‘It’s never too late to follow your dreams’

Shirlene Schmidt is mom to seven and grandma to 23, and this spring becomes one of Bethel’s newest nursing graduates.

By Monique Kleinhuizen ’08, GS’16, new media strategist

May 22, 2019 | 8:30 a.m.

Nursing student Shirlene Schmidt '19

Shirlene Schmidt '19

“For the first few semesters, I would go to the Campus Store, and they’d ask for my employee ID number. They assumed I was a professor rather than a student!” says Shirlene Schmidt ’19 with a chuckle.

Schmidt will be 61 when she graduates this month, and she’s taken a significantly different life path than most of her peers in Bethel’s undergraduate nursing program. After she finished high school in California, she met and married her husband, Doug, at 17. They moved to Minnesota, where Schmidt home-educated their seven kids, whose ages spanned 17 years. The couple has 23 grandkids “and one on the way...that I know of!” Schmidt adds, gleefully.

The Schmidts have a large, tight-knit family. They’re involved in their church. Doug has had a successful career in electronic engineering. Besides being mom and grandma, Schmidt has worked as as Certified Nursing Assistant, a doula, and a Mary Kay beauty consultant. Finishing her bachelor’s degree was just never top priority.

Until recently, when Doug retired and Shirlene realized God wasn’t quite through with her yet. Schmidt began an associate’s degree in nursing at a local technical school. She asked around and realized she’d be better off going straight through a bachelor’s program that had more robust clinical requirements. Bethel came highly recommended.

“The last thing I wanted to do was be my age and not be well-prepared. That was really important to me,” Schmidt says. “I just felt like I was at a good point in life. My kids are grown. I have good health and energy. And it mattered to me what I was doing; I didn’t want just a job. I wanted something where I could work with people, care for them. I feel like God has something for me to do. He’s just really helped me every step of the way.”

Schmidt took to college quickly, enrolling in the traditional daytime nursing program. She and Doug moved from North Branch to Blaine and then to Mounds View to better accommodate her class schedule. Grandkids got used to Grandma being a little busier than normal, and local daughters-in-law took over hosting holiday gatherings to give Schmidt time to study. Their oldest daughter Renee (Schmidt) Raisanen '17 even enrolled in Bethel’s RN-to-BSN program, overlapping with her mom.

Student Shirlene Schmidt in one of Bethel's nursing simulation labs

Schmidt in one of Bethel's nursing simulation labs

Schmidt has enjoyed learning from and engaging with the younger students in her program, and found that she often had firsthand experience to share from having children of her own and being on the receiving end of acute care. Her family has experienced the good and the bad of interactions with medical teams, which shaped how she’d like to go about her work and be perceived as a nurse. Though she’s only been an official student at Bethel since 2016, in a way she’s been training as a nurse for decades.

Associate Professor of Nursing Julie De Haan has been Schmidt’s academic advisor, something that has put them in regular conversation over the past few years. She’s noticed that Schmidt has become a different kind of advisor to those around her in the program. “Nursing is tight—with lots of required courses—and an academically strenuous major,” De Haan says. “As an advisor, I frequently end up taking on the role of cheerleader, encourager, problem solver, and resource finder. Shirlene dealt with the stress of nursing school incredibly well, maybe because so many of our traditional student stressors, like dorm life and dating, did not apply. Her life experience lets her put things into perspective and decreases the level of anxiety around her. She has been a steadying presence.”

Associate Professor of Nursing Dave Muhovich agrees. “I have really come to respect Shirlene's role in the nursing class of 2019. Our older students often intimidate the traditional-age college students. The younger students say, ‘I am overwhelmed just with school and life at Bethel...how can Shirlene do all of the extra things she does? And she is never late with an assignment! I can always go to her to help me understand the content or schedule,’” he says, adding that Schmidt has maintained a 3.89 GPA, an incredible feat considering the rigor of the program.

It’s not just about people and symptoms. Bethel takes a holistic approach to caring for people...that’s kind of a buzzword out there. But we’ve talked about concrete things we can do to care for patients’ spirits, even if they don’t have a particular religion of spiritual background.

— Shirlene Schmidt '19

Schmidt loves the mix of humanity and science that she gets as a nurse, and hopes to bring her life experience and academic credentials together in a labor and delivery or medical-surgical setting after graduation. Schmidt will commence at the end of the month, with her entire family in attendance.

At the end of our interview, I ask her if there's anything else she'd like to say as graduation approaches. She pauses, smiles, and adds, “It’s never too late to follow your dreams.”

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