Masters in the Making
20 Years Later, Nursing Alumna Stands by STC
It had been 20 years since Aracely Salinas had been in a classroom, earning her Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) from South Texas College. Salinas said she mustered the courage to enroll in her alma mater’s very first cohort of the Bachelor of Science in Nursing RN-to-BSN program. With South Texas College’s support, Salinas succeeded beyond her highest expectations. Photo by Dr. Elmer Esguerra
Aracely Salinas’ employer had one condition when she was promoted to nurse supervisor at her hospital: she needed to get her bachelor’s degree.
“I had to go back — there was no choice,” recalls Salinas, who was nervous about returning to school.
It had been 20 long years since she’d been in a classroom, earning her Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) from South Texas College. Fighting the butterflies in her stomach, Salinas mustered the courage to enroll in her alma mater’s very first cohort of the Bachelor of Science in Nursing RN-to-BSN program.
She needn’t have worried. With South Texas College’s support, Salinas succeeded beyond her highest expectations. Not only did she earn her BSN in 2020, but she also set the foundation for a master’s degree at Texas A&M International University-Laredo, where she just started her graduate studies this fall.
For Salinas, the back to college magic began on her first day back at STC:
“When I walked back into the building, I was like, ‘Wow, I’m back at school.’ It just felt so wonderful,” Salinas recalls about her first day of BSN classes. “I was very emotional going back to school after all this time.”
And while her experience would prove rewarding, it wasn’t always easy. As a returning student, Salinas encountered challenges above and beyond the traditional college student… right from the beginning.
“I didn’t think I was going to get in,” she recalls.
In fact, she nearly missed the application deadline. When she heard the program had already chosen students, she rushed to the secretary’s office and found that she only had one more day to apply. Eager to meet the deadline, she “submitted everything that day.”
After waiting on pins and needles for a few months to hear back, Salinas made the cut. That fall, she returned to campus, this time as a bachelor’s degree student. And while her first assignment didn’t go as planned, she would soon readjust to college life, improving her work while falling in love with her studies. With a little help, she started to excel.
“When I walked back into the building, I was like, ‘Wow, I’m back at school.’ It just felt so wonderful. I was very emotional going back to school after all this time.”
“They made it very easy for us, and they were very helpful,” recalls the returning learner. Though she’d been out of school for two decades, she says the support of her professors made all the difference: “It was an easy transition for me… They were by our side.”
Then, when the pandemic threw yet another wrench into her plans, forcing hybrid classes to go 100-percent online in Spring 2020, Salinas says the faculty stepped up big-time.
“Even then, they were still very helpful,” says Salinas. “They never stopped communicating with us… They were available to see if we needed any assistance.”
In particular, she recalls relying on Department Chair Dr. Christie Candelaria, who was always available to answer questions and offer help. From reminding students to take study breaks to eat and sleep and offering encouragement, Salinas says the chair “was very caring.”
The STC double-alum also appreciated the small class sizes and close connections. In her cohort of 10, eight other nurses also happened to be returning to college after a long break, which naturally created a built-in support system.
Salinas also liked the flexibility of the STC program, which allows students to choose to attend full- or part-time. She was able to adjust her work schedule to take the full-time, one-year track. Though overwhelmed at times, she credits the Centers for Learning Excellence (CLE) — particularly the writing center — for helping her re-boot her college career.
“My problem at the beginning was the writing portion,” confides Salinas, who turned to the tutors at STC to help get her over the hurdle. “I took the constructive criticism well, and I learned from that.
“Having those extra services was very helpful.”
Looking back, Salinas remembers one STC teacher, in particular, stepping up to make her transition to the Master of Science in Nursing-Family Nurse Practitioner (MSN-FNP) program at Texas A&M easier.
“Dr. Raquel Esguerra had a huge impact on my writing and how I did my work,” says Salinas. “I learned a lot from her.”
Though Esguerra’s writing-intensive Nursing Informatics class was one of the most difficult, Salinas says it was also one of the most rewarding. From APA citations to sentence construction, the course prepares students to write professionally — a critical skill for nurses, who must constantly ensure proper client documentation, insurance reimbursement, quality and safety.
“With Aracely, I saw a lot of improvement,” recalls Esguerra. “She was willing and open for constructive criticism, and I think that open-mindedness improved her writing.”
Esguerra admits that her mentorship of Salinas could be categorized as “tough love.” But because of Salinas’ dedication, the instructor says, “She came out strong.”
“I told her, this is your weakness— so let’s make it your strength,” recalls the proud professor. “She’s now off to a great start for her dream.”
Thanks to professors like Esguerra, Salinas feels amply prepared for her graduate studies. In fact, regarding her research and theory classes at Texas A&M, the never-too-late learner says, “Sometimes, I feel like I already did this!”
She’s glad she jumped right into a master’s degree while her studies were still fresh in her mind. She was encouraged by the fact that many of her STC professors have doctorates.
“They are very knowledgeable,” says Salinas. “I felt like sometimes we were in a doctoral program.”
Once her master’s degree is complete, Salinas will achieve her dream of becoming a family nurse practitioner. She’ll move across the street to the hospital’s family clinic, where her boss is holding a nurse practitioner position for her.
“Nursing is something that I love, and I don’t see myself doing anything else,” says Salinas, who credits South Texas College for opening the door to her current job at Rio Grande Valley Regional Hospital through a preceptorship.
Looking back on the day she decided to return to school, she says she never thought she could have come so far. And if the past 20 years have taught Salinas anything, it’s that some things, like her love of nursing and her alma mater, never change.
“I got my associate degree there, and now my bachelor’s, and I wish they had a master’s,” jokes Salinas. “They still have that same philosophy where students come first, and they want them to succeed.
“It’s where I have always felt at home.”