Penn State Harrisburg

Grads of new nursing program are ready

Graduates at the first pinning ceremony for the college's second degree in nursing program

Graduates at the first pinning ceremony for the college's second degree in nursing program

Media Coverage
Dec. 22, 2013: More than 600 students graduate from Penn State Harrisburg on Saturday (The Patriot-News)
Jan. 1, 2013: Landisburg woman embraces second career (Perry County Times)

(Note: Penn State Harrisburg will hold the pinning ceremony for graduates of the second degree in nursing program on Friday, Dec. 21, 2012 at 5:00 p.m. in the Capital Union Building Student Center. The commencement ceremony is Saturday, Dec. 22 at 9:30 a.m. at the Giant Center in Hershey.)

A typical day for Jennifer Zimmerman was chasing her three young children as she played the role of single mom while her husband was deployed in Iraq with the U.S. Army.

Come Jan. 7, that will change.

That’s when the 39-year-old Landisburg resident will start her nurse residency program at Penn State Hershey Medical Center Cancer Institute. 

“Oh, it’s so exciting. It feels wonderful,” she said.

Zimmerman is one of 26 students who will graduate on Dec. 22 in Penn State Harrisburg’s first class to complete the accelerated second degree program in nursing, designed for people with a bachelor’s degree in another discipline seeking to make a career change. The 16-month program is one of two offered throughout Penn State.

Offering the program was a natural progression, said Dr. Melissa J. Snyder, Penn State Harrisburg nursing program coordinator. The college already has a “robust” program for registered nurses seeking a bachelor of science degree, she noted.

“The accelerated program students tend to be adults who have work experience, and for some of them, are looking for a more fulfilling role,” Snyder explained. “Their personal missions are quite varied.”

Zimmerman has a degree in elementary education and spent six years in the field before choosing to stay at home to raise her children. All told, she’s been out of the work force for eight years.

Although she described the accelerated program as challenging and intense, Zimmerman said it was exactly what she was seeking. So she began taking pre-requisite courses, one per semester for about two years, and then was accepted into the Penn State Harrisburg program.

“Looking back… I think [the program] has a lot to offer a variety of students. It’s definitely benefitted me,” Zimmerman said.

Christopher Weitekamp, of Harrisburg, received his first undergraduate degree in biological basis of behavior from the University of Pennsylvania. But after working as the project coordinator for an Alzheimer’s disease research study with the Penn State College of Medicine and as a hospital patient care assistant, his desire to work directly with patients and their families won out. The program’s accelerated pace, though challenging, was a selling point, as were the location convenient to his home, and the Penn State reputation, Weitekamp said.

Marlena Brown, a Brooklyn native currently living in Hershey, graduated from Penn State in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in life sciences. After seeking the advice of family and others close to her – including two aunts, a cousin, and a godmother, all of whom are nurses – Brown decided to enroll in the program.

She, too, noted its intensity. “This is not something you do for fun. You have to be committed. But if you know what you want, it’s good,” she said. “The intensity is important because that’s what real life as a nurse will be like.”

Accelerated nursing programs are no small endeavor for a university either, Snyder emphasized.

“It really requires administration to have a true sense of what is needed in the community,” she said. “[The program] demonstrates Penn State Harrisburg’s commitment to provide a service back to the community and to the Commonwealth by offering a nursing program that is contributing to the needs of the community.”

Of the 26 students in the program, 22 have already secured jobs. The other four are deciding which offer to accept.

As an older nursing student, Zimmerman found many patients asking her the same question: What made you want to go back to school?

“My answer is always, ‘When you’re 18, right out of high school… you don’t have enough life experience to know what you want to do. It took me several years,’” she said.

“Because it’s all a new career choice for me, I think I’m just as excited as everybody else – regardless of where I’m at in my life.”