newfound enthusiasm for education took her by surprise.

“It was shocking, actually,” she said. “It was never the plan.”

“…I had completely gone off the beaten path I had set for myself.”

Now, instead of practicing nursing, Martin-Puleo wanted to prepare others to enter the field.

“When you’re a nurse, it becomes such a big part of your identity,” she said. “And I wanted to share that. My career was so important to me that I wanted to be a part of creating and giving back to the profession that has given so much to me.”

Martin-Puleo still has a plan, but now it’s focused on the nursing program she’s directed since September 2010.

She’s spearheading an effort to get the program accredited through the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission. She expects to hear the commission’s final decision any day now, she said.

She’s also working on her doctorate in education with a specialization in nursing education from Capella University.

Between her obligations at the college and her continuing education, the Steamboat Springs resident finds time to spend with her husband, Victor Puleo.

So what about the original plan to devote herself to caring for children in their first days of life?

She thought about this at the luncheon in February, she said, and concluded the path she intended and the one she took weren’t so different after all.

When an infant leaves a neonatal intensive care unit, they’re considered graduates because “they’re on to this bigger life, they’ve accomplished this great thing,” she said.

In some ways, her students are the same.

“They come to nursing school, and it’s a very rigorous program,” she said. “And then they graduate on from here and they start a new life.”

Bridget Manley can be reached at 875-1793 or bmanley@craigdailypress.com.

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