Moraine Park News Service
Being passed over for new job opportunities, but feeling too old to go back to school. Such was the conflicted crossroads in life for Becky Powell, 48, of Cedarburg, who had already spent a quarter century in the workforce but increasingly felt stuck in place.
If there was any light at the end of this darkening tunnel, Powell admits she had a hard time seeing it through clouds of frustration.
But she was not defeated. At these crossroads, she chose to invest in herself – regardless of the odds and obstacles – and has emerged from Moraine Park Technical College as an inspiration to others: earning a degree in December; becoming a registered nurse and serving as proof that you’re never “too old for school.” In fact, Powell’s work in and out of the classroom has been so remarkable, she has been named Moraine Park’s 2016 Student of the Year.
“Becky is a wonderful example of how someone can achieve their goals by combining hard work with a positive attitude. She is also a great reminder that students of all ages and of all backgrounds can set goals and accomplish them,” said Lisa Manuell, Moraine Park’s Student Life lead.
Powell grew up in Raymond, Maine, and graduated from Gray-New Gloucester High School in 1986 – three decades before she would go on to earn a college degree.
“My family was true blue collar. Although I took college preparatory classes, it wasn’t in the cards for me to go to college so I began work at a shoe shop the day after graduation,” Powell said.
In 1988, she moved to Wisconsin with her husband, Steve, and raised two daughters, Sarah and Jenna. Jenna is a freshman at West Bend East High School. On the day after Powell’s pinning ceremony in December, Sarah, her eldest daughter, graduated from UW-Whitewater.
“It was an honor to kind of graduate from college with my daughter,” Powell said jokingly.
Though she cherishes this light-hearted sense of accomplishment now, it did not come without struggle.
“I have been in the administrative support field of the medical profession for over 25 years. During my father’s illness and eventual passing, I realized that patients do not always advocate for themselves. The nurse quite often becomes the voice of the patient,” Powell said. “Around this time I interviewed for a service recovery position that was posted by my employer, and I was one of the two top candidates. Although qualified in every other way, the fact that I didn’t have an education kept me from being offered the internal transfer. It was then that I decided to go back to school.”
Still, that decision wasn’t easy.
“My sister-in-law graduated from Moraine Park in May of 2011. I was telling her about my frustrations with taking one class at a time and how envious I was of her career. She suggested Moraine Park and my reply was, ‘I am too old to go to school for nursing,’ to which she answered, ‘Think about how many more years you have to work.’”
With that in mind, Powell finally committed herself to going back to school, enrolled in Moraine Park’s nursing program and never looked back. She now has a nursing position at Community Memorial Hospital on the surgical floor.
“I have known Becky from her very first nursing class. Right from the start, I knew she was an exceptional person and epitomized the ideal Moraine Park student,” said Mary Krieger, Moraine Park nursing instructor that nominated Powell for “Student of the Year.”
Krieger said Powell consistently showcased qualities of honesty, integrity and maturity within the nursing program. And, most of all, she worked hard, learning all she could to make sure she would have the knowledge to provide her patients with the best possible care.
Powell also became an officer in the Student Nurses Association and was involved in Student Senate.
“Becky has mentored and encouraged countless other nursing students to keep striving in the nursing program. I am proud to have been a part of Becky’s journey from beginning nursing student to new RN,” Krieger said.
Despite her own initial reluctance to go back to school, Powell said Moraine Park was a welcoming place that helped her accomplish her dreams and encouraged others who may be feeling stuck to dive in.
“There are so many things I appreciate about Moraine Park. It is small enough to not be intimidating. The teachers and staff are fully invested in helping you succeed. Most of the instructors are also working in the field so they have hands on current experiences to share … and, honestly, I haven’t crossed paths with anyone in the building that didn’t return a smile when I shared one with them,” Powell said.
In the end, being named 2016 Student of the Year is an incredible honor, Powell said, but she felt going on a personal journey of discovery and growth at Moraine Park was most rewarding.
“[Whether I was named Student of the Year or not], my realization was that I had already won. I sat in on important discussions, learned from other disciplines, traveled, networked, learned from great faculty, interacted with fabulous support staff, made great friends, and, most importantly, gained a whole new confidence in myself,” Powell said.
Criteria for Student of the Year nominations includes demonstrating excellence in and out of the classroom while modeling Moraine Park’s core abilities – to communicate clearly, act responsibly, work productively, think critically and creatively, adapt to change, demonstrate integrity and work cooperatively. Powell will be recognized during the College’s annual Student Awards Banquet on May 13.
Other finalists for Moraine Park’s 2016 Student of the Year award were Grace Bleiler and Jeremiah Alderden of Beaver Dam, Brad Leonhard of Fond du Lac, Aaron Schlosser of Kewaskum and Maggie Fuller of Malone.
To learn about all of the programs and opportunities available at Moraine Park, visit morainepark.edu/programs.