HANCEVILLE, Ala. — Shannon Nichols’ Health Excellence Award trophy is sitting in a place of honor on her bookshelf at home. A pile of nursing books act as its foundation and her mortarboard and award collar and cords are resting inside the crystal bowl.
“It’s an honor,” she said of receiving the award. “I was speechless.”
Nichols participated in the Wallace State Community College commencement exercises for the Class of 2016 on May 13. She’ll return to campus to complete two courses this summer for her Associate in Applied Science Degree.
The nursing degree is Nichols’ third degree. She previously earned an associate’s degree from North Florida Community College (2005) and a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies from Athens State University (2009). Combined with her AAS in nursing, she’s only a chemistry class away from earning her master’s degree, and she plans to take that chemistry course at Wallace State.
Like a lot of older students, Nichols’ life followed its own path to get to where she is today. “I had to take some side trails to get here, but it’s where I’m supposed to be and I know it’s where I’m supposed to be.”
A Navy brat – both of her parents were in the Navy – Nichols was born in Hawaii and moved to Jacksonville, Fla., when she was four years old. She joined the Navy herself and served four years before being honorably discharged in 2011. She was an officer candidate, Petty Officer 2nd Class, but never got to finish officer training school because she was misdiagnosed with having carpal tunnel syndrome. Her symptoms included weak hands, which kept her from doing push-ups, leading to the carpal tunnel diagnosis.
“That was one of the reasons I got into nursing,” she said.
Doctors later discovered she actually had hyperthyroidism after her son Jackson was born. She was actually on the way into surgery to treat carpal tunnel when she found out she was pregnant, halting the unnecessary procedure.
After she had her son, she developed a severe case of Grave’s disease, the most common form of hyperthyroidism. Symptoms include fine tremors in hands and wrists, bulging eyes, sweating, hair loss and weight loss. “I was very skinny,” she said. “When I got pregnant I gained 90 pounds and then after I had him I lost 110 in just over six months.” Surgery to remove her thyroid helped treat the disease.
She returned to the Navy four months after her son was born. “That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” she said of leaving her son behind. Later that year she finished her four years in the Navy and came home to Cullman, where her husband Jason and their son Jackson waited, as well as her parents, David and Sandie Jackson.
When she came home, Nichols said she took a desk job. “That was not for me,” she said. “I heard about Wallace State’s nursing program and said, ‘I’m going to do it,’ and my husband backed me 100 percent.”
She entered the program at the same time as her sister, Desiree Jackson Wiley, and both walked beside each other during the recent commencement exercises. Nichols said it was great to have her sister there with her as they both went through the program.
“I fell in love with nursing,” she said. “This is my third college degree and I’ve never studied so hard in my life, but I love it. I love the challenge and I love the clinicals and working with people, putting smiles on people’s faces. They’re not there for fun, so just trying to get to know people and the story behind their medical problem. It’s not always just issue that they’re there for. You’ve got to know the person as a whole.
“And the more I’m in school, the more I want to be an instructor,” Nichols added. “I help a lot of students and I just love it.”
She expressed her thanks to her family, especially her husband Jason, for their support during her time in school. “My husband has made many a meal, he’s cleaned the house, mowed the lawn, I owe him everything,” she said. “He is my right arm during this whole thing.”
Her future goals include working in the field. “I want to work either in intensive care or the emergency room,” she said.
Nichols said she feels well prepared for entering the workforce with the education she received at Wallace State. “The instructors go above and beyond,” she said. “They’re there with arms opened and hands out to welcome you, to help, to guide you and to push your limits, to make you succeed and be the best person you can be.”
Wallace State has been designated a Military Friendly College, provides programs and services for veterans, including assisting with educational benefits through enrollment services and tuition assistance for eligible veterans and their family members.
For more about Wallace State, call 256.352.8000 or visit www.wallacestate.edu.