ERIE, Pa. — Mary Beth Kroemer got her groove back.
“I totally love school. I feel like the big man on campus,” said Kroemer, an infusion center nurse at Saint Vincent Hospital. “I’m just so excited about the profession again.”
Kroemer’s excitement comes from enrolling in the RN to B.S. in Nursing degree completion program, offered in cohort form by Penn State Erie, The Behrend College.
“Getting a bachelor’s degree was always a personal goal, but I settled in, had a family, and that was no longer my immediate focus,” said Kroemer, who has worked as a registered nurse at Saint Vincent for 39 years. “Thankfully, Penn State Behrend offers a very flexible schedule to allow you to go to school and maintain your work and family life."
The program offers a blend of in-class, web-enhanced and online courses. With a seven-week, accelerated format, it can be completed in three semesters, and coursework is tailored to the student.
“We try to customize the program to what each individual nurse’s needs may be,” said Kimberly Streiff, campus coordinator for nursing programs at Penn State Behrend.
That’s why someone like Kroemer, who has more than 35 years of experience in infusion nursing, still has takeaways from any given course.
“The instructor tailored the course to my needs as an adult learner and knew that I had ‘been there and done that,’ but also knew what I needed to learn again,” Kroemer said. “I’ve learned so many new things, too. If this were earlier in my career, I would definitely consider forensic nursing as a specialty. It was so hands-on and engaging, and I loved it.”
Kroemer and the other students in the cohort are not the only ones enjoying the program. Faculty members reap the benefits as well.
“Everybody brings something different to the classroom,” said Amy LeSuer, a lecturer in nursing at Penn State Behrend. “Everyone comes from different areas and can bring something new to the conversation. As an instructor, I learn from the students, too.”
The key to Kroemer’s classroom success has been finding balance. She said it’s important to stay organized and always make time for her studies. She also has been able to rely on faculty and staff members for support, and she said the cohort model fits the program well.
“Having a cohort model keeps you on track because it’s kind of like that ‘study buddy’ idea. We have folks to bounce ideas off of,” she said. “My peers range anywhere from 25 to 60, and we all bring different backgrounds to this.”
Diana Gurrialia, also a nurse in Saint Vincent’s Infusion Center and a member of the cohort with Kroemer, has worked hard to find that balance as well.
“I have seven children, and I work full time. But, I knew when Saint Vincent presented this opportunity to me, I had to jump on it,” Gurrialia said. “It’s hard and I’m tired sometimes, but this is my goal. Mary Beth and I encourage each other, and we work so well as a team that I am happy to have her support.”
Gurrialia will graduate later this year, and Kroemer will follow in 2017. For Kroemer, the most difficult thing was taking the first step. She suggests that anyone who is considering returning to the classroom just take the leap.
“The most difficult thing is taking that first step — jumping in. I’ve wanted to do it for so long, and there were plenty of phases where it would have been convenient, but I didn’t,” Kroemer said. “Once I did, I was in, and I started running. I absolutely would recommend that anyone make that move to advance their nursing career, and especially at Penn State Behrend.”