Mother, daughter graduating together from ECU nursing program

For the first time since the start of a unique East Carolina University College of Nursing program in 2012, a mother and daughter are completing the East Carolina University Regionally Increasing Baccalaureate Nurses (RIBN) program simultaneously and will graduate together in May.

As part of a military family, Keelin Van Wagenen and her mother, Jessica, have moved frequently. Jessica is originally from Belton, Texas — an Army town — but was stationed with her husband in Jacksonville from 2000-05. In 2016, the Van Wagenens were stationed for the second time in North Carolina at Cherry Point.

East Carolina University nursing students Keelin, left, and Jessica Van Wagenen pose at Craven Community College for a nursing event.

East Carolina University nursing students Keelin, left, and Jessica Van Wagenen pose at Craven Community College for a nursing event. The mother-daughter duo will graduate this weekend from ECU’s Regionally Increasing Baccalaureate Nurses program. (Contributed photo)

That’s when Keelin discovered the RIBN program during her senior year of high school. The program is an opportunity for students to earn their associate degree and bachelor’s degree in nursing through a dual-enrollment agreement offered at 17 community colleges in eastern North Carolina. Students attend the majority of classes at a community college, which lowers the cost of instruction, before completing their final year at ECU.

After missing the program deadline, Keelin decided to apply following a year of general education courses at Craven Community College. Jessica also had long-term dreams of becoming a nurse. When Keelin told her mom about the program, they both decided to apply and were accepted into the competitive program.

“I’ve wanted to be a nurse since I was in high school, and Keelin was getting ready to start, so I figured this is as good a time as any,” Jessica said. “If I’m going do it, I might as well start now.”

Throughout their intense coursework, the mother/daughter combo has been able to lean on each other.

“Having my mom in the same program has been nice,” Keelin said. “When we have questions about assignments, we are usually able to bounce ideas off each other.”

With a name as unique as Van Wagenen, the fact that they were related did not stay unknown for long within the program. Some even thought that the two were sisters.

“You don’t see ‘Van Wagenen’ around a lot,” Keelin said. “So, they (our RIBN advisors) had to put two and two together and ask, ‘Are you guys related?’”

Both Keelin and Jessica work as full-time nurses while completing the coursework required for the program. Keelin works at ECU Health Medical Center and Jessica works at Carteret Health in the operating room as a circulating nurse.

As commencement approaches, they look forward to finishing the program alongside each other.

“I’m relieved and really, really excited to be done,” Jessica said.