For most parents, it's a dream come true to see their child graduate from college, even as they watch them receive their diploma from the audience hundreds of feet away. Susan Mills' view of her daughter Emalea earning her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from Lock Haven University (LHU) in May was much more intimate than that. That's because she was right at Emalea's side earning a BSN of her own.
For Susan, a registered nurse of 15 years, it was the second time she returned to college as a non-traditional student. She earned her first nursing degree from another school in 2007 at the age of 32.
For Emalea, just one year into her nursing career, it was also her second nursing degree. She graduated from LHU's Associate of Nursing (ASN) program in 2021. Both ceremonies were special, but Emalea and Susan both acknowledged that being side by side with each other during the ceremony this spring made it a much more exceptional experience.
"For me to be able to sit next to my daughter and hear her name called and then to follow directly behind her was such a special moment that we got to share," Susan said. "I never thought something like that would happen, and I don't think it's something that either of us will ever forget."
"When we turned our tassels over, we started to tear up," Emalea said. "We made it and we did it together. I was so proud of my mom, and it was kind of bittersweet, to be ending something that we both had been working toward together."
Susan said she was inspired to return to school by Emalea. In 2020, while Emalea was working toward her ASN, Susan made the decision to attend LHU for her BSN. Emalea joined her in the BSN program the following year.
LHU's BSN program is delivered fully online. For Susan, that was quite a transition from traditional learning, but she found great support from Emalea, as well as the nursing faculty who Susan described as, "awesome, understanding, and always willing to answer the phone and help in any way possible."
As they navigated the coursework of the program together, Susan was also able to provide support for Emalea.
"Emalea is such a good writer and I'm not," Susan joked. "I would often lean on her to review my papers and she was almost like my tutor at times. But then there were also instances during pharmacology or leadership courses when we would discuss diabetes or heart disease, and concepts that can't always be learned from a textbook, where I was able to guide her."
Susan works as a full-time senior professional staff nurse for UPMC Lock Haven's long-term care skilled nursing facility, Haven Place, and she also works casually at Bucktail Medical Center in Renovo. Emalea is a professional staff nurse at Bucktail Medical Center and works casually at Haven Place.
In the future, Susan said she is considering pursuing a master's degree in nursing and possibly dedicating a portion of her career to becoming a nursing professor or clinical instructor.
Emalea has already been accepted into a graduate nursing program at Duquesne University. Her goal is to become a nurse practitioner and like her mother, and also is not ruling out the possibility of becoming a nurse educator at some point in the future. She said the RN to BSN program provided her with a broader understanding of nursing.
"My experiences and knowledge base, despite only being one year into my nursing career, have made me confident to take the next step knowing that I'm more than ready to begin the nurse practitioner program at Duquesne," Emalea said.
Regardless of how their careers evolve, Susan and Emalea both say their experiences in the nursing program have them well prepared to achieve all of their professional goals.
"The nursing program at LHU's main campus is such an asset to Lock Haven and the surrounding area," Susan said. "The program empowers nurses to become leaders and the one-on-one instruction, ease of accessibility to your professors, and the clinical backgrounds that they bring to the table are the best that you can get, in my opinion."
"I'm so inspired by and proud of my mom and so proud and honored to be able to follow
in her footsteps," Emalea said. "We couldn't have asked for a better opportunity than
the one we received from Lock Haven University."
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