Graduate Profile: Juanita Norton

Juanita Norton

MS Nursing — Leadership and Management

For WGU Texas graduate nursing student Juanita Norton, the writing was on the wall early. At seven-years-old she fell down and broke her arm. While most children would have been crying, and scared to go the hospital Juanita jumped in the car, eager to be surrounded by doctors and nurses. She was fascinated by their work, and loved being in medical environments. She was sent to the hospital again at 12, this time for a bone spur, and again, was the ideal patient—ever curious and willing to discuss each step of the exam and procedure.

But plans to grow up and become a healthcare professional derailed shortly thereafter. “I struggled horribly with high school and barely got by with my GED. I was a mother at 19. I didn’t think I was smart enough or dedicated enough for college,” she recalls. “I tried it all, car hopping, cleaning, telemarketing, sales, you name it. Each dead end job was just a stepping stone to another dead end job. My life was about welfare and food stamps.” She was increasingly concerned that her young son would never have the life she wanted for him unless she was able to change her life. With the support of her beloved grandmother Juanita began a personal quest that took years. She attended four colleges over several years and succeeded in earning her Bachelor of Science in Nursing, proving to herself and her son the value of tenacity, and that a college education was worth fighting for.

The joy of victory was short lived, however, when Juanita was suddenly widowed and had to care for her son alone. “I didn’t want to go to work; I didn’t want to even live in the town where my husband and I had lived. The pain and sorrow was devastating,” she recalls. About the same time, her son’s performance in school began a sharp descent.

“One of many great things about having a degree in nursing,” Juanita explains, “is you can go anywhere and find work. I decided we needed a fresh start. We moved to Houston, I started home schooling my son, and I took a job in a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit where we treated critically ill children,” says Juanita. The intensity of pediatric care left Juanita little time to be concerned about her own loss. She poured herself into her work, and her new life.

“My family teases me now about being a lifelong learner, but after the win of earning my bachelor’s degree I wanted to go back to school for a master’s. I’m interested in nursing leadership and health informatics. I want to use my knowledge and skills to help other nurses protect patient welfare,” she says. “I looked around and found WGU—the fit was perfect. They respected my life. I could do the work and still devote time to getting my son through high school and working well over 40 hours a week as a nurse. The whole process of learning through WGU made me feel empowered.”

She thanks her Student Mentor, the faculty member assigned to each student, serving them from enrollment to graduation. “My grandma who provided me so much support in my undergraduate work passed away recently. It’s like my mentor Sue just stepped right into her shoes. She encourages me and keeps me focused. I hit serious setbacks on my capstone and wanted to quit. Sue wisely gave me one small achievable task at a time until my confidence was restored and I believed I could succeed.”

Juanita will be graduating soon with her Master of Science in Nursing — Leadership and Management, and will leave a trail of referred students in her path. “I refer a lot of people to WGU Texas. I like helping other people considering going back to school.” She says she always tell them to check out the mentoring program — “as a busy adult that will really help you stay focused. You’ll have your personal Student Mentor and then you’ll have course mentors in each class. They really help,” she says. “Second, I always tell people that WGU values your life. They let you work your education into what fits for your life.”

She reflects on the value of education in her life, “My life has been an amazing journey. I was broke, on welfare, working as many jobs as I could when my son was nine. Soon I’ll have a master’s degree and—the best part—a son in college.”

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