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Listen to Mom

Relentless RN ‘Raises the Bar,’ Launches Family Tradition at STC

“I just feel like this is a great profession. It’s one of serving and gratitude. We need more nurses, and I just hope that my story inspires people.”
BSN graduate Aurora Rodriguez

“My mom always told me, ‘One day, you’re going to be a nurse,’” recalls Aurora Rodriguez, among South Texas College’s first-ever RN-to-BSN (Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing) students. And though she had been out of school for more than a decade before returning for her bachelor’s, the 54-year-old will soon be fulfilling mom’s professional prophecy … for a second time.

Rodriguez will graduate with her bachelor’s this December, just three semesters after choosing STC to level up her nursing skills and earning power. For the first-generation college student, now setting an example for a family of her own, proving her mother right has been the accomplishment of a lifetime.

“My mom worked as a certified nursing assistant (CNA),” Rodriguez reflects. “She always wanted to go to college to be a nurse, but she never had that opportunity.”

Fortunately, Rodriguez did — but her journey through higher ed was a long and winding one. By the time she set out to earn her associate in nursing from Central Texas College, Rodriguez had a family: a husband in the military, four children, and a world of responsibility. Despite the challenges, Rodriguez managed to make her mother a nursing Nostradamus, earning her family’s first college degree before practicing as a registered nurse for 22 years.

And while her nursing career has kept her busy, delivering upwards of 30 babies every month at Doctors Hospital, Rodriguez felt something was missing. At the same time, she noticed a curious trend among the most well-trained of her nursing colleagues: they were South Texas College alums.

“When we get STC students, they come prepared,” thought Rodriguez. Suddenly, a world of professional development opportunities available through STC was on the radar, and when the College advertised its RN-to-BSN program last spring, Rodriguez jumped at the chance.

“All these years later, I decided I wanted to go back to school,” says Rodriguez, who knew it wasn’t too late to follow her dreams. “I’ve had to take seven core classes, work, and do the RN-to-BSN program, and I still manage to maintain a 4.0.”

This month, Rodriguez will be graduating with seven other nurses in the very first cohort of the RN-to-BSN program. Looking back, she says she couldn’t be happier about all the hurdles she has surmounted. Not only did she manage to shake off the rust of a 22-year academic lull, but she also managed to beat COVID-19 … and still didn’t miss a single assignment.

“Maybe one day, I can return the favor as I get older and teach the new generation of nurses.”
BSN graduate Aurora Rodriguez

Her secret to success? South Texas College’s ultra-supportive program.

“It’s online, so it’s very flexible and convenient for us, even though all of us have to work,” says Rodriguez. “They couldn’t have made it easier for us.”

The healthcare hero’s biggest ally has been her professor and cheerleader, Dr. Christie Candelaria, Chair of the RN-to-BSN Program. When first considering the program, Rodriguez believed there was no way she could handle the course load on top of a demanding work schedule. The good doctor convinced her otherwise: “I was looking at her like, ‘No … I can’t do it.’ And she finally said, ‘Yes, you can.’”

Candelaria remembers that fateful day well. “She came to my office almost in tears,” recalls the concerned professor. Candelaria pointed to a poster in her office with a quote from Philippians: I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.

And for Rodriguez, that’s when the lightbulb went on. She remembers taking a deep breath and saying to her mentor, “Okay, I’ll take you up on your challenge.”

“I kept telling her, ‘Believe in yourself,’” says Candelaria. She understood that her student felt nervous about being out of school for so long, especially with plenty of core classes to make up in addition to the intensive RN-to-BSN program. But she encouraged the talented nurse to push through, and when it comes to Rodriguez’s perfect GPA, Candelaria is not surprised: “She is a very persistent student, and she doesn’t leave any stone unturned.”

The professor couldn’t be prouder of Rodriguez and the first cohort of students to earn their bachelor’s degrees in nursing from STC. Not just a labor of love, the program has also represented an affirmation of Candelaria’s doctorate research.

Initially offered in a hybrid format entailing six “mini-mesters,” the faculty quickly adapted to 100-percent online classes during the pandemic, including a platform with virtual simulations to help fulfill clinical hours. Assignments were streamlined so students could still meet course objectives despite the challenging times.

“Dr. Candelaria has been so awesome,” says Rodriguez, grateful for the support and opportunity to earn her degree close to home and for a fraction of the cost of other programs.

With her BSN in hand, Rodriguez will have a broader slate of options. The degree opens the door to in-demand careers like nurse practitioner, nurse anesthesiologist, researcher, clinical specialist, and even nurse educator. And though she’s planning to take a much-deserved break after graduation, the grad-to-be is already thinking about how to pay it forward.

“We are in a nursing shortage,” explains Rodriguez, considering one day pursuing her master’s degree. “Maybe one day, I can return the favor as I get older and teach the new generation of nurses.”

Becoming an instructor could help fill critical health care gaps. Nurses are in high demand nationwide, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting a need for more than 1 million professionals by 2022. Texas’ shortage is the second most severe in the country, with the state expecting a deficit of 15,900 nurses by 2030.

As part of the solution, STC graduates 200-plus associate-degree-holding registered nurses every year. “They have jobs knocking on their doors even before they graduate,” says Candelaria. However, because of the nursing shortage – state and nationwide – schools can’t train nurses fast enough.

That’s why BSN programs like the one at South Texas College are so crucial, giving students like Rodriguez an accessible and accelerated path to careers as nurses and nurse educators. Plans for the program include securing accreditation through a comprehensive two-year process, increasing enrollment potential, and implementing a competency-based curriculum to serve even more students.

“Education is knowledge, and knowledge is power,” says Rodriguez, who is proud to be “raising the bar” for her children and setting a family higher education tradition. Of her four children, two are nurses, and she is encouraging them to earn their bachelor’s degrees as well. As she says to her kids, “I’m challenging you guys. Who is going to surpass me? Who is going to be the first to get their doctorate?”

It’s a legacy that she hopes will last for generations. To that end, she’s already started by recruiting her daughter-in-law and two colleagues from her department. All three have wisely “listened to mom” and signed up for the RN-to-BSN program’s second cohort in January.

“I just feel like this is a great profession. It’s one of serving and gratitude,” effuses Rodriguez, who wants to share her love for the rewarding profession.

“We need more nurses, and I just hope that my story inspires people.”