"How Has My Community College Experience Changed My Life?"

By Julie Stoneburner, Oakton Community College
2004 Paul Simon Student Essay Contest Winner

Confidence –thatwas something I was sorely lacking nearly five years ago as I took my first class at Oakton Community College. I knew that I wanted to help others and that nursing was my calling, yet the mandatory math and science classes seemed overwhelming. This first hurdle in order to qualify for years of additional coursework appeared, at best, to be a formidable challenge. I'd sworn off math for life in high school and, if it hadn't seemed like such a harrowing experience then, it might have seemed funny now, but I was anything but amused.

Somehow I enrolled and successfully completed several courses while diligently avoiding my math placement and chemistry requirements. In retrospect, I now believe that I was building up newfound confidence with each additional course. Finally, no longer being able to put off the inevitable, I rapidly became a familiar face in the Learning Center for extra math help, seeking the bottom line: confidence. The availability of the facility and the kindness of the staff were a welcome port in my storm. My chemistry course also proved to be a great experience, largely due to the engaging instructor who was always available for extra inquiries. Imagine my surprise when I tested two levels higher than necessary on math placement exam and received an "A" in my eight-week summer chemistry course! I felt like the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz when he finally gets his brain. "The square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the two sides." Confidence? You bet!

During that same period, my husband lost his job with the University of Illinois and continues to be unemployed, regardless of his experience and his MBA. Talk about our lives being changed! In addition to persevering through this coursework, I also became the main income and benefits provider for our family of seven. Pursuing a nursing dream was no longer simply a dream, but is now a necessity.

I am awaiting an acceptance letter from the nursing department at Oakton for a fall 2004 entry. I have completed every core nursing class as well as the prerequisites. What used to be a middle-of-the-road grade point average is now a 4.0. I scored in the 95th percentile on the National League of Nursing exam; far surpassing my high school standardized test results. These achievements did not occur spontaneously, but through a slow and consistent increase in not only my education, but in my overall confidence level.

This newly found confidence in my math and science abilities continues to propel me down this path. As I stand on the threshold of only four more semesters remaining in my quest to be a nurse, I feel that I am ready. The confidence I have developed from my experiences with the staff and resources at Oakton Community college will translate into a rewarding new career for me and better healthcare for the patients that I serve.