Although Carrie Simmons nearly completed a bachelor's degree in aerospace, she changed her trajectory and returned to the frontier that she loves — nursing.
"I had an internship with NASA and went to the Propulsion Academy in 2009," she said. "I had to sit down for eight hours a day, and I was not used to that. I decided to go back to what I knew."
Simmons is enrolled in the online Registered Nurse to Bachelor of Science in Nursing program at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. She is on track to graduate in December 2020.
"I am a science nerd," she said. "When I lived in Florida, I would go to Cape Kennedy and watch the shuttle launches. I got excited about it. I also enjoy math, and I did some tutoring at the community colleges in Florida. I am interested in space medicine, as well."
The fully online format is ideal for Simmons. She works three 12-hour shifts per week in surgical observation at Huntsville Hospital, where she has been employed for more than seven years.
"I never work a weekend unless it's a call day, so it's easy to come home and get some homework done a little bit at a time," she said. "Then, I play catch-up on the weekends.
"The flexibility is big. Plus, the nursing professors are understanding and awesome. I like the online format. It's very user friendly."
After Simmons completed all but three semesters of the bachelor's degree in aerospace program at UAH, she returned to earn a nursing degree.
"I was familiar with UAH, and I had already done a lot of the math requirements there," she said. "I wanted to go there because they've already got all of my transcripts. It seemed to be the most logical choice."
While growing up in Indianapolis, Simmons was around nurses in her family her whole life. She followed suit by graduating with an Associate Degree in Nursing from Indiana State University in 1997.
"It runs in my family," she said. "My aunt was a nurse. My grandmother was a nurse. Apparently, I have always wanted to be a nurse."
Simmons also discovered a passion for space after an astronaut from the Apollo 17 mission visited her elementary school.
"He came with a moon rock," she said. "Our school was big into space. I went to Space Camp here in Huntsville as an adult and enjoyed it. I have been to Stennis and Kennedy Space Centers.
"At Stennis, we got to see a shuttle main engine on the test stand — it was right there. I got to see a lot of cool stuff. I love space."
So far, Simmons' favorite course in the online RN to BSN curriculum is NUR 410: Transition into Professional Roles.
"You learn about the different avenues of nursing you can take — especially with an advanced degree," she said. "I have always wanted to teach nursing, and I have precepted a couple of students when we have them in and out of the hospital. I enjoyed it."
The information that Simmons is learning in the program has been immediately applicable to her nursing career.
"The education aspect — teaching self-care to patients — is a big part of my job right now," she said. "I've been able to vary it. We have a lot of Hispanic patients, so we have an interpreter who can come in.
"But there have been some things I can use from the program to talk to the patients. They are more responsive with some of the things I have learned."
With graduation day on the horizon, Simmons plans to enroll in the BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice program at UAH. She hopes to eventually teach, but she will never lose her passion for space.
"If I were to participate in the space program, it would be in [NASA's] neutral buoyancy lab," she said. "I am a dive instructor. I did that for a little bit. I always wanted to dive in the simulation in Houston."
Simmons has had lots of support from her family, friends and the faculty at UAH since she enrolled in the online RN to BSN program in Fall 2019.
"I am a professional student, so my family wasn't surprised I went back to school," she said. "I have enjoyed it. I have especially enjoyed Dr. Mark Reynolds. He is the most encouraging person I've ever had as a teacher. He has inspired me to keep going. Kudos to him. He's great."
If the commencement ceremony isn't cancelled because of the coronavirus, Simmons plans to walk the graduation stage.
"I would go because I have worked so hard for it," she said. "If I were looking for a job, I wouldn't have a problem finding one — especially right now. I have seven years of ICU experience. I will probably be going to an ICU until this is over."
Until then, Simmons looks forward to wrapping up the bachelor's degree program and continuing to look to the stars. She is glad that the online format afforded her the opportunity to return to UAH and believes the program is doable for most anybody.
"You have to be self-disciplined and set aside time to study because there is nobody making you go online," she said. "For me, it's worked out better. I perform better online than I did in the classroom because it takes away the anxiety.
"You have to get in there and do your work, but don't be afraid to ask questions. I ask a lot of questions by email. It's less intimidating that way. It's worked out well for me."
Learn more about the UAH online RN to BSN program.
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