El Pomar will receive the ASU Willis Fassett Jr. Award


Article by Linda Relyea

Mari Tanabe, program associate, Cathy Robbins, senior vice president, and Hannah Staller, program associate, stand before the sculpture of Spencer Penrose

Mari Tanabe, program associate, Cathy Robbins, senior vice president, and Hannah Staller, program associate, stand before the sculpture of Spencer Penrose, who established El Pomar Foundation, along with his wife, Julie, in 1937.

Throughout the health care industry, the demand for nurses continues to rise, especially in isolated rural communities like the San Luis Valley. In an effort to help fulfill that need El Pomar Foundation established an Adams State University Nursing Scholarship for undergraduate nursing students as well as graduate level health professionals to advance their education.

In recognition of this and other means of support for Adams State, the ASU Foundation chose El Pomar Foundation as the 2015 Willis Fassett Jr. Award recipient. El Pomar's Rob Hilbert, chief financial officer and life trustee, and Cathy Robbins, senior vice president, will accept the award at the Adams State Donor Recognition Dinner on November 4.

Bryan Garcia, a senior BSN nursing major, said receiving the El Pomar Nursing Scholarship helps "take a load off my shoulders." He and his wife, Akacia, who recently started the nursing program at Trinidad State Junior College Valley Campus, have a young daughter. "I cannot express how grateful I am to receive this honor. It is outstanding people, as those in El Pomar Foundation, that help make student's dreams and goals a reality."

Currently, the El Pomar Nursing Scholarship contributes $111,000 a year to the ASU Foundation, and is available for students who intend to practice long-term in the San Luis Valley after receiving their degree. Beginning in the 2012-2013 academic year, El Pomar has pledged to continue this support through the 2016-2017 academic year.

Garcia graduated from Antonito High School, in one of the poorest counties in Colorado. "I am one of five students fortunate enough to attend college." He currently works at the San Luis Valley Regional Medical Center as a Certified Nursing Assistant. During school months, he works at least twenty hours, and during the summer months he works full-time, forty hours a week.

"Attending college was made possible by generous foundations and organizations like El Pomar that granted me scholarships," Garcia added.

Dedicated to Colorado

El Pomar Foundation, founded in 1937 by Spencer Penrose and his wife, Julie, serves nonprofits throughout the state of Colorado. Cathy Robbins, El Pomar senior vice president, explained that El Pomar Foundation's Board of Trustees wished to expand their impact beyond the Front Range. The Regional Partnerships program was thus established in 2003 to provide additional support for rural regions in Colorado.

Regional Councils—the core of the Regional Partnerships program—consist of community leaders who live and work within the region. "This is an effective approach," Robbins said. "The regional council identifies needs unique to their area." El Pomar meets these needs by budgeting $200,000 a year for rural Colorado councils.

The San Luis Valley Regional Council members include William J. Hybl, chairman and chief executive officer; Andrea Aragon, regional trustee; Melanie Bravo, president and CEO B&G Club of Pueblo County; Keith Cerny, publisher of the Valley Courier; Kathy Rogers, director of Communications and Marketing at SLV Regional Medical Center; Karla Shriver, Rio Grande County Commissioner; The Honorable Edward Vigil, Colorado State Representative, and two Adams State former presidents Dr. Tom Gilmore and Dr. David Svaldi, who began serving on the council during his tenure as Adams State president.

The San Luis Valley was the second regional council to be established. "From the beginning it was obvious the San Luis Valley is a special place with both many assets and opportunities to fund," Robbins added.

Aiding the San Luis Valley

Identifying professional fields with a demand for good paying jobs, the San Luis Valley Regional Council proposed supporting nursing by establishing a scholarship. "Our sense was that good medical care in the SLV is dependent on both primary care physicians as well as effective nursing care," Svaldi said. "We choose to focus on supporting nursing education as one way to stabilize and maintain a supply of nurses and to encourage the development of nurse practitioners who in many ways can serve a role in primary care."

Gilmore agreed: "We thought increasing nurses and NPs that stay in the Valley would increase access to quality health care throughout the region."

Not only does supporting the nursing profession provide the immediate benefit to students, there is the larger economic impact on the San Luis Valley economy as well-paid employees become a significant part of the community.

According to Rogers, offering financial help, up to and including the nurse practitioner level, will also help alleviate limited access to primary care for patients with acute healthcare needs that can be safely handled by a nurse practitioner. "We have had good success in the program."

Melissa Milner, Adams State associate professor of nursing and faculty director for simulation, plans to graduate in 2017 with a Doctorate of Nursing Practice from Regis University, with an emphasis in rural and community health. She credits the El Pomar Nursing Scholarship as a vital factor in her ability to be able to return to school.

"I am grateful to the foundation because without it my education would not be possible," Milner said. "It can be challenging to work in a rural community with limited resources, but I believe through furthering my education I will learn new innovative ways to help the community and enhance the learning experience and success of our nursing students."

Mari Tanabe, program associate at El Pomar who assists the SLV Regional Council, reached out to the scholarship recipients. "Many students noted how intense and time-consuming the coursework is. They expressed their appreciation that they do not have to work alongside their classes. The scholarship allows them to focus on their studies." Several past recipients currently work in leadership roles in the San Luis Valley, including one graduate who is the Regional Health Epidemiologist for all six counties.

The Willis Fassett Jr. Award is given by the Adams State University Foundation to strong supporters of the university. The award is named for the late Willis Fassett Jr., who was a long-time president of the Foundation Board of Directors. The award includes the Buffalo Chant bronze, created specifically for the Foundation by the late William Moyers '39, Adams State alumnus and famous Cowboy Artist.

Along with the nursing scholarship, El Pomar Foundation has supported the Adams State Grizzly Club, ASU Community Partnerships, and scholarships for students in a crisis situation. The Foundation has also supported the local Boys and Girls Club, Tu Casa, La Puente Home, the Colorado West Fork Fire, and other regional agencies.