January 1, 2022

“…there were huge benefits to the Great Bay program.  It was affordable, local, competitive and had a great reputation for rigor and preparation of excellent nurses.”

Sandi Denoncour is the newly appointed executive director of Lovering Health Center in Greenland, where she and her staff provide safe, compassionate, and comprehensive services to members of the community of all genders and sexual orientations.

She is a graduate of the nursing program at Great Bay Community College, and recently spoke about her time at Great Bay and how it helped prepare her for a rewarding career helping others.

Q: Let’s start at the beginning of your Great Bay experience. When did you enroll and what did you choose to study? 

A: I enrolled at Great Bay part time in 2004.  I was preparing to apply to the nursing program. I had a bachelor’s degree from UNH but needed to retake biology and microbiology classes. It fit my life at the time with a full-time job to take the classes on the weekends or nights to get them done. I applied to the nursing program and enrolled in 2006.

Q: Why Great Bay? What prompted you to turn to Great Bay for your education?  

A: My bachelor’s degree was not in nursing, so I was considering either a direct entry master’s program or the associate’s at Great Bay.  While it seems counterintuitive to get an associate degree — I had to get over the traditional expectation that you “climb up” the education ladder — there were huge benefits to the Great Bay program.  It was affordable, local, competitive and had a great reputation for rigor and preparation of excellent nurses.

Q: After you received your degree, what was your career path?

A: I graduated with an ASN degree in 2008. I have always worked for nonprofit organizations. It’s an important part of my professional value system to work in the nonprofit sector. I also had more than 10 years of birth doula experience, so I thought I may go into labor and delivery or women’s health. That changed when I volunteered at a community health center during my time at Great Bay. I appreciated the breadth of knowledge you needed to work in primary care and the impact of the nonprofit health center model.  I was hired right after graduation and worked at federally qualified health centers here in the New Hampshire Seacoast for over 10 years before coming to Lovering Health Center.

Q: As a student at Great Bay, were you thinking of leadership/management positions? 

A: I can’t say that I knew what leadership role I would end up in, but I did expect that I would become a supervisor or leader in the organizations I worked for. I was slightly anxious about whether my ASN degree would “stack up” against master’s degrees in the field.  Once my feet hit the ground in the real work of nursing, none of that mattered. The Great Bay program prepared me for nursing. The work and the personal motivation still — or certainly still should — outweigh the specific degree. I considered an advanced degree after graduation but found that I was able to find my place in the healthcare landscape doing work that I love. Another degree may be in my future, though!

Q: How did your experience at Great Bay help shape you to become the person you are now? How did it influence your career outcome?

A: My experience at Great Bay allowed me to pursue the clinical work that had always interested me. I wasn’t ready for a nursing program when I was younger. Starting over in a new field in my late 30s was humbling and exciting. The Great Bay environment allowed me to tutor other students while in the program, experience multiple clinical settings, and confirm my instincts about the type of work that would carry me forward in my career. Great Bay challenged me while recognizing that life experience can round out classroom learning — and that resonated with me. Today as a supervisor and leader, I still look for the person first and the degree second. Skills come from many directions, degrees are worth the work you make of them, and my degree from Great Bay has allowed me to make the most of my motivation to help others and help organizations grow.

Q: Describe the work you do at Lovering and why it is important to you and your community.

A: As the executive director, I am proud of the long history of the Lovering’s work in our community. We’ve been here for over 41 years providing sexual and reproductive healthcare. We are a small, non-profit health care center with a mission to provide safe, compassionate, and comprehensive services to community members of all genders and sexual orientations. I take very seriously my responsibility to maintain high-quality clinical services and a healthy nonprofit. The administrative role at this level is a new challenge, but the mission of the work is really the pinnacle of what I have worked to promote for years. The Lovering is a wonderful environment to work in and a very special health care environment; it combines excellent care with patient-centered and trauma-informed practices. That’s not easy to do, so I am very proud to be a part of the Lovering’s successful future!

Q: Any thoughts about the importance and role of a community college education in today’s higher-ed landscape? How about in terms of today’s job market? 

A: I think we are learning more and more about what does and does not work in our education system. COVID made us change so many things and highlighted for me the many, many models of home-based, remote, and diverse educational models we can access. I think there is an important role for community college programs in the higher-ed landscape. For some people, it’s their entry to a longer higher-ed journey. For others, it’s the opportunity to change course and pursue a new career.  With rigorous academics and high expectations, I find community college graduates can be highly competitive in today’s job market.

Q: Are you in a position to hire Great Bay graduates and if so, what does that look like? Are you in conversations with the college about partnerships?

A: I actually just posted a job opening on the Great Bay job boards because I would be thrilled to hire Great Bay graduates. I had the opportunity to hire three wonderful nursing graduates in the past — no regrets! And, yes, I have talked with Great Bay about potential partnerships.

Q: Anything else?

A: I just encourage Great Bay students of any age or background to take their degree or certificate and run with it.  We Great Bay grads are doing great things out here – and I can’t wait to meet you along the way!