Fulfilling the Dream - UACCB Nursing Student Overcomes Challenges

Posted Date - 2/17/22

Editor’s Note: In honor of Black History Month, the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville would like to highlight some of its outstanding students and their successes. This is the first in a two-part series.

Story By Andrea Bruner

For a time, Alesondria “Alli” Scales considered herself a failure. She’d tried college and could not keep up with the academics to maintain her financial aid, but the dream of being a nurse never really went away. 

For Scales, the third time was the charm, thanks to the support of her family and the faculty and staff at the University of Arkansas Community College at Batesville (UACCB).

Born and raised in a rural area of Batesville, Scales said when she was in kindergarten, she had wanted to be a doctor, but by the time she got to high school she was having an “existential crisis,” where she did not know what she wanted to do with her life. 

“First it was business, then it was hair, then it was nursing. There wasn’t a concrete moment where I knew what I wanted to do.”

She said many of her friends were going to UACCB after graduation, and she followed suit, thinking she would take business classes. But she admits she didn’t take her classes as seriously as she should have, and she left school with a mix of good and bad grades.

In 2015, she underwent gallbladder surgery and recalls seeing nurses come into her room with a flurry of activity. “That was exciting,” she said. “I thought, ‘Man, I want to do that.’”

So, in 2016, she decided to take classes and become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). She went to work at a local nursing home and was accepted into the Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) program, but she could not afford to attend. 

“That was devastating to me. I was at a loss, and I got burned out at the nursing home. It’s a lot, when you're going through classes, they can’t prepare you for some of the things you’re dealing with or seeing,” Scales said. 

One of the things she said she was not prepared for was when patients took one look at her and requested a different CNA. “In our area, being black, you're not the one they want to see when you go in to help them. It was not really a surprise but they don’t give you a heads-up (in class).
“Or they don’t want to deal with a woman,” Scales added.

Then there was also the issue of being short-staffed at a facility; Scales said although she had the education for the care she would provide, she wasn’t prepared for those types of things.

“After a year, I had a burnout and went to work at Pizza Hut,” she said. “I wanted a job I didn’t have to think about.” Eventually, Scales said, she went back to school, this time taking business courses. “I was done with nursing,” she said. “I had to pay out of pocket this time. I had failed classes and didn’t drop them, so I got Fs and that dropped my GPA down. When I realized what I did, it was too late (to drop).”

Nursing still called to her, and Scales said she went to work at a different nursing home. “But I didn’t go back to school. … I had made some catastrophic mistakes and had to undo some things,” she said.

She became pregnant in 2019, and Scales wasn’t sure how she would go back to nursing school. After her daughter Na’loni was born, Scales went to work at the hospital and this time, talked with the people at UACCB’s Career Pathways.

“I needed to get my financial aid back, and to do that I had to retake my classes and get a B or above. They said they would pay for my tuition if I made Bs, and I got As in all my classes,” Scales said.

“The next year I took harder classes and I had the equivalent of a full-time load by spring 2021,” Scales said. “I cried a lot. It’s a lot when you have a child, are working and have hard classes taking the muscle exam and the other exams.”

Scales recalled emailing Cheyenne Diaz, the Career Pathways student advisor, saying she couldn’t pass her class. 

“I was sad and depressed,” she said. “He took a screenshot of my grades from the fall semester and said, ‘You got here. If you can do that you can do this semester.’”

With that encouragement, she finished the semester and was able to get her financial aid back, then was accepted into nursing school, five years after she was accepted into college the first time.

Unfortunately, she received a letter that fall stating that her financial aid had run out - she had taken too many classes for a two-year college.

“I was freaking out - this was the whole point of me going to school,” she said. “I was haunted by my past mistakes. I called the Career Pathways office at 4:30 on a Friday and I was crying, thinking, ‘Maybe I’m never going to be a nurse.’

“Cheyanne said he would talk to Debbie (Wyatt, the director), and he emailed me 15 minutes later, saying that if I can't get financial aid they would pay for tuition.

“My daughter wasn't even 2 then. She doesn’t have a dad in her life, she was not verbal. I didn’t see how I was going to do it and be successful,” Scales said. 

She credits the support services programs at UACCB for helping her achieve her goals. “It’s been a roller coaster ride. Every time we hit a bump; we were able to make it work. They help with books and help with gas cards. TRIO helped me a lot too and helped me pay for summer tuition.”

Scales said her instructors were also very supportive. She recalled at a checkoff task, where students have to demonstrate they can put on gloves correctly (and the instructor “checks off” when a student is competent at the task, “I started hyperventilating. Ms. Canard (Ashlyn Canard, PN clinical coordinator) said, ‘Just breathe, just breathe, you can do this.’ To this day, I don’t know how I did this. I gave her a hug in the middle of checkoff because I did put on the gloves.”

Scales said her journey to nursing school has taken longer than many people’s might - and it’s also been an emotional road.

“I had created stumbling blocks and retake classes,” she said. “I look at people fresh out of high school and their GPA is immaculate. I got mine up to a 2.6, but that was a hard 2.6 to get to after being at a 1.9.” 

Scales said another UACCB staff member helped her get a work-study job so she could earn some income while in nursing school. 

“I’m really thankful for all the help I’ve gotten,” she said. 

Scales said she will graduate in July and be pinned for the LPN program. Then in the fall she has six credits in order to get her associate of science in health professions. After that, she plans to start the RN program next spring and will finish in December in 2023.

“My parents (Rose and Curtis Scales) have been my support system. They watch Na’loni when her class has been quarantined or they pick her up when I need to study,” Scales said. “Passing my classes, it’s been God. There are some, I don’t know how I passed. It’s God first, then family and the support of the programs at UACCB is how I’ve gotten here.”

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