adult learner, Advice, Community College, Dreamer, English learner, First generation, nursing, Single Parent, Transfer

Si se puede! … The Story of an Adult Learner

Young smiling Latinx man in surgical scrubsBy Pedro Aguilar

NU Scholar Cohort January 2020, Bachelor of Science, Nursing – Los Angeles Region, CA.

My story can be told from many perspectives. I am a community college graduate who transferred to National University after having a change of heart. While I had wanted to pursue a Master’s degree in Social Work, my work in mental health led me to pursue a degree as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. The rightness of this decision came home for me when Gavin Newsom, Governor of California, asked nursing students and other healthcare professionals to join in the fight against Covid-19. I can still remember Newsom saying “if you are a nursing school student, we need you” as he pleaded for Californians to join the California Health Corps.

I am a first-generation college graduate, single parent, English Language Learner, and adult learner. When I say adult learner, I really mean that I took my education seriously only once I became an adult. While attending community college I held many jobs: grocery clerk, crane and forklift operator, warehouse worker, cook, and painter. I was not sure what I really wanted to become in life, especially because education was not fostered where I grew up. Some of my peers went into real-estate, while others became working professionals like their parents. I, on the other hand, was just trying to find myself and generate a plan for my future.


One day during sociology class my instructor shared her experience working with troubled youth. I clearly remember her saying, “One day they love you, another day they are trying to hurt you, but working with them is so rewarding.” What she said inspired me, so after class I asked if she would write me a letter of recommendation. Soon after I became a youth counselor and began my career in social services. This experience taught me that you can find inspiration and ideas from the most unlikely places or comments made by the people around you.

Young man in face mask participates in COVID-19 relief efforts
“Showing others the way” means giving back and letting others know that if you overcame these obstacles, they can too.

“Show others the way” were a few of the words written on my yearbook by my English high school professor, Mrs. Olivas. I did not follow the traditional pathway of going to school, getting a good job or career, getting married, having a family, and living happily ever after. My life took some sharp turns along the way – but after running a few stop signs, getting a few speeding tickets, and repairing a flat tire or two, it eventually brought me where I am today. If you have a familiar story, keep going, and remember that you are not just succeeding for yourself, but that you are showing others the way.

If I had given up when I was in high school, it would have been expected because children that come from broken homes and who are English learners have a higher rate of dropping out.

If I had given up when I was in community college, it would have been expected of me because adults who don’t have a strong support system and who must work through their education have a lower chance of completing a two-year degree.

Diverse group of nursing students and their instructor in hospital setting
Pedro and other passionate student nurses in Los Angeles Cohort 20 celebrate the completion of another class with Professor Patricia A. Bridewell.

If I had given up after graduating community college it would have been expected of me because I was already a part-time parent and full time mental health professional, and had taken a few years off from school. When I attempted to go back, I was told that if I wanted to switch my major, I had to wait in the back of the line because I had lost priority registration. My counselor even told me, “We get that a lot, people are afraid to finish.” I explained to her that she was wrong – I was not afraid to finish, I just knew what I wanted to do.

If I had given up, I would have had to sit down one day and explain to my daughter how I found a million excuses to give up along the way. The thought that she would see a defeated man as opposed to a role model is what keeps me in the fight. I would rather keep my dreams alive and be the light for other dreamers that have lost sight in their path to success. Don’t ever give up! Si se puede!

YoungSmiling Latinx father and daughter in formal attire against a natural backdrop
Pedro and his daughter – Celebrating life’s successes, and looking forward to conquering new challenges. Si se puede!

Supporting low-income, rural students during COVID

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Kate Stoddard is a first-generation student who has always dreamed of supporting migrant, low-income students in underserved communities.

By Kate Stoddard

NU Scholar, January 2020 Cohort

Master of Education, Inspired Teaching and Learning, Multiple Subject Credential, Emphasis on Social Emotional Learning – Sacramento Region

I am called to work with students in low-income migrant communities, communities that have always faced tremendous barriers and challenges. People have said to me so many times “Why would you choose that career, you are worth so much more money wise” I did not choose to go into the educational field for the money. I tell them that I want to make a meaningful impact on children’s lives, and to make the biggest difference that I can in the community. Having grown up in an underserved community, and having experienced that lack of resources, I know what it’s like to grow up in a community where there is a lot of pressure to stay home and help the family. I want to change that mindset for children who have the same experiences, and to provide the resources that their families need to let children  focus on their education and social emotional skills. 

While COVID-related shutdowns have impacted all students and teachers, groups like this were especially hard-hit when schools were forced to shut their doors and to shift in-person instructional time to online “distance learning.”  Many classroom teachers (including myself) are now trying to understand the ins and outs of distance learning for the first time. If teachers are struggling, try to imagine the struggle the students are facing. While children can adapt quickly to change, they need structure and support to be successful. 

Try to imagine living in a small rural underserved community where families face high rates of poverty, and many struggle to make ends meet. While this perspective may be hard to grasp for many readers, I’m sure that at least a few of you may understand how difficult this is. With parents under so much extra stress during this time, we educators are left to work out the kinks of distance learning, and be there for our students. 

With COVID school closures, children are being left home to try to not only figure out how to engage in distance learning on their own, but also to survive. One of the biggest barriers is a lack of internet access in their homes. I was teaching a 5th grader one-on-one, via Zoom, when I noticed that the student was sitting in the backseat of a car. When I asked why she was working in the car, the student explained that she was sitting in her car at the local town library, so that she and her mom could access the internet. Both this student and her mother were in school: one trying to get through fifth grade, the other in class to learn English. While her mom sits in the front seat, and works on homework, my student sits in the back seat, and meets with me. This experience opened my eyes to a whole new world of struggles for these kids. In addition to the barrier of unequal internet access, this experience highlighted how many of my students are  English Language Learners, and whose parents are also English Language Learners. When schools are open, the teacher and other staff are there to help them and explain problems and questions. When their parents at home speak only Spanish, for example, it is difficult for them to get help on assignments. Many of these parents also have little experience using computers, and may not be able to help their kids with technical issues, like using Zoom, installing updates, and participating in online discussions.

A ten year old being left alone at home to figure out their academics, and mom and dad working to keep the lights on. This is the reality of these students’ lives. As a district we have provided many resources for these families (such as free laptops for those who need them, and continuing free breakfasts and lunches for students learning at home), but I worry that we need to do more for their social and emotional health. These students may not see what the future holds, but if we cultivate and support their ability to adjust quickly to adverse childhood experiences, this it will help them to fight in the future for their families injustices.

It is true that we are all experiencing hardships and difficulties relating to COVID. However, it has been hard to hear so many times “that it affects us all the same’” when, the fact is, it does not, as families with more resources are able to support these students much more than those without. This includes, for example, families with parents who are able to continue to work from home, families that can have one stay-at-home parent, parents who are tech-savvy English speakers, fast and reliable internet, good computers, quiet workspaces. While children are resilient and adjust quickly to their environments, as an educator, it is crucial that I continue to work hard to help these students get the resources needed to become successful. 

During this time, the question I continually ask myself is: “How can we as teachers make the biggest impact on these students, without causing more harm than good?” One way that I can do this is by using some of the resources that National University has made available to the public. I have found that the Sanford Harmony at Home resources (fro grades Pre-K to 6) have really helped me to support my students’ social-emotional learning over this time, which is so easily overlooked. I have also really appreciated the classroom resources that they have shared for grades Pre-K – 12, and which cover topics like how to run an engaging Zoom-based classroom to how to have engaging discussions online. 

I know that we will come out of this experience as stronger, better teachers. Thank you to all of the fellow teachers and students out there, and to the parents and community members who are supporting us.



A first-generation American Path to Success

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Amaratpreet Sekhon, a BS Nursing Candidate from Fresno,CA, is a member of the NU Scholars January 2020 Cohort

Due to the current pandemic caused by COVID-19 I believe that it is important to remind fellow students to keep their sights set on the bigger picture. Many students are currently running into various obstacles when it comes to their education: not being able to attend a physical class or clinical, financial concerns, or even health issues. These obstacles may seem insurmountable right now, but if you give it your all you can overcome them. It is important to remember these hardships will not last forever and that things will get better. Later on, when looking back at this time, you may even come to find that these obstacles helped improve your ability to adapt and overcome.

The concept of pursuing further education after the completion of high school was always described by my teachers and counselors as a simple path: The first step is to complete your high school education, and the second is to apply to a higher education establishment. However, what these teachers and counselors fail to realize is that many students are unable to commit to focusing solely on furthering their education due to financial reasons or personal responsibilities. I was one of these students. My family migrated from India to America, and being a first-generation American came with its set of responsibilities. Although my parents stressed the importance of pursuing education, I did not have the luxury of solely focusing on my education.

a row of red arrows pointing forward into a blue sky with clouds
Life doesn’t always move in a straight line, especially for students who need to help out with a family business

I first started furthering my education at the community college level, juggling a sixteen-hour course load and working full time at my family’s business. When I wasn’t physically working at the business, I was managing the businesses finances and employees. It was a grueling time. Then, right when I was preparing to transfer to a four-year university and complete my degree, I was told I had not taken the correct classes to transfer. I thought to myself, “How is this possible? I took all the classes the counselors said I needed.” I later found out that my counselors had made a mistake, and the required classes had changed before I could transfer in my credits.

Cartoon man pushing a
Sometimes it seemed like every time I got ready to move forward with my education, the rules changed – and I was back where I started.

During this time, I was at the lowest point I had ever been throughout the course of my educational career, and I wondered whether I would ever find a path forward. Luckily, I found National University. National University accepted all the credits I had previously taken, and gave me an opportunity to complete my education at an accelerated pace. The schedule and modality of National University’s four-week and eight-week intensive classes also allowed me to still help my parents run their business, which was essential. If I had to redo everything again, I would go straight to National University after completing high school. However, I would never change the extenuating circumstances I faced while pursuing my education. I believe that overcoming those circumstances has provided me a sense of confidence that, no matter what issue arises, I will be able to adapt and overcome.






Creating a Sense of Control When Everything’s Out of Control

Dapper man with glasses in business attire against a natural backdrop
Luis Ramirez, NU Scholar, January 2020 Cohort

Luis Ramirez
NU Scholar and & BSN Student (Nursing 2nd Bachelor’s), San Diego

Some days you’re the windshield. And other days, you’re the bug. But more often than not, I feel blessed to be the windshield, and these days, in the times of a pandemic, that’s a lot to be grateful for.

Like many, the transition from full-time student to full-time stay-at-home parent and elementary school teacher happened overnight. And the first thing I learned was … I am sorely unqualified to be a teacher. Nevertheless, we do our best and now, after a few weeks of trial and error, my family seems to be adjusting to a new groove and doing our best to make it work.

kids studying
I went to school to become an RN – not a teacher! But, like all of us during this time, me and my family are doing our best to adapt.

For people who like to feel in control (as I do), this is an especially challenging time. I’m not sure if it was out of necessity or desperation for order and control, but I’ve resorted to making lists. Lists for everything. I now have multiple lists and calendars going simultaneously. And even though my wife teases me about it, I love my lists. At first, the kids weren’t crazy about it. I started with a list and schedule of their daily home-school routine. This may not work for everyone, but from the moment I taped copies of the schedule on the fridge, they welcomed the routine and structure. In fact, they actually get excited about following it.

I find that a clear schedule has helped my three young kids to stay focused during the transition to homeschooling – giving me time for my own schoolwork!

I have my list of things to do that day around the house. Some days it’s more ambitious than others. Today the list included trying to make a new coffee drink I saw on TikTok… Dalgona Whipped Coffee. Yes, I’m 45 and watching TikTok (don’t judge). Is it intended for a younger demographic? Probably. Who cares? It’s on my daily watch list. So is Reddit – particularly the always entertaining “TIL” category (“Today I Learned…”).

The other list I update daily is the “Call/Write” list. This is for people who I want to call but, unless I put it on a list, I’ll forget or it’ll just never happen. Of course, there’s the ever growing “Shopping List,” which these days usually consists of grocery items we’re trying to get delivered online, or arts and crafts supplies for upcoming projects with the kids.

I don’t quite understand the psychology behind it. But for some reason, the act of making a list, and crossing something off it, is not only satisfying, but gives me a sense of control over my life. Writing things down helps me capture those ideas on paper before they disappear, poof, in a cloud of idea dust – and then crossing it off the list gives me the sweetest sense of satisfaction and accomplishment (although, many of those moments are short lived, because, honestly, how much credit can I give myself for organizing the spice rack, or for replacing light bulbs that have been burnt out for 3+ years?).

to-do list
The best part of a to-do list? Crossing things off. Remember to have a to-do list not just for work around the house, but for folks you’d like to reconnect with.

Lesson I’ve learned about the power of lists: For me, they create a sense of accountability, and allow me to feel accountable to stick to a strategy for the day, the week, the month. While not everything on the list gets accomplished, it certainly gives me much needed motivation and a sense of normalcy and sense that I’m moving forward, making progress. Some days, it’s baby steps. Some days, it’s big steps. Oh, and something I adopted in nursing school early on… ERASABLE PENS! Who knew? I remember the day I discovered such a thing existed I ordered a set of six on Amazon. That was nearly two years ago. So when you’re making your lists, you still feel like an adult by using a pen. But then as you start to read things back, you can erase the ridiculous ideas or the home repair projects that would likely lead to accidentally exploding something or losing a finger. While lists are great, it’s also good to self-edit. That’s where erasable pens come in.

Some days you’re the windshield. Some days the bug. So, for my to do list tomorrow, be the windshield.

Today my to-do list included trying to make a new coffee drink I saw on TikTok… I think it’s called a Dalgona Whipped Coffee. Yes, I’m 45 and watching TikTok. Who cares?

It’s Just a Season – Balance & Grace

whisper headshot
Whisper Tennis
NU Scholars Program, October 2019 
Master’s in Counseling with a Dual Emphasis of Marriage and Family Therapy and Clinical Counseling,      San Diego Region

This piece was written months ago, but, with the uncertainty of Covid-19, the information in it is more relevant than ever. We are finding ourselves wearing many new hats while still trying to maintain family, careers, and our health. It is so important to take time for yourself in this chaotic season. Give yourself grace and realize we are all in this together. Hopefully this gives you some tools to help you get organized and realize that we are all struggling, trying to do our best in this new norm. I hope that you all can not only stay healthy physically, but also take time for your mental health as well.

As long as I remember I have always been busy. Since I was 16 years old I went to work full-time and school full-time. I studied hard and felt like I could do it all. That mentally put me in the crazy journey of going back to school for a dual Master’s, being a brand new mom, a student advocate, volunteer at church, wife and working full time. Wow, I’m exhausted just typing my responsibilities out.

This year has been one of the hardest yet most rewarding years of my life. I have a beautiful baby boy, a job that is so rewarding yet very difficult, and the opportunity to go to school for my Master’s and reach goals I never thought I could reach. Thank you National University! With all that being said it is important to understand how to stay on track and be successful as a learner with all the other responsibilities in life. We all wear many hats everyday with different responsibilities yet we need to learn how to prioritize those items while taking care of ourselves. Here are some tricks I use to be a successful student, mother, employee while keeping my mind healthy.

New parent, Employee, Student, Community Member, Spouse …. How can I balance all of this?
  • It’s just a season. It is so easy to get overwhelmed in the day-to-day grind. Papers, projects, test, incident reports, dirty diapers, dishes, laundry, lack of sleep, and doing it all over the next day. One thing that helps me ground myself is realizing it’s just the season I am in right now. This is not a forever routine. One day my son will not be in diapers, one day I will be finished school and in a career I love, one day my 4 hours of sleep will be 8 hours of sleep at night ( at least I hope so!). It’s just a season and I can get through the season because spring is coming.
  • Give yourself grace. As a mom and an NU Scholar I put a ton of pressure on myself. I want to be the best that I can be and when I feel like I am not giving my best I get so frustrated with myself. Have you been there? We tend to give out grace towards so many in our lives, yet don’t give ourselves any. We are not meant to be perfect, we all have short comings allow yourself to experience grace. You are doing the best you can and be proud of that not frustrated.
  • Say NO! This is one that is so hard for me. Whenever anyone asks for help I always want to say “Sure I can do that!” Yet sometimes I need to say no so that I am home, I can get rest, I can focus on other priorities. Understanding that “No” is not a bad word but actually can be helpful for self-care was an important skill for me to learning
  • Have a plan. You have schedules, assignments, and meeting to attend. Get yourself a planner! At the beginning of the month write down assignment in the syllabus, meetings you have to attend, and any other task that needs your attention throughout the month. This way you have a visual of what your month looks like and you can start assignments early. I also color-code my agenda book so I can look quickly and see what need of my time is. My colors are “RED” (extremely important, like doctors’ appointments or major assignments), “Orange” (school assignments) “ Purple” (NU Scholars assignments), “Green” (work assignments), “Blue” (self-care , like hikes, coffee dates, or a manicure). Try to make sure that there are a few “Blues” in your month! Planning ahead is key to success.
  • Have a check-in with your professors. Let your professors know if you are struggling, need some extra guidance, or unexpected things happen in your life. They can’t help you if they do not know what you are facing. NU professors are so helpful and understanding, we just need to talk with them.
  • Turn off the TV. It’s been a long day – all you want to do is sit and veg, but you that know assignments are due. Turn the TV off and finish the assignments, because, at least for me, the moment the TV turns on, time just disappears. Before I know it I am ready for bed and have gotten nothing done. If I come home from work and spend time with my little, take care of dinner, bath and bed, then sit and do my assignments rather than turning on the TV, I become much more successful and focused. I also sleep better because I accomplished things instead of looking at a screen, letting the evening slip away.
  • Ask for help. Whether you need someone to watch your kids, help with errands, or just talk to, ask for help. We are not meant to do everything alone, it’s okay to have help.

By having goals and proper time management you can be a successful student, parent, and employee.

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Balance – Give yourself Grace