FLINT, Michigan — Coping with an unexpected family tragedy lead Meleah Denson to a new passion and new career.
Denson’s sister, Daneka Poole, was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after Denson graduated from Michigan State University in 2012 with a degree in physiology. During that time, Denson witnessed up close the profound impact nurses have on patients and families under their care.
“Being home, helping care for her, and interacting with her nurses, that is where my passion for nursing came about,” said Denson, a 2007 Flint Southwestern graduate. “I wanted to give other families the hope and comfort that they helped give us.”
Poole passed away in 2015, but prior to her death had encouraged her sister to pursue a nursing career. Denson enrolled in the University of Michigan-Flint’s nursing program and said she received both a quality education and a student-centered experience where faculty, staff, and fellow students were supportive of her many responsibilities outside of the classroom.
“The nursing program at UM-Flint is fantastic,” Denson said. “It was challenging academically, and nursing programs are always stressful — but the professors, clinical associates, advisors, staff … they all have your best interest at heart.”
In addition to her class schedule, Denson was helping her family care for her sister and working two jobs.
“I was taking my prerequisites,” Denson said. “(Poole) was staying with my parents. I would get off of work and then go help out. I just had to juggle it all. She passed away in June (2015) and I started the nursing program in August. She was my motivation to get through. My mom, dad, and sister were my biggest cheerleaders.”
Denson started the program while coping with depression and grief of losing her sister, but found support systems within the UM-Flint community.
“The people at UM-Flint gave me everything I needed to succeed — tutoring, flexibility, anything they could do to help me,” she said. “They would do that for any student too.”
Denson also had a support system within the program — her cousin, Kevin Poole, went through the program with her and both graduated last month.
“Having someone else who understands the stress of a nursing program and what you are going through was extremely helpful,” she said.
Denson and Kevin Poole were also the only two African-American students in their class. Now that they’ve graduated, they hope to encourage more African-American students to study nursing.
“My cousin and I want to set up a scholarship fund and mentorship program to promote more African-American students getting into nursing, especially at UM-Flint,” she said. “We want to better our community and help in any way we can.”
Denson didn’t just complete the program while coping with the loss of her sister, she did so with significant academic achievement.
“At UM-Flint, you have to have high academic standards to even get into the nursing program,” she said. “Once I got in, I told myself I wanted to do as well as I can. My personal goal was to graduate with honors to show I could do it.”
As she begins her career, she hopes to go into labor and delivery nursing, a postpartum unit, or possibly an emergency department. Her goal is to one day become a certified nurse midwife. African-American mothers and infants have a higher mortality rate than any group in the country, and she hopes to use her nursing background to provide access to greater resources and birthing options to economically disadvantaged mothers. Her career aspirations were something she and her sister discussed at length.
“She was my motivation to get through nursing school,” Denson said. “Her son pinned me at the pinning ceremony. To see me start and finish my degree and be able to use it to help people, she would be extremely proud.”