Transitions from one stage of development to another are critical in life. Watching this process may challenge our confidence, patience, and faith, but witnessing such a transition leaves an impression not soon forgotten. Just such a transition occurred in the Pathways to the American Dream project as one participant, Dawn Thorne, transitioned from student to nurse.

Dawn became a Pathways participant in January of 2019, anticipating a final semester of coursework with Virginia Western Community College to achieve her dream of becoming a Registered Nurse. Dawn wrote, “My American dream is fairly simple. All I want is to pay my bills on time, be able to cover unexpected expenses, take an annual vacation or two, and enjoy living my life. I’ve been living paycheck to paycheck my entire life.” This sentiment is felt by many working adults who simply don’t earn enough to take care of family obligations and gain the skills and credentials to attain higher skilled employment. The Pathways project is one way to support working adults in making a step toward higher skilled employment with family sustaining wages. Dawn was an excellent candidate for the project, stating “I attempted college several times before this program. I chose wrong schools, my credits didn’t transfer and I had little to no support from my family while my children were young. My children are grown now, I have a supportive and amazing husband and I am in the right college this time.”

As Dawn worked through her spring semester, she regularly communicated with her Pathways Navigator, Jill Quinlan. Through emails, text messages, and in-person meetings, Jill engaged with Dawn to offer encouragement and support through the process. Dawn expressed the challenge of the content and schedule but confirmed that she was still on track to complete the program. “This has been the longest and hardest I’ve worked on anything.” Jill, aware of the timing aspects of applying for Virginia state licensure, coordinated submission of background check details and completed the application, paying all related fees. During this process, Dawn happily shared that she had accepted two job offers, one full-time position with the Western Regional Jail and one part-time position with Carilion—both contingent on passing the NCLEX licensure exam. During each step in the process, Jill offered encouragement focused on the positive employment outcome of working as a nurse, “Keep up the good work! You’ll be licensed and working as an RN before you know it!”

As the semester sped toward completion, additional support was needed to master the content in one course. VWCC secured an instructor for a 10-week summer remediation course designed exclusively for Dawn while Pathways paid tuition costs. The Pathways Curriculum and Instructional Specialist, Sharon Layman, also met with Dawn to discover her learning preferences and develop practical study strategies. Jill maintained consistent communication with the VWCC classroom and clinical instructors so that issues could be addressed quickly. Following a lecture, her instructor wrote, “I wanted to let you know that Dawn is digging in her heels the last two weeks and it paid off today. If she keeps up like this she will ACE this class.” This collaboration around a single student challenged everyone to refine their own process. The instructor wrote to Jill during the process, “Thank you for reaching out about her, but also for making me see in myself how I could change and also help people better!” Working nights and weekends and completing clinicals and study hours during the day, Dawn persisted toward her goal of completing the RN program.

On August 14th, VWCC held an individual pinning ceremony for Dawn with many faculty and Pathways staff in attendance as well as fellow RN graduates, many family members, and loved ones. This thoughtful recognition was accompanied by public recognition of graduation, heartfelt words of wisdom, acceptance into the professional nursing community, and acknowledgement of Dawn’s emergence from student to peer. The combined efforts of the expert instructional nursing faculty of VWCC, the persistence and assistance of the Pathways Navigator and Curriculum & Instructional Specialist, and the grit of the student resulted in a beautiful transition—one where unexpected bumps in the road become interesting points in a journey that make the result more beautiful.

Dawn will sit for her NCLEX exam in the next month then transition into her full-time nursing position.