It’s generally known that community college students often juggle jobs and children along with classes and homework – not to mention that for some, devoting time and money to higher education is not a popular decision with their families.
Melissa De Los Santos, associate professor of vocational nursing at Austin Community College, can relate.
A high school dropout (she eventually earned a GED), De Los Santos was a certified nurse aide at a San Marcos nursing home making $5.25 an hour when a nurse co-worker urged her to train for the field. De Los Santos didn’t think it was possible, and did not know anyone who had gone to college. Her father thought she should instead focus on supporting her four young children.
She decided to enroll and was accepted in the Vocational Nursing Program at ACC, assuring herself and her children that struggling for a few more years would make things better in the long run.
“It was nothing like I expected. It was really hard,” she recalls. She persevered and ultimately continued her education at ACC to become a registered nurse.
She enjoyed her career as a medical-surgical RN at a local hospital, particularly serving as a “preceptor”– an experienced nurse who works with nursing students completing their field assignments.
“I fell in love with being a preceptor,” she says, and the desire to teach was born. De Los Santos earned a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s degree from Texas Tech University, knowing all the while that she wanted to return to ACC to teach.
In 2009 she joined the faculty of ACC’s LVN program, where she not only is a role model for students, but one who is well-attuned to the challenges they face.
“She shows students they can succeed in accomplishing their goals in spite of hardships and obstacles,” says Yolanda Hall, a fellow professor and alumni of the vocational nursing program.
De Los Santos’ family — which now includes husband Carlos, six children ranging from 12 to 27 years old, and a granddaughter – remain proud and supportive as she weighs taking her next step – earning a Ph.D. that would allow her to do research and share her passion with future nurses through publishing.
“Nursing is a trusted profession,” she says. “The patients we serve trust us with their lives. We’re not just teaching the clinical knowledge – we teach students how to take care of their patients. The students will not only learn a trade, but grow a career.”
See Melissa De Los Santos discuss ACC’s LVN program for local Spanish-language news affiliate, Univision 62.
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