First-Generation Student Finds Purpose in Nursing and Teaching

Irene B., earning her Bachelor of Science in Nursing was a 17-year journey

For Irene B., earning her Bachelor of Science in Nursing was a 17-year journey. As a first-generation Mexican American, her parents didn’t have the opportunities she did. With neither of them having graduated high school, their dream was for their children to have better career opportunities.

This motivated Irene to put in as much effort as needed to reach her goals. She graduated high school with a 3.0 GPA and is now the first and only nurse on both sides of her family.

Finding Her Motivation

“My parents always wanted to give us that American dream and education, but they didn’t know how,” Irene said. “My mom would say in Spanish, ‘We’re working mules. We sold gum at four or five years old. I worked to get those pennies just so that my mom would be able to buy that pound of dry beans to feed all eight of us.’”

Irene found further motivation during a period of upheaval in her family. Within a short time span, she became pregnant with her first son, her only brother fell ill, and her mother was struggling with diabetes.

“That also fueled me. I was like, this is scary,” Irene said. “How do I help my mom where English is not her first language?”

It was during this tough period in her life that Irene found her way of making a difference in the world: nursing.

Facing Obstacles

When Irene applied to nursing schools, most didn’t take her seriously. She said that many schools didn’t look beyond her transcripts. “They never saw me. They never saw the fire. They never believed that I would be a graduate from their school,” she said. It was then that Irene began considering private nursing schools and West Coast University.

Irene took her nursing entry exam and passed the first time. Yet halfway through her BSN, her grades dropped, and Irene did not meet the requirements to move on to the next year at WCU. Although others may have let this setback deter them, Irene decided to take a different path into nursing. She enrolled at American Career College to pursue an education as a licensed vocational nurse (LVN).

The Vocational Nursing diploma program at ACC served as a steppingstone, giving her the foundation she needed to understand core nursing concepts and conquer obstacles. In 2019, Irene earned her LVN from ACC-Ontario. Instead of giving up on becoming a registered nurse, Irene mastered her ACC education and transferred back to WCU.

“It took me 17 years to finish, but I stuck with it,” Irene said. “I didn’t give up. I went back to ACC, and I had the second highest GPA of my class.”

In June 2020, Irene graduated with her BSN from WCU-Ontario. Irene has since found her calling working in home healthcare and hospice.

“I do end-of-life care,” she said. “That takes a strong person and a special personality to do that.”

Inspiring the Next Generation

In December 2022, Irene began teaching as a clinical instructor at ACC, her alma mater. There, Irene encourages her students to stay committed to their studies, ensuring them that their hard work will pay off.

“I tell them I failed out and I say, ‘But I want you to look at me. Where am I standing now? I was in your seat and now I am standing in front of you.’ Tell me no and I’ll prove you wrong.”

She often references her clinical rotations, such as advanced medical surgical in the emergency room, as examples for her students. Irene credits those hands-on experiences for helping shape her as a nurse. “I gained those skills in the clinical rotations,” Irene said. Now, she offers her education to the next generation of students. “In hospice you’re constantly teaching. I really enjoyed that with the patients and their families and now I’ve gotten a taste of teaching the students.”

In March 2024, Irene will graduate with her Master of Science in Nursing from WCU. Next, she plans to become a Family Nurse Practitioner with the ultimate goal of pursuing her doctorate degree in nursing. “One of my favorite songs is ‘You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me,’ by Cher,” Irene said. “I was on my knees, and I got up. That’s what I tell students. I just didn’t give up.”

WCU provides career guidance and assistance but cannot guarantee employment. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or position of the school or of any instructor or student.