Gary Marwedel is not one to quit easily. Despite forced breaks due to hardships, he persevered with the RN to BSN online program from Northeastern State University and graduated in December 2018, all while raising his six children.
His father-in-law's heart attack and sister's death were among the tougher issues he had to push through so he could accomplish the goal he had set for himself.
"It took me a few years to get it done," Marwedel said. "But I went in with the mindset that if I'm going this route, I am going to finish."
It helped that his professors lent a supportive ear.
"My professors were completely understanding of my personal circumstances and because of that, I was able to get through it. They were always willing to listen and give me the time I needed," said Marwedel. "Without them, I wouldn't have walked the stage."
Start of a Journey
Inspired by his wife's return to school to earn a bachelor's degree at NSU, Marwedel went straight into the RN to BSN program upon graduating with an associate degree in nursing from Tulsa Community College.
His ADN led him to work as a registered nurse in the respiratory care unit at Saint Francis Hospital while he earned his BSN degree.
Marwedel knew one of the key components to success in the online program would be communication. From the beginning, he took the initiative to email professors and ask questions. This practice continued through the duration of the program and set him apart as a model student.
"I think that's one of the reasons I was on their radar. I was very attentive. I really wanted to be a part of the program, and I wanted to make sure that I had all my ducks in a row," said Marwedel.
One of the reasons he chose NSU was its proximity. Marwedel knew he had access to the same resources as an on-campus student. The Tulsa resident would drive to campus to study in the library or meet with professors.
Teacher and Friend
He met one of his professors, RN-to-BSN program chair Dr. Diana Mashburn, in his first semester and would come to think of her as the go-to mentor who always steered him in the right direction.
Even when Marwedel took time off from the program to address personal issues, Dr. Mashburn was only an email away.
"She really believed in me, keeping in touch throughout the years to make sure that I finished the program," said Marwedel. "Dr. Mashburn always said to me, 'When you're ready to jump back in, let me know.'"
When the time was right, Marwedel returned to NSU. Dr. Mashburn had a surprise in store for him.
"I sent her an email saying I was enrolling," Marwedel said. "She replied, 'There is a scholarship available, and the deadline is today. If you get back to me, I'll make sure it gets turned in.'"
With Dr. Mashburn's help, Marwedel was awarded the Lorena F. Walker Memorial Scholarship, a $1,000 fund that he applied to his last semester.
Though many things were happening in his life at the time, Marwedel worked hard and collaborated with his peers on assignments and group work. He and his team earned a perfect score of 100 on their last group presentation and report.
"That's one thing I am really proud of," he said. "I had scored in the 90s before, but never had a perfect paper or a perfect presentation before. That was nice."
Leading the Family Legacy
Graduation culminated all the effort Marwedel put into his education and all the support he received from teachers and family.
The passing of his sister in September and Marwedel's graduation in December meant a bittersweet year for the family who all went to great lengths to be with him for the commencement ceremony.
"It was pretty exhilarating, especially after everything," Marwedel said. "My parents came down and two of my brothers traveled from out of town to see it. It was nice to be able to celebrate with the family.
"They made a huge effort. They were really proud of me and very supportive."
Children Follow Suit
NSU graduates, Marwedel and his wife, Jyme, are raising their six children, Zoe (17), Amber (15), Danielle (13), Ella (7), Luke (5), and Leia (3), to understand the true meaning of grit.
"My going back to school has taught them to value education and always persevere," said Marwedel.
His eldest daughter, Zoe, is already gearing up for college in the fall and his middle child, Ella, had a chance to observe one of her father's presentations when Marwedel chose her classroom as the ideal setting for an assignment. Through an interactive lesson, he taught the children how to create a nutritious menu.
"That's one thing my daughter still talks about to this day. She'll go, 'Remember, Daddy, when you came to our school and we played that food game?'"
Marwedel deems this talking point as further proof of the impact his education has made on his children.
Family & Future
Now that Marwedel's resume includes his hard-earned Bachelor of Science in Nursing, he is eager to move up the ranks and is applying to new positions.
He looks forward to working day shifts again, as he previously had to work nights to manage his different schedules. As an added bonus, he will now have more time for loved ones.
"I'll get to see my family a little bit more because I won't be sleeping when they are awake," said Marwedel. "I'll be able to spend more time with them."
Reflecting on how far he has come, Marwedel knows this is not the end of the road.
"I eventually want to get my master's or doctoral degree and teach. That's my ultimate goal. It is probably something I am going to wait on until my youngest is also out of school just because I don't want to miss too much more."
Learn more about Northeastern State University's RN to BSN online program.
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