When September Cortes-Stankus started high school, she had it all going for her: she was smart and taking advanced classes and thinking ahead to college. But by the time she was a senior, she was burned out on school and everything else. “I got married at 18 and although I started college, I dropped out almost right away,” she says.
But getting pregnant at a young age is actually what turned September’s life around. “I decided I didn’t want to be a statistic of a young mother without an education, and I knew I had so much ahead of me,” she says. She divorced, enrolled in her local community college in San Bernardino, California, got an associate degree, and continued her education at Loma Linda University and Cal State San Bernardino.
Off to South Carolina
September eventually remarried and her husband, a Marine, got orders to move to South Carolina. “While we were there, I decided that I like caring for people and animals and I settled on nursing,” she says. “I finished my Practical Nurse diploma in 2007 and worked as a pediatric LPN in South Carolina.” After returning to California a year later, September enrolled in Mt. San Jacinto College’s LVN to RN program and graduated with an Associate of Science in Nursing in 2010. “I began working at Inland Valley Medical Center, a community hospital, in 2011.”
A path unplanned
Several years into hospital nursing, September realized something: the world was changing. “I was starting to feel like everyone around me at work was earning their bachelor’s degrees,” she says. “I never had that intention, but I didn’t want to be left behind or hold myself back.” September enrolled in an online program at Western Governors University, graduated in 2014, and continued on for the MSN in Nursing Education in 2016.
September had been precepting students at the hospital. “I absolutely loved working with the new graduates and the students that have their rotations on our units,” she says. “It made me start thinking about teaching one day.” Shortly after graduating with her MSN, September became one of only four California clinical instructors for Western Governors University’s community health course in the bachelor’s degree program.
Returning to her alma mater to teach
In 2018, an adjunct faculty position opened up at Mt. San Jacinto College and September applied—and was hired. “Once again, I had assumed that I was done with further education, but while I was teaching as an adjunct, the director of nursing at Mt San Jacinto came for a site visit and asked me what my plans were for further education,” she says. He is the one who mentioned American Sentinel University and its Doctor of Nursing Practice programs.
September went home that very day and looked up the university. “I fell in love, and having done my BSN and MSN online, I was comfortable with the online setup,” she says. September applied and enrolled, and was taking her first class by August 2018. “Being a military family, the affordability was great. Given how much I knew I would benefit from a program like this as a novice educator, it definitely seemed like it would be a worthwhile investment in my future. I have only been teaching a short while. The Doctor of Nursing Practice Educational Leadership course work lined up well with the things I was teaching in real life at the same time.”
The best decision of her life
In 2019, September became a full-time faculty member at Mt. San Jacinto College. “I graduated from this program and it makes me proud to know that I was molded here and that I can do the same for future nurses,” she says. “The students in the nursing program give so much back to our community and I am proud to be a part of that legacy. I love it here and the sense of purpose that teaching new nurses provides me. Becoming a nurse educator was the best decision of my life.”
September will finish the DNP Educational Leadership before the end of 2020. “My primary goal is to make our program at the community college better, but I also want to advocate for our profession,” she says. “I would love to pave the way for nurses to be more aware of what is going on in our healthcare system.”
When she stands in front of a class of aspiring nurses, September admits that it all feels familiar. “If I knew when I was in their seats where I would go, I’d be amazed. I see how far I’ve come and I tell them, ‘never stop planning where you want to go. Keep dreaming. Keep working.’”
Inspired by September’s story? A DNP with a specialization in educational leadership prepares master’s-educated nurses for leadership roles in nursing education programs. When you acquire new knowledge, you can apply it to nursing practice in ways that enhance patient care and improve outcomes.
Read the other student success stories for more inspiration.
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