I'd Take a Needle for Ya, Brother!
Growing up in Leonard, Texas, 25 year old Aaron Contreras, Grayson College graduate and current Patient Care Technician student (standing in photo), describes his younger self as shy, blaming his struggles to learn English for being quiet and less apt to interact with his Leonard ISD peers. Life at home was difficult for Aaron and his five siblings. Money was very tight and the social isolation due to the language barrier impacted everyone.
The family relied on each other to pull through. When their father moved out of the house, Aaron stepped even further into the role of mentor, leader, and motivator for his siblings, especially for his only brother, Alan (seated in photo with long time friend and classmate Rachael Wheeler).
Aaron’s encouragement and example led Alan to enroll in the Grayson College’s Clinical Medical Assistant (CMA) program, a noncredit healthcare training program very similar to Aaron’s own Patient Care Technician (PCT) program and taking place literally in the classroom next to Aaron’s.
Read more about the Contreras Brothers
Alan, age 19, recalls that Aaron was the reason he took the CMA course. Aaron told him about it, saying it would be good for him, and it has been. Alan said, “Aaron showed me the class, and I’m living a better life. And now with my CCMA (CMA certification) I’m going to be looking for a better job.”
While it’s clear that these brothers support each other, their dynamic in the classroom is the epitome of brotherly love and total trust. PCT and CMA include a Phlebotomy portion. Students must practice on each other to successfully perform the required number of “sticks” and venipunctures to be eligible for certification.
In phlebotomy skills practice, Aaron was Alan’s champion, encouraging him to overcome his fear of needles and allowing Alan to practice on him. In return Alan trusted Aaron enough to be the recipient of Aaron’s practice sticks. Aaron proudly reports, “he’s doing better with needles.”
The close relationship between these brothers has been fostered in the classroom by the close relationship between their instructors, Amanda Grissom for PCT and Kristen Waller for CMA. Mrs. Grissom and Mrs. Waller regularly join their classes for skills training and for special presentations to maximize their learning. This approach has definitely worked for the brothers.
“This place makes me feel like I have a second home,” said Alan. “Mrs. Waller pushes me. I am really lucky to have her as a teacher. I want to make sure I show her that I can do this, and without her I don’t know how I would have done,” confessed Alan. Aaron added, “Mrs. Grissom is the same and reassures us often that we’re going to do great. They make learning fun, and we enjoy the process.”
In fact, Aaron gives Grayson College a lot of credit. “In every aspect of my life I’ve changed completely because of Grayson College,” Aaron proclaimed. “I love talking to people, and I have confidence because of what I’ve learned here. From social skills to technical skills, the College has changed me.”
The brothers are currently working on earning their EKG Technician certification. In less than three weeks, on May 12, Aaron will graduate a second time from Grayson College. This time he’ll be awarded a certificate from the Patient Care Technician program. Aaron plans to apply to nursing school at Grayson College in the next year.
Alan will also be graduating from Grayson College on May 12. Alan’s goals remain the same as before, to follow in his brother’s footsteps and continue at Grayson College after he completes the CMA program. He hopes to be working as a CMA while he continues his education.
These brothers, who clearly encourage and inspire each other, have a message of inspiration for prospective students too. “Do something; try something; learn something new and make yourself a better person. Find the support and make yourself more fulfilled,” Aaron said while Alan agreed and added, “Push yourself and motivate yourself. Everyone has a place.”
We hope your place is Grayson College.
Learn more about Grayson College’s workforce training programs like Patient Care Technician and Clinical Medical Assistant at grayson.edu/cwl, and see all that Grayson College offers at grayson.edu.
Daughter Inspires Dad to become Grayson College Nursing Grad
“She actually died and they brought her back with an adrenaline shot,” said Javier Gonzales as he recalled the details of Father’s Day 2011. Heidy, Javier’s then three-year old daughter, was critically injured in an accident that occurred as the family traveled to Javier’s hometown in Guanajuato, Mexico.
It took three days for Javier to locate his wife, who was also injured and in a different hospital. Javier had difficult news to share with his wife; the doctors attending to Heidy had decided that her badly damaged foot and leg needed to be amputated. Javier’s wife told him not to let the doctors perform the amputation, and while they didn’t amputate, it was clear that Heidy and Javier’s wife needed more advanced care than rural Mexico could offer.
Through much expense and effort Javier arranged for the family to return home to Texas. He had literally spent every dollar he had (roughly $30,000) to pay for the family’s care in Mexican hospitals and purchase return flights to the U.S. with the medical attention his wife and Heidy would need on the return. Friends and Progress Rail co-workers helped with the expenses through donations, but Javier’s situation was precarious. ...
Read more about Javier
He was broke. His wife and daughter needed extensive care, and his ability to return to work was limited. Plus he’d lost his vehicle and many belongings in the crash. Yet Javier experienced God’s intervention. First Javier’s mom flew from Guanjuanto to Sherman to help the family, and second, in an unforgettable moment, a stranger in the airport gave Javier $200 telling him that God was urging him to give Javier money. For Javier it was a blessing, a relief, and a sign that God was there helping his family recover from the devastating crash.
Back in Texas, Heidy began a long recovery at Children’s Hospital in Dallas and then at Scottish Rite. While Javier’s wife also had a difficult recovery, the severity of little Heidy’s injuries dictated the family’s daily life. Heidy was hospitalized for more than four months, during which Javier was Heidy’s primary caregiver. Heidy had been traumatized by her early experiences in the hospital, and she quickly grew to distrust the nurses attempting to help her. Javier stepped in out of necessity, but the staff at Children’s noticed Javier’s natural skill. Dr. Anthony Riccio, in particular, commented that Javier had a bright future as a nurse.
It took a few more years for the Gonzales family’s life to stabilize. The doctors saved Heidy’s leg and foot; Javier’s wife had multiple skin graft surgeries; Javier returned to work. Eventually in 2014, Javier began his journey to become a nurse. He enrolled in Grayson College’s Certified Nurse Aide program. He rationalized that he’d start small, with a shorter program, because he’d never attended college, and he didn’t know if he could do it. Yet, Javier succeeded. His CNA instructor Amanda Grissom provided motivation and encouragement.
“Ms. Grissom was a really good instructor. She was really passionate about her work, and she helped me realize that being a LVN could mean that you could do so much. My family has been connected to Ms. Grissom in so many ways. She taught my older daughter at Sherman High School, and Ms. Grissom’s mom, Ms. Copeland, assisted in my son’s education in her role as the Special Education Nurse.”
With added confidence Javier continued at Grayson taking the prerequisites for entry into the nursing program, but another surgery for Heidy caused him to miss an exam and in turn his chances for entry into the Associate Degree Nursing program dwindled. With advice from Grayson College’s Associate Degree Nurse Program Coordinator Lori Hoover, Javier pivoted to the Licensed Vocational Nursing (LVN) program. Javier had to wait a year to start, but finally his goal of becoming a nurse was within reach.
As an LVN student, Javier continued to work to support his family and be there for Heidy and his five other children. It was hard to juggle it all. Then a bout of diverticulitis and a two week stay in the hospital made it even harder. Javier persisted with the faculty motivating and encouraging him along the way. “You had to put the effort in; you had to study the material, but they [the faculty] were always there to offer help. They actually cared,” recalled Javier.
Javier will tell you that he wasn’t the best student. Even his wife was skeptical of his ability to succeed. Yet faculty describe Javier as a leader and someone that other students went to for help. “That’s just another great thing about Javier,” said Amanda Green-Chancy, BSN, RN, Program Coordinator, Vocational Nursing Program. “He’s humble and modest. Javier’s been the best student we’ve had in the clinical setting. He was loved by the patients and facility administration alike. He was a very competent student who made our job really easy,” continued Green-Chancy.
Javier’s exceptional clinical skills, professionalism and leadership qualities earned him the Lisa Fair Award for Clinical Excellence in Nursing. This award was established in 2021 to honor and recognize Lisa Fair’s contributions to the profession of nursing and to Grayson College. Javier and another student were the very first recipients of the award. He received the award on stage in July 2021, when he completed the LVN program, earning a license to practice as a Licensed Vocational Nurse.
Heidy, now 13, walked on stage with Javier. She needed no assistance to climb the steps and accompany him. The foot and leg that were in danger of being amputated carried her to center stage. Javier dedicated his nursing pin to Heidy, and she placed it on Javier’s white coat. Their special bond formed from the tragic accident 10 years before was on full public display as Javier realized his long-sought dream.
Today Javier works at Focus Care in Sherman. He’s less stressed and even more confident now. “I tell my kids don’t wait; I’m 34 and am finally a nurse. The only one in my family of more than 100 cousins,” said Javier. “Now when I tell my kids they need to go to college and get an education, I do it from a place of experience. I’ve been there. I know they can do it because I did it.”
A Go Getter, Getting it Done!
Laura McCaw may be the greatest go-getter we’ve ever seen!
Single mom of four children, ages 14, 10, 7 and 4, Laura McCaw decided in late 2019 that her life was leading her to a nursing career. She had been an Army correctional officer briefly, a stay-at-home mom, and a small business owner providing pet transport and pet therapy delivered in nursing homes and long-term care centers. Pet therapy experiences convinced Laura that nursing was the career for her; a career where she could make a difference.
Laura pursued her path to nursing without hesitation. In one year, Laura earned 60 hours of college credits, completing her Associate of Science degree in June 2021. She learned from her health sciences advisors that Grayson College offered a Certified Nurse Aide (CNA) program, and scholarships were available. So Laura reached out to the Center for Workplace Learning (CWL) and a few days later, she was a confirmed scholarship recipient for the CNA program.
By August 2021, Laura had successfully completed the CNA training program, and her certification exams! She’s been working as a Nursing Assistant since July (even before she completed the CNA program) and has been accepted into Grayson's Associate Degree Nursing program’s Spring 2022 cohort!
18 applications = 16 call backs in 24 hours!
As a scholarship recipient, Laura took the Workforce Success Skills (WSS) course, a prerequisite required for students entering a certification program, like CNA. In the WSS course, Laura created a resume as an aspiring nurse aide. Lindsay Deen, her WSS instructor, gave Laura feedback that her resume was in great shape. That’s all Laura needed to confidently apply for jobs even before she’d started the nurse aide training portion of her program.
In one night, Laura applied for 18 CNA positions. A day later, she received 16 call backs! She was totally in control, determining which employers SHE wanted to call back. Laura decided to interview with six employers. Her favorite was quick to offer her a position. Eight days after her first application was sent, she was hired; ten days after she sent her application she was working!
But wait, there’s more!
“Part of me feels guilty that I waited so long to get into a career, but at least I haven’t missed anything with my kids,” reflected Laura. This past Mother’s Day, Laura recalled the card she got from her 10 year old son. The card said he’s proud of her. “I thought [going to school] was going to be hard on the kids, but it has brought us much closer because they see me working hard; they help more around the house; we’ve grown more as family; and they understand,” Laura said with pride. Laura’s circle of support extends beyond her children as well. “I [am] grateful for those that have believed in me, especially my mom, stepdad, and my boyfriend, Preston Buckmaster.” All three attended Laura’s graduation as expressions of their support.
While Laura knew that she was going to be busy earning her way into Nursing school, she’s been surprised by ‘extras’ that have come with attending classes at Grayson. “I didn’t know that I would grow, engage with others, doubt and second guess myself less. I feel more positive, more sure.”
Congratulations to you, Laura! We are so proud of you, and all you’ve accomplished! Thank you for letting us be a part of your journey. Nursing school here you come!
Moving On Up!
Latesha Cunningham moved from Louisiana to Denison some four years ago to be closer to her mom, and she hasn’t stopped moving in one way or another since!
In fact, Cunningham has been moving toward her ultimate goal of becoming a nurse for years. She became a mom at age 16, but she didn’t let that stop her from completing high school or earning her nurse aide certification. In 2018, four years post-high school, and after working as a CNA, Cunningham decided to take the next step in her education and career path. She enrolled in Grayson College’s Patient Care Technician (PCT) program.
The PCT program offers successful completers the opportunity to earn four certifications in healthcare professions: EKG Technician, Phlebotomy Technician, Nurse Aide, and Patient Care Technician. The program is short, but intense with 16 hours of class per week over a 16-week period.
Latesha’s children were aged two and six, and she was working nights at Stone Brook Assisted Living in Denison. It took daily planning and efficiency to make her schedule work. She arrived home at 3:20 am from work, slept until 7 am, and then rallied to get her son off to school and drop her daughter off at her aunt’s house. She attended class through noon, ate lunch, studied, returned home, spent some time with her children, and then prepared to report for her 5:30 pm work shift.
Cunningham doesn’t complain or even mention the challenges she faced to stay in school and successfully complete the program in December 2018. Yet she did what so many try and fail to do; she literally did it all! She was a mom, an employee, a co-worker, a caregiver, a student, a classmate, a daughter, a sister, a niece, an aunt, a friend, and the list goes on and on.
Cunningham describes the PCT program as “...good practice, and it lets you know if you are a good candidate for being in the medical field.” “Ms. Wilcoxen (the PCT instructor) was a great teacher and very patient. I really enjoyed her class,” added Cunningham. After graduation, Cunningham continued at Stone Brook, but kept her sights on a position at the Texoma Regional Blood Center. Then in a moment of serendipity, Cunningham left Stone Brook, and on the same day the Blood Center called her for an interview. She’s been at the Texoma Regional Blood Center since.
Now with three children, including a daughter born shortly after she graduated from the PCT program, Cunningham is continuing her pursuit of a nursing degree at Grayson College. We are in awe of you, Latesha! Keep moving on up!
Living the American Dream
Ekaterina (or Katya for short) Talanova hails from Volgograd, Russia. She has a university degree from Russia, but she essentially had to start over in the U.S. because of her limited proficiency in English. Katya, accompanied by her husband, began attending English classes on the Grayson College campus.
In spring 2019, Katya felt it was time to pursue her next goal. She wanted to transition from her job in housekeeping at Texoma Medical Center (TMC) to work in the TMC pharmacy. She enrolled in the fall 2019 Pharmacy Technician program through Grayson College’s Center for Workplace Learning. Katya completed the Pharmacy Technician program and graduated with her high school equilency diploma on the same night! Even before her graduation, she had secured her dream job as a Pharmacy Technician with TMC. She even works alongside her Pharmacy Tech instructor Dr. Nickson Leo.
Katya’s educational journey here in America isn't over. She's continuing her language classes with Grayson College Adult Education. Katya has overcome some incredible obstacles to be in her new role at TMC. She’s an inspiration to us all to set our sights on a goal and work tirelessly to achieve it!
Grayson College Alumna One Of Top 12 Student Chefs In U.S.
It began just five years ago. Sarah Dilling attended the Grayson College Summer Youth Programs’ Cooking Camp and fell in love with cooking. Today at age 19, Sarah has earned the Bronze Medal in the American Culinary Federation’s Student Chef of the Year Central Region competition held on March 31 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
And the competition was no joke.
Sarah had an hour to prepare a meal using one key ingredient- arctic char. Sounds manageable until you throw in there that she had to butcher and fillet the whole arctic char herself. The meal that this Hendricks, Oklahoma native created sounds like one Top Chef contestants would describe. It was seared arctic char with crispy skin on an apple, cauliflower, and potato puree, edamame succotash, and sauteed carrots and haricot verts. To show her range of skills in preparing the arctic char there was an arctic char croquette with a remoulade sauce adorning a portion of the plate garnished with a chimichurri style herb sauce. Hungry? Me too.
How does a 19-year-old develop such an interest and talent in cooking? Well, for Sarah the culinary spark was ignited at age 14 with a Grayson College Summer Youth Program Cooking Camp. Sarah describes it as “...a huge opportunity,” and says she has “...no idea where [she’d] be today without that camp.”
Sarah wasn’t a total novice to the culinary arts when she attended the youth camp. She and her mother smoked their own meats in their smokehouse, and they brewed beer too. The camp, though, put Sarah on a path of opportunity and success. After camp and as a 15-year-old Sarah enrolled in the Culinary Arts’ Safety and Sanitation course. Sarah took advantage of the flexibility that enrollment through the Center for Workplace Learning (CWL) offers. Getting started on her career path through the CWL simplified the process and allowed her to continue exploring her interest in all things culinary.
With that first class she earned a Food Manager Certification, but her next class, Basic Food Preparation, really hooked Sarah. She learned the versatility of basic techniques and how easily one recipe could be transformed into another for an entirely different result.
Sarah gives a lot of credit to Grayson College’s Chef Joanna Bryant, who has mentored and advocated for her along the way. Chef Bryant got Sarah involved in the American Culinary Federation, and it was Chef Bryant that nominated Sarah for the Student Chef of the Year competition. Chef Bryant also helped Sarah prepare for the competition. She and Sarah worked together on composing practice plates and refining Sarah’s approach and techniques to give her an edge. No surprise, Chef Bryant was named the Student Chef Educator of the Year by the American Culinary Federation (ACF) for the Central Region herself.
Though Sarah earned her Associate of Arts degree in Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management in May 2018 at Grayson College, her ties to Grayson College and Chef Bryant are strong. Sarah was encouraged in her Student Chef of the Year competition by the entire Grayson College Culinary Team, a team she was once part of as a Grayson College student. Sarah has moved to Oklahoma State University in pursuit of a Hospitality Management and Entrepreneurship double major. She dreams of opening her own gastropub one day.
Pursue your purpose and passion at Grayson College. Let us help you find a place to connect, commit and complete. You may end up just like Sarah- recognized for your talents and hard work doing something you love! Congratulations to Sarah and best wishes for continued success!
Luck Achieves Sky High Goals
Ever wonder who’s working those critically important anti-missile defense systems? Well, wonder no more! Michael Luck, Denison native, Army Veteran, and Grayson College graduate, has his eyes on the skies for you. Luck’s route to this certain niche role was paved with hard work and seized opportunities.
Luck graduated from Denison High School in 2011 and joined the Army right out of high school. He left the Army in late 2015 and almost immediately enrolled in general education courses using his Veteran’s education benefits at Grayson College.
Luck landed a job at Presco working a weekend shift that gave him time for his college classes from Monday through Thursday. His Presco supervisors saw Luck’s potential and capacity for more responsibility so they asked Luck to attend even more classes at Grayson College in the Industrial Maintenance Technician (IMT) program in the evenings.
During the day Luck took his general education courses. In the evenings he took Industrial Maintenance Technician classes, and he worked on the weekends. Luck graduated from Grayson College for the first time in May 2018 with an Associate of Science degree in General Studies. Today he’s just two classes away from completing an Associate of Science degree in Computer Science at Grayson College, which he’ll finish online.
Luck cites Presco’s flexibility as a key element of his success as a working student. Presco’s weekend shift and his supervisors’ understanding when he occasionally needed to run over to Grayson College on a Friday made it possible for Luck to survive his packed schedule. Luck also credits Grayson College Veterans Services Officer Marlina Reese with helping him during his educational journey. “Reese helped me anytime I had an issue; she was always there for me,” said Luck. “He had three full-time jobs: student; father; employee. That is so difficult to do, but Mr. Luck did it. He definitely deserves all the rewards and success that come his way,” praised Reese.
Luck was recently offered a new job with Leidos, a government contractor working on Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), an anti-ballistic missile defense system he previously worked on during his time in the Army. So with much gratitude and appreciation to Presco, Luck accepted the THAAD Field Engineer position with Leidos. Luck describes this new role as, “100% a combination of the IMT and computer science programs from Grayson College.” He has an edge on others at Leidos because of his diverse education and skills training coupled with his prior experience.
Leidos will be moving Luck, his wife, and 18-month-old son to Guam soon. Characteristic of Luck, he’ll be working and studying there, too. He’s been accepted to the University of Maryland University College in pursuit of a Bachelor’s in Information Technology and Cyber Security. Luck’s advice to working students is to find an employer that will work with your school schedule; realize it’s hard, but it’s possible.
Many thanks to Luck for his military service and for keeping an eye out for us now. Thanks, too, for showing us how to seize opportunities!
GED to Degrees in Three
“It was a long time coming,” reflected 28-year-old Nathan Elliott, on the subject of earning his high school diploma. Yet Elliott, who dropped out of high school in 2007, actually set a blistering pace for his educational accomplishments.
Elliott graduated the second time from Grayson College on May 10, 2019, with an Associate of Applied Science degree in Cyber Security Administration to go with his AAS degree in Computer Maintenance and Networking Technology and his four computer information systems certifications. From Elliott’s start at Grayson College Adult Education & Literacy to this most recent graduation, barely more than three years had passed.
Elliott’s own drive and determination certainly led to his impressive success. However, Elliott acknowledges that a few individuals were essential to his journey. Carrie Stell, Grayson College AEL Instructor, welcomed Elliott into her classroom. “Carrie was amazing,” proclaimed Elliott. She clearly articulated a pathway to success and patiently explained the steps to obtaining his high school credentials.
John Dick, Computer Maintenance and Networking Program Director at Grayson College, also helped guide Elliott. “John Dick is really incredible. I don’t think I’ve had a better teacher in my entire run,” explained Elliott. Dick encouraged Elliott to go beyond computer repair to complete the Computer Maintenance and Networking program and add the Cyber Security degree on top of that.
Elliott’s wife, a junior high math teacher, pushed him to go back to get his high school credential. Their first daughter was born by the time he had earned his GED ® , and their second daughter was born the day before his first college graduation. Luckily, Elliott gave everyone a second chance to see him graduate, and cum laude the second time no less!
For now, Elliott is giving himself a little break in his educational pursuits. His first AAS degree earned him the full-time Technology Coordinator position for a local school district, but ultimately, he plans to earn his BAAS. One day he hopes to be the technology director for a large ISD, giving students the resources they need to reach their own graduation day.