While some high school students may think ahead only about two weeks, others hit upon a career interest with such passion that they are focused and goal-oriented beyond their years. Many are even willing to spend two hours each school day away from the familiarity of their home high school to pursue their dream at Technology Center of DuPage.
That's Karlie Podnar, a senior from Wheaton North High School enrolled in TCD's Nursing Assistant Training Program.
Karlie always loved working with and helping other people, starting with baby-sitting jobs and eventually volunteering at Central DuPage Hospital. The idea of nursing as a possible career was a natural progression. Her stumbling block was taking tests.
"I wasn't good at taking tests my freshman year," she recalled. "I knew if I wanted to do something as hard as nursing I was going to have to improve my study skills."
With the vision of a nursing career in mind, Karlie began making flash cards for her classes and developing her own note-taking system. Her test scores improved so much that she made Wheaton North's honor roll.
Karlie first heard about Technology Center of DuPage her junior year during a presentation at school. Counselor Josh Coan suggested she check out TCD's available medical science programs. As she interacted with her friends, some of them told her the TCD coursework was difficult. Karlie wondered whether she could be successful.
She decided to attend TCD's open house to find out about the grading and expectations of the nursing assistant program. She learned it was challenging, but she loved what she saw and hasn't looked back.
The one-year program is approved by the Illinois Department of Public Health to prepare students for the state competency exam. A nursing assistant certification is a critical credential for employment or advanced nursing studies. The popular program has two sections, each taught by an experienced registered nurse and assisted by lab supervisor Margaret Todd.
Instructors Terri Cates and Marie Kmiec use a variety of great tools to help students learn the material and skills necessary to be successful. SMART Board technology helps students build their vocabulary in anatomy. The lab area includes hospital beds, mannequins, lifts, digital meters, and other medical equipment that serve as realistic props for mastering the necessary manual skills.
Karlie has definitely employed her flash card strategy, drawing from the material in each chapter and reviewing the questions at the end of the chapter. She has earned an A on every test and made TCD's A-Team Honor Roll.
A self-described visual learner, Karlie attributes her success to the interesting and practical way in which Cates, her class instructor, presents the material and involves the students in the course. When describing her fellow students in the program, Karlie's eyes sparkle as she says, "We work together as a team and help each other out."
For her clinical experience, Karlie worked more than 42 hours on several Saturdays or after school at Wynscape, a long-term care facility in Wheaton. Determined to do well, she reviewed the manual skill procedures the night before each visit. She understood the serious purpose of the clinical.
"The clinical experience really showed me how it is to work on real people," she said. "Someone's life is in your hands."
She enjoyed connecting with the staff and patients at Wynscape and was sorry when the clinical experience ended, she said.
Karlie's goals are to successfully complete the class and be eligible to take the state exam. She will have earned nine hours of dual credit through the program and plans to work as a certified nursing assistant while attending the College of DuPage. She wants to pursue COD's 3+1 bachelor's degree program: three years at COD and a final year under the tutelage of professors from Benedictine University, earning a bachelor of science in nursing.
Karlie sums up her TCD experience with characteristic enthusiasm.
"This is absolutely the best high school decision I ever made," she said. "I have really grown as a learner and the nursing assistant course has been a real confidence booster."
Did Karlie feel conflicted about leaving the comfort of her home high school for part of the day?
"Not at all," she said. "I have met my best friends through TCD because we share the same goals and mindset."
• Alf Logan is the interim director of the DuPage Area Occupational Education System, the governing body for Technology Center of DuPage and other career and technical education delivery sites in the region. Learn more about the high school Nursing Assistant Training Program at tcdupage.org. A personal visit or group tour of TCD may be arranged through Kathy Rosenwinkel at (630) 691-7572.