Tom Hutton, UCCS, (719) 255-3439, (719) 351-6519 [email protected]

— When Debra Bascom walked into a University of Colorado Colorado Springs classroom six years ago, the then 47-year-old mother of five was petrified.

“I was older than the professors,” Bascom, one of 842 UCCS graduates who will participate in commencement exercises May 20, said. “I was scared – I hadn’t stepped foot in a classroom in more than 30 years.”

Bascom put her fears aside and focused on her studies, earning a place on the dean’s list for two years before putting her studies on hold to grieve for her son, Douglas, a Marine killed in the line of duty in Iraq, and focusing on helping two teenagers still living at home.

“What kept me going is thinking I could be 50 years old and be right where I am or be 50 years old and be a college graduate,” Bascom said. “I wanted the later.”

Bascom received support from the Karen Possehl Women’s Endowment, a private scholarship designed to give non-traditional women students the opportunity to earn a college degree, something Bascom never thought possible as a military spouse who opted to home school her children. Frequent moves and family demands meant little time for personal growth or thoughts of a career.

What’s next for the 53-year-old graduate with a bachelor’s degree and certification to teach in secondary schools?

“I’d like to teach history at the high school level,” she said. “I like teenagers.”

An estimated 1,193 students graduated from UCCS for the spring 2011 semester. About 842 are expected to participate in the ceremony with 682 earning bachelor’s degrees, 141 earning master’s degrees and 19 earning doctoral degrees, including 14 Doctorate of Nursing Practice degrees awarded to students from the Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

The Doctorate of Nursing Practice prepares nurses to provide high-quality primary health care, often for specific at-risk populations and in rural areas, and for teaching the next generation of professional nurses. Whether these graduates move into teaching or primary health care, both are vital to solving the shortage of nurses in Colorado and helping the U.S. reform its health care system, according to Nancy Smith, dean, Beth-El College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

UCCS has the fourth largest enrollment of graduate (master’s and doctoral degree-seeking) students in Colorado.

Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak will provide the commencement address and noted the importance of almost 1,200 new graduates to the regional workforce.

“As they move from seats in the classroom to positions as teachers, accountants, nurses, engineers, and many other positions in both the public and private sectors, these graduates represent the workforce, and the future, of southern Colorado,” Shockley-Zalabak said.

UCCS, located on Austin Bluffs Parkway in Colorado Springs, is one of the fastest growing universities in the nation. The University offers 36 bachelor’s degrees, 19 master’s, and five doctoral degrees. The campus enrolls about 9,000 students annually.