A Mother and Daughter’s Quest to Help their Community
Joanna Kestler, B.S. Nursing
Melanie Thompson, B.S. Nursing (Prelicensure)
Joanna Kestler’s decision to become a nurse came as an epiphany one night on the side of Interstate 40. It was 3 am and 14 degrees outside as she stood on the top side of a flipped 18-wheeler, trying to get the driver in the cab out alive. A paramedic and single mom, Joanna realized she was ready for a different, slightly less frenetic path in her healthcare career. “I realized that night I’d rather be a nurse than a paramedic,” she recalls. “Mr. Right was not coming along and I needed to provide a better, more stable life for my kids.”
After earning her RN license, and getting full-time work in Rowlett, Texas, Joanna realized she needed to take her career to the next level. She applied to WGU to begin work on a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. With two daughters and two sons at home it wasn’t an easy decision, especially with a special needs child with cerebral palsy. “I couldn’t just leave my daughter at home in the evening, I needed something that fit into the life of a busy mom working full-time as a nurse. Time away from home was a huge factor, as was cost trying to raise four children, two of whom were high school seniors,” recalls Joanna. “I was a director over several departments at the time and thought the degree would enhance not only my ability, but also my credibility in the work place.”
When asked how she managed to fit studies into her busy life she offered this advice, “You have to really think about the things you do when you get home from work. Before, I’d get home, cook dinner, eat and watch a little TV, the clean up a bit and go to bed. That changed. I put the crock pot on in the morning before going to work. I’d come home, get everybody fed, check on each of my children, then find a quiet room to study for a couple hours every night. I vowed to go to bed one hour later every night. That really boosted my productivity over a couple of years.” She also committed several hours of her weekend to her studies.
A few months into her bachelor’s degree program she added a study-buddy. Her daughter, Melanie, also enrolled at WGU Texas in the BS in Nursing (Prelicensure) program. “She lived at home with me so we created a great study environment together. She also wanted to be a nurse. That made me proud. I could offer advice to her in her online nursing program (a small Prelicensure program offered in collaboration with clinical partners in Dallas and Houston). We helped each other out. If I had a rough day at work and came home late, I would walk in to see she had cleaned the house and made dinner so I could just go straight to studying.” Joanna says Melanie knew exactly what do to brighten her day and help keep her on track. And, Joanna knew how to encourage her daughter to buckle up and bear down on the difficult clinical work she was facing. The mother-daughter duo were there for each other, and today, each work in Dallas area hospitals.
In addition to daughter Melanie’s encouragement, Joanna thanks her mentor for helping her through the rough days adult learners face when multiple commitments compete. In fact, she becomes visibly and emotionally moved when referencing her mentor. “I can’t talk about my mentor without getting a little choked up. I keep a picture of her and I from graduation on my desk,” said Joanna. “She picked me up so many times and helped me stay on track. I never would have finished this degree without her calls, her support and her help.” Student mentors contact WGU Texas students weekly from enrollment to graduation, building important relationships that inspire, support, and motivate busy adults to complete what they start.
But perhaps the greatest take-away from the experience is the sense of pride Joanna has when she reflects on her daughter also answering the call to be a nurse and help those in need. “Melanie is married now and lives 30 minutes away. We see each other at least once a week and talk several times a week,” said Joanna. “She is so excited about her career as an emergency room nurse, and it’s wonderful to share nursing stories together. She calls me all the time to talk about her experiences. I love to see her compassion for people who are hurting, and her desire to make a difference in their lives.”
For this mother-daughter team, the challenges of earning their degrees is a shared experience that brought them closer into a shared career path that keeps the bond strong. And for both, it would not have worked with traditional university models. “This would not have worked with on-ground education,” said Joanna. The WGU model is why Melanie and I were able to earn our degrees.”