Glenwood mom overcomes barriers to graduate |

Glenwood mom overcomes barriers to graduate

Suzie Romig
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
CMC nursing graduate Sherri Opkyke (right) now serves as a registered nurse at Valley View Hospital, where she is working in the day surgery recovery room guided by her mentoring nurse, or preceptor, Andrea Nelson. Photo by Suzie Romig

Glenwood Springs resident and single mother of three Sherri Opdyke remembers a time when she didn’t have the money for gas to drive her car.

She had the desire and motivation to finish her college education with the goal of becoming a registered nurse, but she did not always have the financial means.

That’s when Opdyke found Gateway, a program sponsored by Colorado Mountain College and the Garfield County Department of Human Services. Funding from Gateway’s Women in Transition program paid for emergency needs so that Opdyke could complete her full-time study in nursing school.

“I just knew that I needed that extra support to make it through school,” said Opdyke, whose extended family lives in New Jersey. “When you have a family and children, with the financial part, sometimes the motivation is not enough. You need that support and help.”

While working in food service at the college’s Spring Valley Center and later operating her own cleaning business, Opdyke started prerequisite classes in 2004. After separating from the father of her two younger children, she started her first year of nursing school in fall 2007. She applied for a federal Pell Grant and a Workforce Investment Act grant through the Colorado Workforce Center, but she still wasn’t sure she could finish college.

“Once you get into the nursing program full time, you can’t miss classes and clinical days,” said Opdyke during a recent phone interview, with her 4-year-old son playing in the background. “It’s pretty overwhelming with a family as well.

Working too much was sabotaging the time needed for school.”

Program provided support, encouragement

Women in Transition grant money paid for some Internet and phone bills, gasoline vouchers and personal counseling services as the single mom was breaking free of an on-again, off-again, unhealthy relationship. Without the help, Opdyke said, “I would not have finished my nursing degree. I would have gotten so frustrated and had that whole beaten-down feeling.”

The 33-year-old stuck with her studies and graduated in May 2009 with an associate degree in nursing from Colorado Mountain College.

“I realized my dream of becoming a college graduate,” she wrote in a letter of support for Gateway. “I am proud of this achievement and the example I was able to set for my children as a first-time college graduate in my family … [the program] also offered me encouragement on my journey and emotional support as well, which was just as important as the financial help. It gave me the confidence and the drive to know others believed in me, too.”

Opdyke said she received great encouragement from CMC faculty, especially Maureen Nuckols, the nursing professor who was her teacher and mentor for two years.

“I’ve always been struck by Sherri’s grace-under-pressure style,” Nuckols said of her former student. “She came into this program with no healthcare background. She persevered. I never doubted that she would succeed. It’s very rewarding for me as a teacher to be part of her journey in achieving success.”

The CMC graduate studied for and passed her board of nursing exam this past summer, utilizing a grant from Women in Transition to pay for her exam fees. The quiet, hard-working mom then applied to the competitive, one-year nurse residency program at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs.

Opdyke was accepted into the intensive training and mentoring program that supports recent nursing graduates. As a registered nurse, she currently works four, 10-hour days in the hospital’s day surgery area.

Opdyke said she is excited about her new job and happy to be working in a supportive environment. She acknowledges that life still is hard sometimes but added, “I feel grateful and blessed for the people who have supported me.”

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