There are no surprises when you meet Marnie Colborne. Her eyes shine bright with curiosity and she speaks quickly, with passion.

You feel instantly at ease around her, as if she’s a friend you’ve known for years.

The charismatic honors program nursing student is exactly the kind of person you would expect to be president of the Nursing Undergraduate Association, United Nations youth representative for Sigma Theta Tau International and a volunteer at more places than she has fingers on her hands.

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There is, however, one thing that you wouldn’t necessarily expect after meeting Colborne—she never wanted to be a nurse.

“Honestly, I applied for nursing on a whim,” she says with a laugh. “It sounds so cliché, but the only thing that I thought of was helping people.”

Helping Here, There and Everywhere

That drive to help others was instilled early in her life. As the youngest of four children, Colborne spent a lot of time with her mother, who would take her along to volunteer at a homeless shelter preparing meals.

It was that exposure to inequity and inequality that motivated her to take an active role in her community, at both a local and global level.

Colborne played an active role in the Uganda Partnership—a grassroots project that works with local widows, grandmothers and children in Bushenyi, Uganda—since she was 13.

“Many of these widow groups have been affected by HIV/AIDS and poverty, and face violence on a daily basis. We were able to raise enough money to buy land for 32 widow groups, provide them with seeds so that they could start farming and also chickens and goats so that they could start building their sustainability.”

Later on, the group built a primary school and even provided funding for the children to attend secondary school.

“Some of the students are actually graduating with their nursing certificate,” Colborne says excitedly, “and we keep in touch by texting all the time.”

While brainstorming ways to ensure the widow group’s self-sufficiency, Colborne and other members of the Uganda Partnership, which is moving towards becoming a non-governmental organization, proposed the establishment of a health clinic, as well as a mobile health clinic.

“A health clinic will provide employment to the recently graduated nurses, as well as build sustainability for the community,” explains Colborne. “We recently applied for a grant to build the clinic and we’re hopeful that it will be funded. If not, I’ll be doing some more fundraising to make the clinic a reality.”

Colborne also saw an opportunity to build an online community for the exchange of knowledge between nursing students in Bushenyi and those at the University of Alberta.

The virtual clinic will give students the ability to act as a health information resource by sharing health-related questions and experiences via smart phones or online chat, while also learning about healthcare in another country.

It’s global outreach and collaborations like this that make Colborne a natural for her new role as a youth ambassador for the United Nations.

Heart and Soul

Although Colborne never thought of a career in nursing, she dreamt of working with the UN from a young age.

“I thought that it would be so cool to get involved with the UN, but how do you get involved with something so huge?” she muses.

The opportunity presented itself when Colborne opened an email from Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI) and noticed they were looking for one last UN youth representative.

“I honestly did not feel like the interviews with the UN and STTI went very well, so imagine my surprise and excitement when they phoned and offered me the position,” Colborne says with a laugh.

STTI, which holds a special consultative status with the UN, is an immense organization with more than 135,000 active members in 90 countries.

In her role, Colborne will travel to UN headquarters in New York at least six times a year to represent STTI at events, programs, and activities. By sharing the information she learns from the UN activities with STTI’s global initiative department, STTI can continue to fulfill its mission of advancing global health.

“Action is so important,” she says. “I want to see a difference and I want to get people more engaged about what’s going on around them. It’s something that I’ve encouraged as president of the Nursing Undergraduate Association and it’s something that I can do with members of STTI.”

Colborne believes each and every individual has the ability to make a difference.

“You and I are part of the change that we can have towards the 2030 Agenda, and I’m putting my heart and soul into making sure that our voices are heard.”

Despite Colborne’s affinity for advocating the well-being of disadvantaged populations, she wasn’t quick to find her own voice and see herself as a priority.

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The Downward Spiral

Coming to the University of Alberta from Calgary, she remembers the overwhelming isolation she felt when starting the nursing program.

“The day I moved into residence I looked around at all of the boxes that needed to be unpacked, sat down, stared at the wall for the longest time and just thought, ‘What the hell am I going to do?’

“I realized that I didn’t even know what nursing was or what I could expect,” says Colborne. “On top of that, I didn’t have a car and I needed to work out how I was going to buy groceries, make food, get around the city, and even doing basic things like figure out how to do my laundry.”

It was a colossal, and stressful, learning curve for Colborne.

“I was incredibly homesick and anxious,” she says. “To gain some sort of semblance of control in my life, I said ‘yes’ to everything and took on so many responsibilities and commitments. I needed to stay busy so that I wouldn’t have to deal with what was actually hurting me.”

It wasn’t until an eye-opening exchange with her mother that Colborne realized just how unhealthy her behaviour had become.

“She asked me one day, ‘what do you see when you look in the mirror?’ and I realized that I didn’t like who I saw in the mirror,” explains Colborne.

Following that conversation, Colborne attained a new sense of clarity.

“We talked about how I was feeling and it was a turning point for me,” she says. “It’s so incredibly cliché, but actually acknowledging the fact that you might be having trouble can be a hugely difficult thing for so many people. It definitely was for me.”

Throughout the last year, Colborne has focused on personal healing through yoga, meditation and self-love—she even has a ‘say no’ sticker in her agenda. With a laugh, Colborne explains how she has to remind herself it’s okay to not be busy from when she wakes up until the time she goes to bed.

She’s also sharing her experience with others; she hopes her story can help others going through similar struggles.

“Your mental health is just so important,” she says. “I talk to my friends—and even other students—about what I went through, because I can see many of them struggling the same way that I was. Even just offering to be there if they need someone to talk to can be a huge help.”

In retrospect, Colborne is thankful for the experiences she’s had at the University of Alberta while finding both a career and most importantly, herself.

“My boyfriend will graduate from the nursing after degree program in November,” says Colborne, “and he loves nursing, but he knows that it’s not his niche. He tells me that he’s jealous of how passionate I am, because he sees how I live and breathe nursing. It’s incredible to hear your partner say something like that.”

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall

Building relationships with patients is something thing that Colborne clearly loves about her chosen profession.

“So many of my patients remember when I’m finished my clinical, and on my last day they’ll have my favourite snack—cookies with little packets of peanut butter to dip them into—sitting on their bedside table so that we can share a little treat,” she says with a laugh. “I love the little moments like that. I also love seeing them smile, having them telling me their secrets, being with them when they’re most vulnerable and most importantly, having them trust me.”

Despite the certainty that nursing is her calling, Colborne finds the sheer number of opportunities available somewhat daunting.

“Every single day I look in the mirror and ask myself, ‘what I’m going to do?’” she says, “and every day I have a different thought. You can go into any area that you want and travel anywhere in the world—it’s just incredible.”

Colborne considers herself lucky to have been exposed to the clinical, leadership and research opportunities she’s experienced over the last four years.

“I have so many doors open, I just need half of them to close.”

Colborne received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN) Honors degree on Monday, June 12, 2017.