Andrea Evans knows she could have just received her degree in the mail, but because she earned it – and earned it all online – she wanted to drive across Pennsylvania to Slippery Rock University, a place she’s never visited, to participate in the Winter Commencement Ceremony at Morrow Field House.
“Everyone said just let them mail it to you and I said, ‘No, I worked too hard for this, I deserve to walk, I deserve this proud moment,’” said Evans, a graduate of SRU’s bachelor of science in nursing program from Chalfont, a town that’s more than a five-hour drive from Slippery Rock.
Evans, 51, was born in England and spent half of her life living in eastern Pennsylvania, where she worked in retail before switching to nursing. Because of a health condition and because she was a full-time registered nurse when she started the program two years ago, Evans could not have completed her degree by taking classes in a traditional setting, so she enrolled in SRU’s online RN-to-BSN program.
“This program was thorough enough and rigorous enough that you get a well-rounded education,” said Evans, who chose SRU based on a recommendation from Christopher Smallwood, a 2008 SRU graduate in nursing who was an instructor at Bucks County Community College where she earned her associate’s degree to become an RN. “SRU is a great school. It’s good value for your money. The classes are streamlined. It worked out well for me. The staff here has been wonderful from the time I made that first call.”
While Evans felt that SRU was accommodating and set her up for success, earning her degree didn’t come easy. A full-time professional and a mother of a pre-teen daughter, Evans also suffers from ankylosing spondylitis, an incurable inflammatory disease that causes joint stiffness in the spine and hips and, in some cases like Evans’, eye pain, sensitivity to light and blurred vision.
“It’s excruciating to stand and sit (for long periods) so I had to alternate and I have some distortions in my vision that make it really hard,” said Evans, who compared the condition to having to see with Vaseline rubbed in her eyes. “I really wondered whether or not I’d be able to complete this program because I really couldn’t see well enough. It was frustrating. It was a lot and it took its toll on me and my family, because it took me twice as long (to do the work) as it would have if I was younger and in better health.”
One year into the online program, Evans decided that completing her bachelor’s degree deserved her full concentration, so she reduced her hours at Doylestown Hospital from full-time to weekends only.
“I worked on this strictly for one year and I blew out the rest of the program,” Evans said. “That’s a reason why I like this program because of the quick turnaround; some of the classes were just eight weeks.”
SRU’s online RN-to-BSN program is designed for registered nurses to shift from the care of individuals within a community to the health of a community, while developing their clinical decision-making, professional communication and leadership skills.
“Our RN-to-BSN program appeals to nurses because they seek the quality, affordability and flexibility associated with 100-percent online learning at SRU,” said Mary Ann Dailey, associate professor and interim chairperson of SRU’s nursing department. “While there are no face-to-face relationships, faculty collaborate with RN students through online discussion boards, email and telephone, all of which support a collegial academic environment. Faculty also encourage nurses to collaborate with their peers and apply the skills they are developing to their work setting.”
Now that Evans has her bachelor’s degree, she is qualified for more health care jobs and she can advance her career in more areas.
“I want to leave patient care because I’m someone who is very driven by change,” said Evans, who is considering teaching jobs in hospitals, most of which require a master’s degree as well. “Once I learn how to do something and I understand how it’s done, I feel like that’s closed and let’s bring on the next one.”
But that doesn’t mean Evans failed to revel in her accomplishment. She drove her 13-year-old daughter, Lauren, in her Subaru, departing for Slippery Rock at 6 a.m. on the Friday to arrive in time for commencement rehearsal, while her husband, Tom; adult son, Ryan; and sister, Robin, arrived in time for the ceremony on Saturday.
“I didn’t care if there was the worst ice storm,” said Evans, whose parents in New Mexico and sisters in Florida watched the ceremony on the live stream from SRU’s website. “I’m not missing this; this is huge. Physically being here makes me feel connected as an SRU alumna. I could say that I’ve been on campus and now I feel like this is the school that provided the last part of my education and not only is it a super-proud moment for me, but also for my family.”