For many adults, returning to school is difficult with numerous obstacles to overcome. For Heather McElwain, a 38-year-old single mother and Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City student, the hindrances turned into opportunities that are making her lifelong dream of becoming a nurse a reality.
As someone who hadn't been to school in 20 years, McElwain worried about beginning the coursework to become a nurse. She often questioned herself but found encouragement in being a good example for her 18-year-old son.
She said academic adviser Kenneth Chapman helped her get started on the right path.
“I probably would have turned around and left if I had not had him as an adviser,” McElwain said. “He made it easy, and he's always been there.”
McElwain took 12 hours her first semester and made straight As, which led to her induction into the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. Her academic success also led to a rekindling of her relationship with her mother, who worked in health care for many years.
“She's extremely proud and can't wait for me to graduate,” McElwain said.
Chapman, who said he believed in her from the beginning, has been moved by McElwain's story.
“What encouraged me the most is when I attended the Phi Theta Kappa induction and Heather's mother said, ‘Thank you for helping my daughter make her decisions for school and helping her stay on track,'” Chapman said. “That resonated with me because we see so many students … but this is personal.”
McElwain said she is older than many of the students, but thinks she can keep up as well as anyone.
“A lot of times I feel like their mother,” she said. “But I really like it. I have made some great friends here.”
Chapman said her story proves there is no dream one can't accomplish with hard work and perseverance.
McElwain plans to apply to OSU-OKC's nurse science program in the fall and is currently enrolled in six hours.
“I'm a normal person who is doing this,” McElwain said, “and if I can do it, anybody else can.”
Kandace Taylor and Jana Foster are with OSU-OKC Communications.