HARRISBURG, Pa. — American Indians experience particularly unique and inequitable difficulties, often being subjected to harmful stigmas, poverty, abuse, lack of resources and much more, according to the nonprofit organization Native Hope. Despite these often overwhelming odds, American Indians like Stacia Fredericks, a current student in Penn State Harrisburg’s Second Degree nursing program, help pave the way for others like herself through hope and perseverance.
Spending her adolescence on remote portions of the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico, Fredericks said she was exposed to inadequate education and other deficient resources. Determined to be successful in life, she enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 2001, and pursued the opportunity to build a fulfilling career and travel all over the world on deployments to Australia, Japan, Guam, Iraq, Kuwait, France, and many others.
“Growing up on the Navajo reservation was hard due to sexual and intergenerational trauma; losing a friend to suicide; poverty; and lack of knowledge, resources and support,” said Fredericks. “Despite all of this, I have my grandparents, parents and family to thank for always encouraging me in whatever endeavors I have and continue to pursue throughout my life.”
After rising quickly through the ranks and having her colonel, Philippe Rogers, encourage her to go to school, she began her college career at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont, double-majoring in health, science and athletic training. After three years in college, Fredericks became injured, had to stop going to school, and was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps, after 10 years of service. In spite of the deviation from her original path, her grandfather, who was an avid Penn State fan, suggested she go back and finish school there. After moving to Pennsylvania and falling in love with the area, she said, she resumed her schooling at Penn State Harrisburg. In 2021, Fredericks graduated with her bachelor’s degree in kinesiology.
However, on a medical mission trip in El Salvador around that time, Fredericks saw firsthand the amazing work done by nurses.
“It really affected me seeing people in need and people waiting six months for medical treatment. There I met a nurse practitioner, Diane Whitcomb, and seeing her interacting with patients and sharing her experiences really touched me,” Fredericks said. “I felt like being a nurse you can make such an impact helping people, and the hard things I've gone through have given me a lot more empathy and compassion for people who are suffering.”
After speaking with Penn State Harrisburg nursing coordinators, she applied and was accepted into the second-degree nursing program and is now on track to earn her BSN (bachelor of science in nursing) this fall.
Fredericks has been a pioneer for American Indian people in STEM. She is a 2022-23 AISES (Advancing Indigenous People in STEM) Scholar; was awarded the 2022-23 Cobell Scholarship and the 2022-23 American Indian Medical Scholarship Award Program (AIMS); and received the President's Freshman Award in 2019.
“I know how it is to struggle, but I want to prove to other American Indians in the middle of nowhere battling with the stigmas, poverty and lack of education and jobs, that they can do it, just like me – it is possible,” Fredericks said.
Fredericks said she recognizes God and her service dog, Brady ChubChubs, as pillars of strength and motivation during times of depression and anxiety, and PTSD trauma that was sustained in the military. She also recognizes the important impact Penn State Harrisburg was able to provide to her for her successful path forward in nursing.
“I was astonished by the dedication to helping disabled veterans, the plethora of resources, and sincere concern for academic success. Where I am today would not be possible if it was not for the wonderful faculty and staff in the Second-Degree Nursing Program; they are all amazing people who have made such a difference in my life,” explained Fredericks.