Three weeks after Stephanie enrolled in the RN program at Highline College, she found out she was pregnant with her third child.
She had registered for the two-year program because although she and her husband had been married for 12 years, she was feeling financially vulnerable. “If something were to happen to him, I wouldn’t be able to financially support our kids. I wanted to know I’d be able to normalize their lives and not have drastic changes.”
Stephanie enrolled in the program with the goal of becoming a registered nurse, which would draw on her previous experience as a paramedic. One day she attended a required career fair and met an admissions recruiter for the Seattle University nursing program, who encouraged her to apply to the four-year nursing program and go for her BSN. Stephanie was thrilled to be accepted into the program.
Then reality of the cost hit.
Stephanie applied for — and was awarded — more than one scholarship, but she was still short. A financial advisor at Seattle University encouraged her to apply to WWIN, and she was awarded a Star Scholar grant.
Her WWIN scholarship was different from the others, though. “It went far beyond the financial support,” she says. “I needed a support system to stay accountable to, and to be able to bring my emotions to them instead of exhausting my husband who had already taken on more of the burden at home.”
And then there was the day her laptop broke in the middle of a busy quarter. Stephanie emailed Lisa at WWIN asking if she knew any place she could go to find a cheap replacement. Lisa encouraged her to use her WWIN Resiliency Fund for it. She helped Stephanie get up and running with a new laptop in just two days.
As her BSN program came to a close, Stephanie worked with a WWIN life coach to hone in on more specifics about how she wanted to apply her degree. “With the life coach I was able to create a list of pros and cons and get everything in my head out, and then have someone abstract it. When you talk about these things you light up,” she says.
The coronavirus pandemic gave Stephanie even more insight into how she wants to use her nursing education to help the community. “This pandemic made me realize how much I DON’T desire to work in a hospital, with forced overtime, mandatory this, and mandatory that. I want to be a family nurse through King county, assisting low-income women who are going through their first pregnancy. I want to work with Hispanic women because I speak Spanish. The program I want to work for takes a holistic medical approach from the beginning of pregnancy until the baby is two years old, helping mothers adjust and motivating them to get an education.”
Stephanie says the holistic approach is the most likely to succeed. “In a hospital setting you only see a fragment of your patients’ lives and you make suggestions they can’t follow because what you’re suggesting isn’t even accessible to them.”
When there was a recent opening for a holistic nursing position, Stephanie was one of the top two candidates. However, she didn’t get the job because she hasn’t taken her licensing exam yet—and since COVID-19 had temporarily paused exam administration, they wouldn’t give her the job on contingency.
Meanwhile, schools shut down due to the pandemic, which meant Stephanie’s kids were attending 5th grade, 3rd grade, and kindergarten online from home. She describes a typical morning, hustling to get everyone dressed, fed, and online at once: “My kids couldn’t be in PJs for school Zoom but I was in my PJs for my own class. I wasn’t absorbing anything with three kids in the room on Zoom.”
At the same time, her husband had just started to gain traction in a new career of his own and his income was an anchor. They both knew he couldn’t quit.
So, reluctantly, Stephanie put her job search on hold.
“We budgeted and sacrificed a lot to be where we are today,” she says. “During the crisis I’ll be sitting on a degree I can’t use because who’s going to teach my children? It’s always the woman who has to step in. We’re more nurturing and I have to think about the mental health of my children.”
Even though she knows the situation is temporary, and even though she thinks future employers will understand her choice to postpone her career amidst a pandemic, Stephanie worries that this will show up on her resume as the dreaded “employment gap.” She hopes a future employer will agree that she had the right priorities.
When that day comes, she feels well prepared with her education and the WWIN life coaching to help her succeed in the workforce and create economic stability. She’s eagerly awaiting the opportunity to take the next step: passing that state exam.