By Hattie Bernstein
For some, it took years; for others, it was an express train. But no matter the speed or the number of detours, these determined SNHU online students have reached their destination – graduation.
One remembered a high school administrator telling him, “You’ll never amount to anything.” Another recalled the mentoring and nurturing she received from her father and stepfather. Still another said that every time she was ready to quit, her academic advisor called with an encouraging word.
None of them had an easy path. All balanced the competing needs of jobs, families and school. Several moved while pursuing their degrees. And they persisted, day after day, week after week, to the end of each course and the completion of a degree. This spring the university will celebrate them at Commencement.
“Graduation is that moment to acknowledge accomplishments as our students pivot toward the possibilities on the horizon,” said Dr. Gregory Fowler, vice president of Academic Administration and chief academic officer for COCE. “It is precisely because our success is defined by the success of our students that we are excited about their reaching this milestone and so hopeful for the things to come.”
Dr. Melissa Tommasino-Storz had been a practicing chiropractor for 17 years when she enrolled in SNHU’s first baccalaureate nursing class, launched in 2013. She also holds a B.S. degree in biology, an associate degree in nursing, and certifications in personal training, nutrition, adult and pediatric life support, and manipulation under anesthesia.
“I needed a program that allowed me to complete the degree in a timely manner. It was essential to me to move forward,” says Tommasino-Storz, who lives in Long Island, N.Y., is married, and has two children, a 9-year-old and a 2-year-old.
Tommasino-Storz had already been thinking about “switching gears” when she heard a radio ad about SNHU’s online programs.
“I’d been putting it off for a while,” she says. “I knew I wanted to do it because I had a young child, another older — a balancing act managing career, family, life.”
At the same time, the hospital where she works was seeking to hire nurses with BSN degrees, mirroring a national trend. Last April, she registered for two online courses in the new BSN program. She took another in the summer, two more in the fall, and in May, after completing her final class, will become one of our first BSN graduates.
“For me, it’s been fabulous. It’s extremely convenient. I can focus on my career, maintain my family life and pursue the BSN all at the same time,” she says.
Clinical nursing studies were “completely new.” But Tommasino-Storz’s background as a chiropractor and her current job as a medical surgical nurse helped – as did being able to transfer up to 90 credits.
“I enjoy learning, research, the whole process,” she says. “The only challenge that ever came along was just time.”
Tommasino-Storz is considering a career in advanced nursing, perhaps nurse-midwifery or nurse-anesthesiology. Meanwhile, she’s relishing her most recent accomplishment and reflecting on the role SNHU has played in her success.
“I think they genuinely want you to succeed, to know they’re there for you,” she says of professors and advisors. “They follow up with email and call you back. You can blink your eyes and they’ll call right back. They go above and beyond in helping you out.”
Kimi Ramsey has her father and stepfather to thank for her career, and SNHU to thank for advancing it.
“I grew up aspiring to be equally successful,” Ramsey says, recalling the hours her father, a CPA and an executive for Aetna, spent helping her with her math homework. “I had the mathematical background, an interest in money and finance.”
Her mother’s remarriage when Ramsey was 10, to an HVAC technician, sparked her interest in mechanical things.
“He got his electrician’s certificate. He was a plumber, a handyman. He could do anything, fix anything,” she says. “My stepfather taught me how to work on my car, replace the roof of my first house, and even finish the basement and install AC. Put the two together, and I got the idea to go to school and become a mechanical engineer.”
While a manufacturing engineer for Parker Hannifin, her first job after college, Ramsey enrolled in an MBA program.
“They promoted school and education,” she says of her first employer. “If I pursued my MBA, I could become a manager, director, vice president, CEO. They said, ‘You should have an MBA with your engineering background.’ ”
But an opportunity to work abroad put a halt to graduate school: Ramsey had to stop taking classes after her company purchased a firm overseas and sent her there to help with the transition.
“I came back and I was promoted,” she says.
After returning to the U.S. she tried, but failed, to find an online MBA program that suited her. “I took a deep breath and said, ‘It will all get figured out,’ and eventually SNHU came along.”
It was a perfect match.
“I wanted something I could move with, that I didn’t have to stop and start,” she says. “I wanted to get it done.”
While taking online classes toward her MBA, Ramsey moved three times, married, had two children and started a new job as an engineer for Vistakon, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson in Jacksonville, Fla.
“If she hadn’t told me, I never would have known,” says Whitney Flanders, Ramsey’s academic advisor in 2012 and 2013.
Adds current academic advisor Laura Baudanza, “When I see her name come up, what I think of is ‘organized and responsible.’ ”
Growing up in Pittsboro, Ind., a one-stoplight town west of Indianapolis, Jesse Reynolds was known as a troublemaker.
“I didn’t have a great reputation,” Reynolds says. “The cops knew my name, and if you asked my old vice principal what I’d be doing now, this is the last thing he would have guessed.”
After just barely graduating from high school, Reynolds bounced from one job to another, deciding after a couple of years to enroll in a Job Corps computer class.
“A Navy recruiter was there, talking to a guy who told me he’d gotten a 55 on the entrance test,” Reynolds recalls. “He said, ‘You think you can do better?’ And I said, ‘I’ll take the test.’ It was on a whim, a bet, and I scored a 96. The recruiter got me signed up as quick as possible.”
Reynolds went on to serve as an aviation electronics technician for a four-year enlistment, stationed out of Virginia Beach and completing a six-month deployment on the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy. He left the service in 2005 with a back injury, and is now a civilian electronics mechanic in the Coast Guard’s Department of Homeland Security. In May he will graduate with a B.S. in Justice Studies with a concentration in Homeland Security and Terrorism. His sights are on a career in criminal investigations in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or the Secret Service.
“My dream job is down the hall in the Coast Guard Investigative Service,” he says. “A little further is the intelligence department — a little stretch, but a possibility.”
It wasn’t a straight path.
Married and soon to become a father when he enrolled at SNHU as an IT major, Reynolds realized a year and a half into the program that his heart wasn’t in it. “I wanted to make a difference, and with IT I didn’t feel like I’d get much satisfaction,’’ he says.
Autumn Fillion, his academic advisor, says the two did a lot of talking. “I was supporting whatever decision he made,” she says.
“Within 24 hours, she came back with a list of classes available so I could finish before my GI Bill ran out,” Reynolds says. “She was a huge factor in my being able to finish.”
So were Reynolds’ family and the people from his past.
“Two things drove me,” he says. “My son, so I could tell him to go to college because I did, and all the people who back in the day said I wouldn’t amount to anything.”
Julie Roach grew up determined not to follow in her mother’s footsteps.
“I said, ‘I’ll never teach, ever,’” she says, remembering how strongly she felt about establishing a separate identity.
But after graduating from college with a degree in kinesiology and taking a substitute teaching job, Roach found that she not only liked teaching but also “wasn’t too bad at it.”
“I had grown up in a school and wanted to do something different, but I realized, ‘I shouldn’t run from this anymore. I enjoy it,’” she says, explaining why she earned a nontraditional teaching certification and took a teaching job in a math and science magnet school, the same school where her mother teaches fourth grade science.
When she met her husband, he wanted to know why she wasn’t working toward her master’s. When she expressed her lack of confidence, he told her, “You should totally do it.”
The beginning was intimidating.
“At first, I was a little nervous. I’d taken a couple of online courses, but a whole program?” says Roach, who lives and works in Batesville, Ark.
Her academic advisor, Georgia Melas, remembers Roach’s initial fears.
“But she caught on right away,” says Melas. “She had never seen herself as doing this.”
Roach says each success boosted her confidence and encouraged her to take the next step.
“Nothing was so hard that I wished to give up. I could always ask the professor any question if I had problems, and I feel I was challenged but not pushed too far,” she says. “I’ve definitely grown from the experience.”
In May, one and a half years after enrolling in her first class, Roach will receive her M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction with a concentration in Technology Integration. Her goal is to help her school district integrate technology into all the classrooms. She also has her sights set on a career in higher education.
“I do see becoming a college professor. I want to help those who think they want to become teachers,” she says. “I’ve gained so much confidence from this program and feel a lot more capable of tackling anything else in the future. If I’m capable of this, what else can I do?”
Erika Fields was determined to get her college degree. But an early marriage, a child, and a divorce kept interrupting her plans.
“My one goal in life was to graduate,” she says. “But life happens.”
She was remarried and expecting her second child when she learned about SNHU’s College of Online and Continuing Education from her ex-husband, who was taking classes and suggested that she check out the school.
“That was the start of my journey with SNHU,” she says.
It was a struggle from the first step.
“You name it, it happened,” Fields says. “My mom, who lives 70 miles away, had a heart attack and I spent two weeks at the hospital with her. My grandmother, who lives in Alabama, drove her car into a lake.”
Fields’ husband lost his job. She changed jobs. And her 40-mile round-trip commute to work increased to 140 miles.
She used her two days off to do schoolwork.
“There were times when I was ready to give up on everything,” she says. “I thought, ‘Maybe this isn’t meant for me. Maybe another place, another time.’ There were so many days I was filled with doubt. I had to pull from within.”
But every time Fields reached her wit’s end, Maggie Crotti, her academic advisor, called.
“I’d get that call from Maggie and she’d say, ‘How’s everything going?’ She was that voice saying, ‘You can do it. Just focus on one step at a time. Push yourself a little bit more.’ She held me accountable.”
“There were a lot of ups and downs while we were working together,” Crotti says. “She definitely has the fight in her.”
As commencement nears, Fields says she can’t believe she’s about to graduate. In May, she will have her B.S. degree in psychology.
“It makes me nervous because I’ve had to struggle for so long,” she says. “It’s what I do.”
But while she’s pinching herself to make sure what’s happening is real, she also is considering her next goals: a master’s degree and a career as a psychotherapist or career counselor.
“My (oldest) son graduates from high school this year, and he can see no matter what happens, you can set your mind to whatever you want to do,” she says. “You have to have the drive. Never give up. Never ever, ever, give up on yourself.”