Timely Counsel with Faculty Helps Clemons Finish Bachelor’s

Vonda Clemons smiles in front of a school bulletin board

“When professors go out of their way to try to reach their students and understand them as individuals, it speaks volumes,” says Vonda Clemons, who—with consultation from faculty and advisors—recently earned her Ball State bachelor’s online in early childhood education.

After earning an associate degree, Vonda left college for a few years before deciding to finish her bachelor’s degree at another Indiana school. She found the school was not a good fit and resumed her search.

Then She Looked at Ball State

When she inquired about Ball State’s bachelor’s in early childhood, she says a counselor made the transfer process easy. “She laid out the classes and made sure that I took the right classes in the right semester,” says Vonda, who is now a master teacher at TRC Head Start in Anderson, Indiana, for students ages 3 through 5. “When I emailed her about anything, she would get back to me in a timely matter.”

Another professor helped her decide whether she wanted to pursue licensure. Another set up weekly Zoom meetings to offer help with assignments.

Ball State’s program is designed specifically for child care professionals like Vonda, who have an associate degree in early childhood education, and are seeking positions that do not require a teaching license.

T.E.A.C.H. Made Tuition Affordable

“I worked full-time while pursuing my degree,” she says. “I knew I had to work so the online early childhood degree was a great fit for me.”

With her financial aid nearly spent by the end of her junior year, Vonda applied for a T.E.A.C.H. scholarship, a program designed to compensate qualifying students who demonstrate a commitment to the field of early childhood education. She says T.E.A.C.H. paid 90 percent of her tuition and books and provided a $50 stipend each semester.

“The T.E.A.C.H. scholarship allowed me to take classes that I would not have been able to afford at the time,” she says. T.E.A.C.H. counselors helped her get a waiver that allowed her to take more than two classes at a time.

Practicum Led to Teaching Position

Vonda completed her practicum at TRC Head Start, where she was initially hired as a teacher’s assistant. “I felt blessed to be able to do my practicum at my job and still get paid,” she says. “I became friends with the lead teacher, and she is now my supervisor.”

During the pandemic, Vonda taught virtual classes for two years, took her students and their families on virtual field trips, and connected them to the EPIC book club, a popular learning and reading platform, which introduces young readers to books in all languages and genres.

Wants to Make Greatest Impact

She also learned to enrich her classroom through DonorsChoose, a charity that funds requests for books, class trips, and supplies from teachers across the country.

Vonda knows her bachelor’s degree means opportunities for the future. “I enjoy working with families,” says Vonda, who is considering a master’s degree. “And I want to work in my community where I know I can have the greatest impact.”

Nursing Alumna Nurtures Process Improvements

While working as a transplant nurse coordinator at University of California, Irvine (UCI), Samantha Sulkoske, then a Ball State master’s in nursing student, observed the wait time for patients scheduled for organ transplants.  

As part of a personal initiative supported by team leadership and physicians, she created a triaging tool to evaluate each patient referral and schedule their evaluation, which allowed for timely transplants and decreased waiting times.

“It streamlined the scheduling process and supported expedited workups for listing and a shorter turnaround time for transplantation,” says Samantha, now clinical expediter for the Swedish Transfer and Operations Center (STOC), which is part of the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle.  

Her Triaging Tool Wins IONL Scholarship 

The tool at the center of the project, “A Triage-Based Approach for Managing Transplant Referrals,” won Samantha the 2021 Indiana Organization for Nursing Leadership (IONL) scholarship.  

She presented her project at the annual Kidney/Pancreas Transplant and Nephrology Symposium, attended by health care professionals around the country. 

“My colleagues at UCI Health have informed me that my process is still used today,” she says. 

Siktberg Nomination Was Huge Accomplishment: Samantha 

Dr. Linda Siktberg, director of Ball State’s School of Nursing, nominated Samantha for the (IONL) scholarship. 

“This passion for process improvement is what eventually led Samantha to choose an administrative/leadership career path,” wrote Dr. Siktberg in her letter of recommendation. 

According to Samantha, “The honor of being nominated for the scholarship by my professors and Dr. Siktberg was a huge accomplishment in and of itself.” 

Discovers Passion for Process Improvement 

While considering a master’s in nursing, Samantha looked at several schools. “Ultimately, I chose Ball State because of my experience there as an undergraduate student and their flexibility in course work through online options,” she says. 

At first, Samantha was going to pursue the family nurse practitioner concentration. But after working on the transplant referral project, she realized her passion for process improvement.  

“I’ve discovered I really have a knack for process improvement,” she says. “I originally started my studies with a family nurse practitioner concentration, but after working on this project I realized my passion for process improvement and leadership. I decided to switch concentrations to nursing administration, and I have continued to advocate for process improvement in my professional career.”  

Testing Instrument Reduces Lab Times 

While working as an oncology nurse navigator for Ascension St. Vincent in Indianapolis, Samantha implemented the use of a POC (point of care) testing instrument to reduce lab turnaround times—and patient wait times—for chemotherapy infusions. This quality improvement project was then selected to be used to maintain CoC (Commission on Cancer) accreditation for the cancer program at Ascension. 

At the Swedish Transfer and Operations Center, Samantha oversees the input, output, and flow of overall patient volume as they proceed from admission to discharge. 

Will Pursue Ball State MBA from Seattle  

From Seattle, Samantha will soon begin her Ball State online MBA. “A degree in business will open myself up to the opportunity for entrepreneurial pursuits,” she says. 

She’s impressed by the fact that the MBA consistently ranks in the top 20 online business schools in the United States. She says the online MBA, added to her BSN and her online MSN, will give her a “three-peat” for degrees earned at Ball State. 

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