Name: Bet Atkins
Class: Heartland Class of 2005
Degree: Associate's in Arts
Interviewer: Colleen Reynolds, Director of Alumni Relations and Outreach
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Colleen: The alumni spotlight shines this time on an alum who's a single mom of seven kids who turned to Heartland at age 45 to start a new career, one that recently led to an award for her compassion.
Bet: Hi. I'm Bet Atkins. I graduated from Heartland Community College in 2005 with an Associate in Arts degree.
Colleen: I know that you've gone on and received your nursing degree as well.
Bet: I have. I graduated from Mennonite College of Nursing at Illinois State University in 2007. I'm currently employed at Advocate Bromenn in the I.M.C.U. I'm a day nurse and love my job.
Colleen: I.M.C.U., what does that stand for?
Bet: It stands for the Intermediate Care Unit. Originally, I was hired to work the step-down unit, which is one south, right outside the ICU. Last year, they merged my unit with the medical unit and made us one big unit. We were all together up on the fifth floor now.
Colleen: I'm going to take you back to the beginning of your academic career and ask you what led you to Heartland?
Bet: I knew that there were going to be some changes in my life and I knew that I would need to care of my children. I was a single, or I figured I was headed to be a single mom and I was. I started during the summer of 2003 and took two classes, then bumped up to full-time and took everything that I could take so I could graduate.
Colleen: So had you been out of the classroom for awhile?
Bet: Oh lord! I have been out of the classroom since really when I graduated from high school all those years ago in 1976. I took some college courses, got married, was a stay at home mom for a long time. I managed a bookstore in Peoria for awhile, and I loved that job. I just figured that it wasn't the direction I wanted to go. I had the opportunity to take care of my grandmother when she was dying in 1979 and that cemented the idea that I wanted to be a nurse. I figured one day I woke up and I thought I'm going to be 45 this year and if I don't do it now, I'm not ever going to do it and that at least I wanted to try. If I can't do it and manage the kids and take care of everything else, then okay but I'll have known I had given it my best shot. I just started those classes and taking those classes. I had great support, had a lot of fun. I had great professors. I loved Edie Wallace, Ali (Abu-Amr), Steve Rummel. Just a lot of encouragement from the professors here and a lot of encouragement from my church family.
Colleen: What else about your experience here helped you succeed and get that Associates degree and then move on?
Bet: I think most of it was probably self-esteem. Heartland gave me a big boost in my self-esteem. You just think you can't do it then you do it. Then you think okay I can do this and I can move on to the next step. It was just like I could get tutoring if I wanted it. I used Project RISE at times. Heartland had the daycare which there were times I needed those services. Like I said before, I worked part-time in the Financial Aid office as a student worker and met lifelong friends there. There are people that I love there that really encouraged me and wanted to see me achieve my goals. It's easier when you have someone from the back pushing you. It really is.
Colleen: It sounds like you felt supported as a whole person, not just in the classroom.
Bet: I really did. I met people here that I love and would consider that they would be lifelong friends of mine. There were other students my age that were middle aged who were doing career changes. You tend to stick together and help eachother. You're not eighteen or nineteen, just out of high school. You have full-time responsibilities as parents. Some of them worked outside jobs so going to school had to be the priority.
Colleen: So you went on and obtained your nursing degree. Where did that lead you?
Bet: It led me to Advocate Bromenn. I love my job. It's fabulous. I can work three days a week, twelve hour shifts. I can pick up extra shifts if I want. It gives me time to be a mom which is a priority. When I leave work, 99% of the time I feel like I've accomplished something, that I have helped someone else. I feel like I had so many people help me as a single mom going to college, raising kids and a granddaughter that it's kind of like payback and paying it forward that you go and take care of people. You know that they're not at their best and you do what you can to make their day easier.
Colleen: Well then you must be very good at what you do because you received a compassion award in the first quarter of this year. Tell me about what that meant to you to receive that kind of an award or recognition of what you do everyday.
Bet: It was really nice, but I'd be just as happy to going about my own business at work. It's very nice to be recognized by families. It was a family who thought that I had gone above and beyond taking care of their loved one. That's amazing that they took the time to write the company and the hospital recognized me. I'm very appreciative of that but that's not why I do what I do. I do it because I love people and I want things to be good for people. I want their outcomes to be good. I want to be able to set an example to newer nurses and my peers. What we do is very hard both physically and emotionally. You can get through the day by making someone's life better just by being kind and loving. I think that to do what we do as nurses we have to genuinely love other people or you couldn't do it day after day.
Colleen: Is there anything that you learned here at Heartland that has translated to what you do everyday, either academically or just about people?
Bet: I think all of my classes at Heartland prepared me for the next step at Mennonite. They gave me a good base foundation to build on the skills and knowledge base that I learned at Heartland. I think that just being back in a diverse population that was a lot of fun. You get to hear ideas and think about things that you have not thought about in a long time. I want to be as open minded as possible about everything. What I learned here helped me to be a better nurse. I loved my time here.
Colleen: You almost get a little misty-eyed when you think about it.
Bet: I actually do. For me, it was a really hard time in my life. Heartland gave me something to focus on, just class after class after class. It kept me from sitting there thinking my life is terrible. If you have something to focus on and if you have a goal and if you do your best to attain that goal, it might take you a little bit longer, you might be 45 years old in class with a bunch of 18 year olds, they were all great. They accepted me. It was like they were other children of mine. I felt that it was such a good thing for me. It was the best move I could make. Everybody was just so supportive. It's just such a great cultural experience here. There's things to do and outside of classroom events. We're lucky we have Heartland.
Colleen: Is there anything else you would like to say to students attending Heartland today?
Bet: I'm not anybody special. I'm just Bet. If I can do it, you can do it. I occassionally run into single moms who were floundering andI tell them my Heartland story. I went to Heartland when I was 45 and I had kids at home. If I can do it, you can do it because there is nothing so special about me. It was just determination and wanting to be able to provide a good life for my kids. It was my kids who were my driving force. I want them to have a good life and Heartland enabled me to move to the next step which was at Mennonite and then be able to get my job. I just can't imagine doing anything else with my life.
Colleen: Bet Atkins, we think there's something special about you. We're happy to have you in our latest spotlight. Good luck and continued future success.
Bet: Thank you very much, Colleen.
Colleen: I hope you’ve marked your calendar for the upcoming Community Day on Saturday, September 17. Come sample any of several dozen mini courses, tour the campus, and enjoy a family fun fest on the quad featuring free food, music and entertainment including a local favorite band, Biscuits 'n Gravy. Don’t forget to stop by the alumni tent, say hi and try our treasure chest for a chance to win some great prizes. Thanks for listening. I'm Colleen Reynolds.