Spotlight Wrap-Up: Looking Back On Aspen’s Amazing Students

Collage of 2020 Alumni & Student Spotlights
This past year has been filled with challenges, and we continue to face public health obstacles amid the pandemic. With all that we’ve endured during this unprecedented time, Aspen is immensely proud of all the accomplishments our community achieved.

Our students and alumni come with unique backgrounds and experiences. As we enter into a brand new year, here’s a look back on our Spotlight series that features alumni and current students. Check out their stories of academic challenges, overcoming tragedy, mentoring others, fighting COVID-19, and the journey that led them to Aspen. 

RN to BSN Student Laurice RansomIn mid-March, Laurice Ransom hopped on a plane and bravely headed to New York City to provide much-needed support to a healthcare system overwhelmed by COVID-19.

The Alabama native and RN to BSN student spent a life-changing month working during the state’s catastrophic time. 

“It’s a strength that I didn’t know that I had.

At the time, Alabama was at the beginning stages of their numbers and testing, and New York was in very dire need. I feel like it was my duty to go out and help…We’re an intensive care unit, so 98% of my patients are ventilated. I knew it was going to be real, and I knew it was going to be serious, but I never expect the turnover of deaths. I’ve never experienced that in my life. Never.”

After not being in school for 40 years, Cheryl Bacon made it her personal goal to go back for her BSN.

Finding the right time to return to school was difficult, especially after losing everything in Hurricane Katrina. But she rebuilt her life and found the determination within herself.

“In 2018, the journey to obtain my degree began. I was scared, worried, and concerned that I would fail. I did not tell anyone that I was going back to school to obtain my degree. After all, I had not been to school in almost forty years, and now I was going to attend school through online classes. But, I knew if I did not try, I would always wonder, what if?”

Jennifer PalanciInspired by a nurse who cared for her after her son’s birth, Jennifer Palanci decided to become a nurse herself in 1984.

Thirty years later, she went from RN to BSN. She graduated with honors in 2020.

“Nearly every homework assignment I completed brought personal reward for success, self-esteem, awareness of my capacities that had laid dormant for decades. On occasion, I had tears of pride when re-reading my homework. But most notably, I relished in the joy of learning. Knowledge is power! Academic accomplishment is the foundation for life. Aspen University led me to see my higher potential, which was not given to me in my youth.”

Zhiying Wu and her family
Zhiying Wu completed her RN to BSN Program in 2020, all while raising her son and being a tireless caregiver to her sick husband.

He sadly succumbed to his illness. Here she shares her inspiring essay of finding strength during unimaginable grief. 

“With my BSN completion, my life is renewed. I would tell others still working on their goal that online education can be very challenging and stressful, especially when you have to work and take care of your family. I don’t know if I have any great words of wisdom; however, what I do know is I am going to be a good nurse for a multitude of reasons.”

Karen Garcia is an Arizona registered nurse who has been on the frontlines treating patients suspected of having COVID-19 in isolated holding areas.

Simultaneously, she’s pursuing her BSN online and faces uncertainty as an undocumented immigrant part of the DACA program.

After experiencing a series of roadblocks and learning he was about to become a father, Clay Williams worked hard to achieve his career goals.

He is currently earning his Master of Business Administration in Information Management (MBA) at Aspen.

“I don’t have to list every challenge that I faced in my life, and nor do you. However, you should never forget those challenges because that is what made you who you are. The one piece of advice that I would give all graduates is simple, never give up. Life will always throw challenges your way, but that is what makes us stronger. We build our weaknesses on challenges, and we become stronger than we were the day before.”

Peter Brooks on his travelsPeter Brooks dropped out of Ohio University back in 1991. But over the years, he discovered his calling was in nursing.

Now he’s earned his Doctorate of Education—traveling to 20 countries on seven continents while pursuing his degree.

“So here I am, three and a half years later, with a doctorate in education! Where do I go from here? I plan to stay at my current job, but I will get a bit of a raise next year and be called Dr. Brooks for the rest of my life! When I do decide to make a move, my Ed.D from Aspen University will make me more marketable.”

Taj-Marie Grant pursued a doctorate that would train her in her “two loves,” Education and Organizational Leadership.

“Know this; true success cannot be measured when we accomplish a goal in just one area of our life. Rather, it is a remarkable balance — an ebb and flow between all interdependent parts of our being. Always take purposeful steps in making commitments to engage in goal-directed behavior consistently, to accomplish what is in our hearts to do brilliantly. You can do it.”

aspen university teen challenge NicaraguaNestor Medina and his wife moved to Nicaragua in 1999 as missionaries.

Now they run a faith-based rehabilitation program called Teen Challenge Nicaragua (TCN) for those suffering from addiction, while Nestor finishes his Master’s in Psychology and Addiction Studies.

“My son was in the U.S. Army and suffered from PTSD. He couldn’t deal with the trauma of war, so he self-medicated with drugs and alcohol and became addicted.  He was living in the streets. I wanted to help and understand what he was going through. This is what drove me to start a rehab center.”

Heather Watts earned both her BSN and MSN in Forensic Nursing from Aspen. Her passion for nursing began in her childhood when she was caring for her ill brother.

After being a “little nurse” for her family, Heather has been committed to helping others in her career. 

“My educational journey began when I was two years old when my parents gave birth to a pre-term infant. My first memory of my brother Travis is seeing him in a big plastic box, covered in tubes and wires. My next memory is watching the nurses interacting with him and taking care of him. Travis was eventually diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and I became a ‘little nurse’ at a very young age, BUT I would not change a moment of that for anything. He has helped me become the person I am today, and for that, I am beyond blessed and grateful.”

Aspen University MSN Alumni
Tammy A. always knew it was her calling to contribute to the medical field as a great nurse — specifically focused on patient safety and quality care. 

She decided to pursue the MSN program with a specialization in Administration & Management to further her impact at a director level. With a nursing career dating back to 1988, she never forgets her patients:

“These patients, they get to be like your family,” says Tammy. After an 8-year-old girl tragically lost her battle with leukemia, Tammy drove to the girl’s home in the middle of the night to help her mother prepare the girl’s body for the morgue. She painted her nails and did her hair at the mother’s request, one final act of nurturing and love for her young patient.

Dr. Theresa Gress said she wanted to be a nurse in the fourth grade, and now she has a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree next to her name. 

But she also fought through difficult and dark years to reach her career, ignoring any naysayers along the way. 

“When you hear from other individuals encouraging words like, “You can do it!” or “You can do anything you want! You just have to work for it!”, you hang onto those words through dark and disparaging times. Despite being a homeless young pregnant runaway with obstacles that could not be imagined or spoken about, I did become a nurse with my Bachelor of Science two decades ago.”

DNP student muriel moyo
Muriel Moyo decided she wanted to be a nurse when her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993.

She’s now an Orange County California RN, passionate nurse writer, and Aspen University DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) candidate. You can find her published works in the American Journal of Nursing, American Nurse, and Journal of Radiology Nursing.

“I really enjoy writing and helping build the body of knowledge in nursing…I am extremely proud of my American Journal of Nursing (AJN) piece Adapting the Nurse Manager Role to Attract Generation X and Millennial Nurses. The review process for that piece was intense. I was ecstatic when I received the email that my article had been accepted.”

Simone Kessler’s dyslexia was always her motivation to succeed and prove others wrong.

Now she’s halfway through the DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) degree program and represents Aspen University and North Carolina as an American Association of College of Nurses’ Graduate Nursing Student Academy (GNSA) Advocacy Leader for the 2020-2021 year. Her advice for nurses considering a DNP? 

“If I can do it, anyone can do it. It’s going to be little, incremental steps along the way. You can’t do a giant leap, but you can do a small step, and each small step gets you closer to it.”


You can read all of our Alumni and Student Spotlights here and learn more about Aspen University’s history, mission, and programs here.

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