“Every time we have a nursing pinning ceremony or a graduation, seeing those individuals walk across the stage and knowing that I was able to see that student get through a difficult time or have their ‘aha’ moment or just marvel in the grit and perseverance they have shown throughout their time here in the nursing program — just seeing that is what gets me going.”
Elysia Ockenga will be the nursing program director for Union College beginning in January 2022. She has been teaching nursing at Union for the last 12 years. Ockenga graduated from Union College in 2002 and began working at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Lincoln. She began her career as a floor nurse on the medical oncology stroke unit. “I was able to step into some leadership positions at St. Elizabeth, and I was a part of some of our committees, including the educational committee,” said Ockenga. “In 2009, I was approached by one of the faculty here to teach a lab in a physical assessments course. I decided that I really wanted to continue teaching, so I went back and got my master’s degree in nursing education at Nebraska Wesleyan and became a full-time faculty here.”
Ockenga has taught a variety of courses at Union, including physical assessments, clinicals, community health, pharmacology and mental health. “I’ve always loved medical stuff,” she said. “I took anatomy and physiology in highschool and loved it. I was also drawn to the helping aspect of nursing — being with somebody during one of the most vulnerable times in their life and helping with their healing process. I love being able to mentor and support students who have that same longing to do something good for others and help them heal.
“Faculty development has been one of my passions here at Union for the last couple years, as well as thinking about how to teach better. I love to read about different teaching pedagogies. As I move into the nursing program director role, I am focusing on ways we can better assist our students to success, as well as ways I can support our faculty in providing really great educational opportunities for our students and in continuing the legacy of having an excellent nursing program here.”
Ockenga’s favorite part of her job is interacting with Union’s nursing students. She said, “Being able to be on the journey with my students and helping them become the best nurses they can be so they can help all those other patients down the line is exciting to me. I am so privileged to join them on their journeys.”
Ockenga’s husband, Nathan, also graduated from Union’s nursing program in 2002. They have three children who attend College View Academy: Adin, Abbie and Anders. The family has two dogs and one gecko. In her spare time, Ockenga enjoys coaching her children’s sports teams.
To Union’s current and incoming nursing students, Ockenga says, “Thank you for being willing to help others. This is a really hard time right now, but the desire to do good and help, especially in this environment of COVID and other unknowns, shows the character of a person. I am really thankful for the work you are striving to do and that you will do.”
by Annika Cambigue, sophomore communication and English major