Siren blaring, lights flashing—20-year-old EMT Wilson Cobb carefully, but quickly, navigated a 22-foot-long ambulance through the congested streets of San Mateo, California, while his paramedic partner attended to a critically ill patient.

“There’s a person actively dying in the back, and I’m trying to get every person in the city of San Mateo out of the way so I can get to the hospital,” said Cobb.

Originally from Chicago, Cobb had moved west to study undergraduate psychology in San Francisco. A biology-psychology course piqued his interest in medicine and prompted him to earn an emergency medical technician (EMT) certification the summer following his sophomore year. When he wasn’t in class or studying, he was responding to 911 calls for medical emergencies.

“As an EMT, I was working with nurses, and I realized that it was absolutely the job that I wanted to be doing,” Cobb said. “I think it’s awesome that it’s such direct patient care, and I feel like nurses are the people that see their patients the most and get to support them physically, medically, and emotionally.”

Cobb completed his psychology degree while working as an EMT and searching nationwide for a nursing program to continue his education.

“I wanted to go somewhere with a good reputation with a timeframe that I was looking for,” Cobb said. He chose the Mennonite College of Nursing (MCN)’s accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. “It fit everything that I was looking for,” Cobb said.

man standing in front of brick wall
Wilson Cobb

This May, Cobb will participate in Illinois State University commencement ahead of completing the 15-month accelerated program in August. He is eager to become a nurse, equipped with an MCN education along with a background in psychology and experience as an EMT, and more recently, as a local emergency room technician.

“I absolutely love the education I’m getting in clinicals and in the classroom setting,” Cobb said. “I have the ability to learn and the space to learn but also that space to practice exactly what I plan on doing when I graduate.”

While Cobb identified his love for health care in college, senior BSN student Lexi Garretson seemed destined for nursing from birth. Both of Garretson’s grandmothers were nurses, and her mother, Kristin Garretson, is a 1999 MCN graduate who is a nurse with Carle Foundation Hospital in Champaign-Urbana.

“You could just tell when they came home that they helped people—you could see it in their face, and it really inspired me,” Lexi Garretson said. “Nurses are there for the worst, the best and everything in between in people’s lives. And I want to be that person that’s there to help them. People let nurses into those intimate moments, which I think is really cool.”

woman standing in front of a brick wall
Lexi Garretson

A native of Sidney—a village of 1,200 people southeast of Champaign—Garretson transferred into MCN from Parkland College as a junior. She said during the past two years, she has developed into a “completely different person” while being immersed in the BSN program and acclimating to a new, larger community.

“I was so shy and nervous coming in here,” Garretson said. “And I’ve just grown so much, especially in the clinical setting. I’ve grown so much more confident.”

Garretson credited MCN faculty and her classmates who have pushed her to “do the best (she) can.”

“Last semester, I feel like it clicked for me,” said Garretson. She will begin her career at Carle’s Urbana location in the Medical-Surgical Nurse Residency Program upon graduation in May. “I have worked so hard to get here. I know I’m going to cry when I finish my last final. It’s so surreal, especially because Mennonite is so well known throughout the area, and I’m so excited to be an alum.”

Claire Vickerman, also a senior BSN student, said earning a nursing degree from Illinois State this May will be a “huge accomplishment,” four years after arriving in Normal from Morton as a freshman.

woman standing in front of a brick wall
Claire Vickerman

“I knew that I wanted to be in the hospital setting, and I’ve always had a deep desire to help and care for others,” Vickerman said. “From Nursing Simulation Lab training, to lecture discussions, and all of my clinical rotations—I’ve always felt support and guidance in developing my nursing skills over the years. And I feel like those experiences have really helped prepare me.”

Vickerman acknowledged that learning to become a nurse amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic presented additional challenges—from classes moving online for two-and-a-half semesters, to disrupting clinical experiences.

“I think that it was intimidating at first—just the unknown and seeing what was going on in the hospitals and seeing what health care workers were going through during the pandemic,” Vickerman said. “But at the same time, it made me feel like I wanted to get in there, and I wanted it to be my turn to help out.”

After graduation, Vickerman plans to pursue a position in a critical care unit or an emergency room.

“I feel privileged to have learned from such knowledgeable and caring people, and being a student in MCN has really solidified the love I have for nursing,” Vickerman said. “I’m super grateful for the experience and everyone that I’ve been able to meet along the way, and I feel prepared going into this next chapter in my life.”

This story is one of a series of profiles on Redbirds who are celebrating graduation this May. For more information about how Illinois State is celebrating commencement this semester, visit the Graduation Services website.