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Nicolet College - Pursuing the Dream: Three Stories

Pursuing the Dream: Three Stories


Posted Monday, Aug. 16, 2010

Meet Jane, Andi and Jenny, three nursing students at Nicolet College. On the surface, these women couldn’t be more different.

Nursing StudentsJane Cortte of Tomahawk is passionate about horses and operates a hobby farm with her husband. Andi Lyman of Rhinelander spends just about every spare moment training for mountain biking races. And Jenny Angove of Minocqua drywalls on the job with her husband.

Yet they all have one thing in common. They are returning to college at mid-life to fulfill a dream.


Measuring life by its width and depth

At 47, Jane Cortte has spent the past 15 years as a dedicated stay-at-home mother. Her four children range from 15 to 22 years of age.

Last year, she injured her back and was laid up for six weeks. “I had a lot of time to reflect on my life,” she says. “I got a glimpse of what life will be like as the kids get older, and I asked myself, ‘What are you going to do?’ I kept coming back to, ‘I really want to be an RN.’ It’s what I always wanted to be.”

Earlier in life, Jane worked as a certified medical assistant, employed in various doctors’ offices and eventually in the UW-Eau Claire medical residency program lab. Back then, as a single mom with two children to support, she didn’t have the time or resources to pursue a nursing degree. She threw all her energy into creating job security for herself, which “led me to be one of the head medical assistants in the lab,” she recounts.

Last year, waiting for her back to heal, Jane realized the time had come to pick up the old dream and pursue it in earnest. “When I made the decision to go back for my RN,” she says, “it was like jumping off a cliff. I tried to do as much as I could right away. I talked with an academic adviser at Nicolet, who asked me, ‘Why be a nurse? You’re already an MA.’ I told him that I felt it in my heart to do service to others, that I’d like to do hospice and mission work. You can’t do those things as an MA.”

The adviser told Jane what steps she needed to take, and she plunged in. She took the pre-admission NLN (National League for Nursing) test last June and completed the CNA (certified nursing assistant) program classes during summer, giving her a head-start to enter the nursing program.

“It was full steam ahead, and it’s been full-time classes ever since,” she says. Come January 2011, Jane will start the core nursing program, and after another two years of intensive course work she will reach her goal.

“It’s not an easy road,” she confides. “But making the commitment, persevering, and with lots of prayers and the belief that you can do it, it can be accomplished. When you look around and see others who have made the same commitment, you find a lot of camaraderie, and it’s empowering, especially among the other older people like myself.”

Jane said being one of the “older ones” has been a plus. “I don’t really look at students in terms of their age. I think we all can learn something from each other,” she says, “but older students have so much more to offer in terms of life experience and knowing that we are here because we want to be. Even in taking tests, I don’t look at it as an obligation so much as an opportunity, because I really want to be a good nurse – not just study to get a good grade but because I really want to learn this stuff and to build on what I know. I think that’s the big difference from younger kids.”

Even so, returning to school at 47 isn’t a step taken lightly. “That fear thing wants to hold you back,” Jane says. “You’ll be 50 before you’re done. I thought about that a lot with my back injury, and realized that if you think about your life as an exercise of body, spirit and mind, it’s about getting these things in balance.

“For me, it seems there were always a couple of things off,” she continues. “The spiritual side would be okay, for instance, but I’d wonder if I should be exercising my body more, or do more with my mind. In going back to school, I feel more in balance. Life-long learning is now part of my whole-person exercise program.”

Jane’s husband and children have been very encouraging. “My children think it’s really cool that I’m not just thinking about retirement,” she says. “Ron is 10 years older and likes to tease me. He’ll say, ‘You’re my retirement plan.’”

She wears a necklace depicting the journey symbol to remind her of what she wants her life to add up to. “It’s not about the length of your life, but the width and depth that matters,” she says. “We don’t know what the length will be. We have more control over the width and depth. What am I doing today to improve that?”


Keep on pedaling

For 35-year-old Andi Lyman, returning to college for the nursing degree meant an abrupt change in direction. She had been working for a local auto dealership, first in service and then sales.

“I was doing pretty well,” she says. “I was divorced, and able to support my three children and own a home. But then the dealership closed. I said, ‘What am I going to do now? With the kids and all the bills, I need a stable job.’”

With the dealership folding, Andi qualified for a state workforce development program that paid the costs of retraining in a different field. “It turned out to be the best thing that could’ve happened to me,” she says. “I knew that I liked helping people, and I thought I had more to offer than selling things.”

Andi went to a career counselor at Nicolet and took a battery of tests, which identified two possibilities: the surveying program and nursing. Surveying may have played to her love for the outdoors, but nursing won out.

“Nursing attracted me because it’s a physically-demanding job and because I know I can make a difference for somebody,” she explains. “It would also allow me to be financially independent. That’s huge when you have a family to support. My mom was an RN, and I watched her put herself through school and become independent.”

Like Jane, Andi will have prerequisites out of the way and will enter the two-year degree program in January 2011. “It’s a total investment in me, and my kids might be college age by the time I’m done,” she says of her children, who are now 15, 13 and 10. “We’re all making sacrifices, and I’m looking forward to giving back some day, helping them out the best I can.”

Andi confesses she sometimes wonders if she made the right choice. “One of the local dealerships wants to hire me and I know I could excel at it,” she says, “and I’d be comfortable financially. But it’s just a short-term fix. I’d feel like I’d let myself down, because it’s not what I want to do with the rest of my life. And I would let my children down, because they have been supportive, and I want to set a good example for them.”

Andi hopes one day to be a nurse in the hospice program. In the meantime, she is working full-time as a web support tech for her mother’s online business. “I’m sitting in front of a computer all day,” she says. “It’s not what I want to do, but for right now the income is a blessing.”

For stress relief and pure joy, Andi trains as a mountain bike racer. She bikes from four to six days a week, and her badges of honor are the bang-up bruises that run up and down her arms. “Sheer clumsiness,” she says with a laugh. “I’d have so much more time if I quit biking, but then I’d lose my sanity.”

“What I’m doing with college is not much different than biking up a rocky mountain trail,” she says. “You’re going to encounter obstacles. You just keep on pedaling.”


Glimpsing what lies ahead

Jenny Angove, 36, never liked school. “I was scared to death to go back,” she acknowledges. “In high school, I stunk as a student. I got A’s in things like drawing and sewing, nothing that I needed.”

Jenny attended college in early childcare but didn’t finish, realizing she wasn’t cut out for meeting the demands of a classroom full of tiny tots.

She has a good life, working with her husband, Mike, on drywall jobs, and is actively involved in the lives of her three children, ages 12, 10 and 7. Yet last year she gathered her courage and returned to school. She still plans to pursue a career involving young children, but with a twist.

“I’ve always loved babies,” she says. “Ever since I was little I’ve loved holding them. My dream is to work in the neo-natal intensive care unit, or in labor and delivery.”

Her inspiration is her sister-in-law, a nurse who assisted in the labor and delivery of each of her three children. “All three of mine were special deliveries with complications,” she says. “And I was a premie delivered three months early and weighing three pounds. I told my husband that after what I’ve been through, I’d love to be there for other moms and their babies.”

Jenny has completed the prerequisites and is preparing to take the pre-admission NLN test. Once she passes, she’ll be put on the waiting list for entering the core program. She anticipates continuing her studies part-time. “Hopefully,” she says, “I’ll graduate before my daughter does.”

For someone who disliked school so much, Jenny was in for a surprise. “It hasn’t been as difficult as I thought it would be, coming back at this age,” she says. “I’ve gotten mostly A’s and B’s. I received only one C, in microbiology.”

To her astonishment, Jenny was nominated for Student Ambassador at Nicolet. She also made the Dean’s List. “I had never made that before in my entire life,” she says. “I had the award framed and put on the wall. My parents, who didn’t go to college, were so proud.”

Maturity makes the difference, Jenny observes. “It’s actually smarter to go back to college later, when you know what you want. You’re going to work harder to get it. When you’re younger, you’re more worried about your looks, your hair, your clothes. At this stage, I am a lot more respectful of my teachers and what they’re trying to do. I really want to concentrate on what they’re teaching.”

Her family has been gracious about the diversion of her energies into studying. “When I have a major test coming up,” she says, “Mike will take the kids to the YMCA to get them out of the house so I can concentrate.”

When a term paper disappeared online just before it was due, Mike came to the rescue. “I didn’t know you were supposed to periodically save your work,” she says. “After I lost it the third time and had only until midnight to turn it in, Mike stood there reading it to me so I could type it in. He’s been my one true support through all this.”

Mike won’t miss his drywalling partner, Jenny said, because once she’s through school, it’ll be his turn. “He’s urging me to consider going full-time so I can start working sooner, because then he plans to go back to college. He has a lot of college credits. He just needs to finish his degree.”

As gratifying as it has been for Jenny to receive the best grades of her life, returning to college has not been a piece of cake.

“The stress has gotten to me a couple of times,” she says. “I’ve learned to go for walks, which calms me down. And I cry just about every time I hear the song from Hannah Montana, ‘The Climb.’ With microbiology, I almost crashed and burned. I just kept singing that song.

“With all these classes to get through,” she adds, “there will always be a mountain ahead, but what’s waiting for you on the other side makes it all worthwhile.”