A few years ago, Kelly Sanders called her mother, Susan Helland, in Bloomer to ask for a favor.
“I called to ask her to watch my kids if I went back to school. She said she wanted to go back to school too,” said Sanders, 31.
On Tuesday, Dec. 18, mother and daughter walked across the stage to receive their associate degrees in Nursing from Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC). The two women were among 366 graduates to receive degrees and certifications in 35 different programs at the December commencement ceremony at Zorn Arena on the UW-Eau Claire campus.
Each of the graduates has his or her own story and aspirations. They celebrated their success, then headed out into the world to pursue their individual dreams, but they will always have in common being CVTC alumni.
“We kind of both decided together,” said Helland, 56, who has been working for the past 15 years at Mayo Health Systems in Chippewa Falls, in patient services. Healthcare work is in the family. Her mother, Marcella Simington, now age 93, is a retired nurse.
Helland said her daughter encouraged her to enter the program with her.
“Once I got deep in the program, I thought I was crazy, because it was a lot of hard work,” she said.
Sanders knows that too. A single mother who grew up in Bloomer and currently lives in the Cornell area, she has three children, ages 6 and 7, and a special needs child age 9. She’s also been holding down a full-time job, a clerical position as a health unit coordinator for Mayo Health Systems in Eau Claire.
Juggling being a mom to three children, holding down a full-time job and the tough CVTC Nursing program was more than a challenge. “It was very crazy,” Sanders said. “But I have a good family, like my sister Stacey.”
As hard as it was, Sanders has only good things to say about the CVTC Nursing program. “It’s a top program, definitely. They really work to prepare you,” she said.
Now that they are both nurses, the paths of mother and daughter may start to diverge a bit. Sanders is interested in working in a neuropediatric unit, and had an interview set for the day after graduation.
Helland’s interest lies in geriatrics.
“I like the long-term care of the elderly,” she said. “I just have a soft spot for them. They need more than someone just to hand their medications to them. They need that human touch.”
Following in mother’s footsteps
Tim Mrozinski’s brother-in-law sold him on the idea of going back to school to become a nurse. Looking for a career change, Mrozinski called the Wausau-area nurse and asked him how he liked the work.
“He told me he was walking across the parking lot to go to work right then, and he couldn’t wait to get in the building,” Mrozinski said.
On Tuesday evening, Mrozinski, a Chippewa Falls native, graduated from the Associate Degree Nursing program. He had a job interview set already for Wednesday.
Mrozinski, 46, was certainly not the only one of the graduates to have enrolled in CVTC for job retraining. It’s a core part of the College’s mission.
Mrozinski is one who sought retraining by choice. The 1985 graduate of McDonell High School earned a four-year degree from St. John’s University in History and Business Management, then worked his way up in the construction management field until he decided to seek a change.
Even before he talked to his brother-in-law, healthcare seemed like a logical choice for him. His mother, Patty Mrozinski, is a retired RN who worked at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls and the Northern Center for many years. His wife is a medical lab technician, and he has other in-laws in the healthcare field, too.
Mrozinski has been following a bit in his mother’s footsteps. He recently completed his final clinical – the last stage of nurse’s training – at the St. Joe’s ER under the supervision of RN Melissa Rosemeyer.
“She was fantastic,” Mrozinski said. “She tested me and pushed me a little bit, and was patient with me. I can’t say enough good things about her.”
Mrozinski is looking forward to getting a start in his new career. “At this point, I just want to get into a hospital setting,” he said.
Not finished yet
Joe Hattamer is well aware that he could walk into a good job as a welder tomorrow, after having graduated from CVTC’s program.
“I’ve had a few offers. They’re very interested in having you start,” said the Holcombe area resident, who graduated from Cornell High School in 1998. “But when you get working, it can be hard to go back to school again.”
Hattamer is taking a long-term approach to his career. That’s why he’s going right back to CVTC for another year of training, this time in the Industrial Mechanics program. He figures the expansion of his training will increase both his immediate employment options, and his long-term advancement.
“You’re more of a diversified asset,” he said.
Hattamer is not alone. While most of the graduates will go immediately into the job market, many will further their education either at CVTC or at a four-year university.
Hattamer, 35, credits his maturity and military experience for his patient approach. After high school, he studied some at UW-Barron County and Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College in Rice Lake, but then joined the military. He served his country well, with 18 months in Iraq and 400 days in Afghanistan.
But Hattamer is back home now, and married, with a baby on the way. His wife is a teacher in the Flambeau School District.
“I think I’m better suited for it now,” he said of going back to school. “I graduated from this program with a 4.0 (grade point average). Being an older student, I am more focused.”
His prospects for employment after another year of training are excellent. Demand for skilled manufacturing workers is extremely high. But prospects are good for graduates in other programs as well, with 92 percent of CVTC graduates in 2010-2011 employed, 89 percent in their field of study.
Nursing is the most popular program among last week’s CVTC graduates, with 60 Associate Degree graduates and 36 Practical Nursing graduates. Another 18 students graduated in the Medical Assistant program.
Other popular programs include Truck Driving, 25 graduates; Business Management, 21 graduates; Information Technology-Network Specialist, 18; Accounting, 17; and Human Resources, 17.
Messages to grads
Nursing Instructor Kim Ernstmeyer was chosen as the faculty speaker for the ceremony.
“I encourage you to take this moment, not only to celebrate the success you have already achieved, but to also look forward to the rest of your life. It is easy at this point to focus on obtaining your next “job” and the income you will be earning. But also take time to think about why you are here and what your dream career will look like,” Ernstmeyer said. “How can you tell if you are on the right career path? You will find that if you are on the right path, your work is something you enjoy doing every day, and you will put a lot of time and energy into doing a good job.”
The special student speaker was Mike Mataczynski, a graduate of the Paralegal program and an Iraq War veteran. Among his duties in Iraq was delivering execution orders from the Iraqi high court to high-profile detainees from Saddam Hussein’s defeated regime. Mataczynski spoke briefly of those experiences, but remained positive in his remarks.
“We all came to this institution to accomplish something: to gain new perspectives, to expand our creativity, to get a good job, or perhaps just to understand ourselves better. These caps and gowns signify that we have achieved the goals that we had originally set,” Mataczynski said. “With this new understanding of ourselves, we now go into the world with new confidence.”
This class of CVTC graduates is the last to receive degrees during CVTC’s 100th anniversary year, which CVTC President Bruce Barker pointed out in his remarks.
“Opportunity awaits you,” Barker said. “You have 100 years of proven education behind you. You are our Centennial class.”