By Laura L. Acosta
UTEP News Service
Maria Acevedo Rodriguez and her husband Miguel Rodriguez knew earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree from The University of Texas at El Paso would not only enhance their professional opportunities, but also set an example for their children about the importance of a university education.
“Since we started this program, we told them, ‘This is our degree and we’re getting this together as a family,’” said Maria Acevedo Rodriguez about the couple’s two sons, 10-year-old Noah, and eight-year-old Miguel. “We always included them. We’re always encouraging them to go to (college). We’re always telling them that they’re going to come to UTEP; they’re going to be doing the same things that we are.”
Two years after starting the program, the husband and wife were recognized at the UTEP School of Nursing’s Graduate Recognition Ceremony Aug. 6 at the El Paso Natural Gas Conference Center. They are both summer 2014 graduates of the Adult and Gerontologic Nurse Practitioner MSN program.
Family and friends celebrated 27 graduates from the MSN program’s three majors – Nursing Education, Nurse Practitioner, and Nursing Systems Management. Nine additional graduates received a post-master’s Nurse Practitioner certificate.
U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke spoke during the ceremony and thanked the graduates for committing to a career of service. He invited them to reach out if they needed his help making a difference.
Among the other notable guests was the Rodriguez’s daughter, Genesis, who was born two months ago in between the spring and summer semesters.
“I should give (the baby) credit,” joked Leslie Robbins, Ph.D., assistant dean for graduate nursing at UTEP. “She went through the clinical hours, too.”
The online master’s in nursing degree program at UTEP allows professional nurses to prepare for postgraduate roles in a variety of advanced practice and specialty areas while giving them the freedom to balance work, family responsibilities and classwork on their own schedule.
“It’s not that the (online program) is any less rigorous than any other program,” Robbins explained. “It’s just that, one, students can do their coursework around their schedule, and two, it saves commute time because they’re not driving to campus, finding parking and going back home.”
Maria Acevedo Rodriguez and Miguel Rodriguez are critical care nurses with the El Paso VA Health Care System.
The MSN program’s flexible format made it possible for the couple to balance their studies with work and family time, including their sons’ soccer and karate activates.
Most evenings, the couple would study from 9 p.m. to midnight after their children went to bed.
“The online program is very flexible,” said Miguel Rodriguez, who earned his Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree through UTEP’s online Registered Nurse-to-Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN-BSN) program. “(The online MSN program) gives you the ability to pick up school at your convenience. We were able to manage a family, have a new addition on the way and still continue to pursue our goals without any hindrance.”
When Maria Acevedo Rodriguez learned she was pregnant with their daughter, she was determined to graduate with her husband and refused to take time off from the program.
The couple met more than 10 years ago at Sierra Medical Center where Maria Acevedo Rodriguez was a critical care nurse and Miguel Rodriguez was a certified nursing assistant. The husband and wife applied for the MSN program together because they wanted to expand their knowledge and skills to provide better care for their patients.
“It was difficult at times, but we had a lot of family support,” said Maria Acevedo Rodriguez, who graduated from the undergraduate nursing program at UTEP in 2000. “We also had support from the faculty as well. Classmates helped out a lot. The VA also helped us. They worked with our work schedules so that we were able to attend clinical (rotations). There was no way we could have done it by ourselves. It was a culmination of different people.”
According to Robbins, it’s uncommon for a husband and wife to go through UTEP’s MSN program together.
“The fact that we had couples in the program was really unique because both (husband and wife) are working full time, taking care of their family and they are coming to school, so they have to be super organized,” Robbins said. “Now they are juggling three roles as students, parents and employees. The fact that they were in the program together was kind of unique, although it certainly speaks to their ability to work as a team.”
Another couple who tackled their degrees together is Priscilla and Adam Wenner. They both received an MSN degree in the Pediatric Nurse Practitioner concentration in summer 2014.
The Wenners decided to enroll in the MSN program together to support each other along the way. They celebrated their seventh wedding anniversary in July.
“This is a program where you have to take a great responsibility in making it worth your time in learning the material,” Priscilla Wenner said. “I was able to balance studies, work and family by using planning and organization. Assignment due dates were always clear, and being able to plan for due dates made it easy to incorporate that time into family and work time.”
Maria Acevedo Rodriguez and Miguel Rodriguez plan to walk during UTEP’s Winter Commencement Ceremony on Dec. 13.
They hope their children will follow in their footsteps and graduate from UTEP. While the Rodriguez’s say their children can pursue whatever career they want, deep down Miguel Rodriguez hopes they will become nurses.
“My mom’s a nurse,” Miguel Rodriguez said. “I feel just like our baby; I was brought into that (nursing) environment. It’s in my blood.”