(SWEETWATER, Texas) – Gabrianna Pena had her goal in sight, only it took longer than she expected to reach it.

The 2014 graduate of Winter High School is a candidate for graduation from Texas State Technical College’s Nursing program. She expects to receive a certificate in vocational nursing this month.

“After I graduated high school, I did not go straight to college,” she said. “I had to work in order to pay for my classes.”

After starting a nursing program, Pena hit another roadblock.

“I got discouraged when I failed. I knew that at some point I would go back to school,” she said. “I didn’t want to be able to tell myself that I did not succeed.”

In 2019, a friend offered Pena some advice and an application packet for TSTC’s nursing program. That was two days prior to the registration deadline. Pena scrambled to complete the paperwork and was accepted into the program.

“I was iffy if I really wanted to go back to school. Having to choose between going to school and working to pay the bills was a hard decision,” she said. “I got the acceptance letter and started classes.”

Pena said attending TSTC allowed her to continue to work at a nursing home. That helped pay the bills, and her family helped by watching her daughter while she was in school.

“Going to TSTC really worked well with my schedule,” she said.

Pena’s goal was to work in a field where she could help others.

“My mom worked as a CNA (certified nursing assistant) for a long time,” she said. “I always was interested in what she was doing. I wanted to help others.”

In 2012, Pena’s grandfather needed medical attention, and Pena and her mother helped watch him and take him to doctor’s appointments.

“Having to take my grandfather to the doctor each week, I was able to see the nurses working with him,” she said. “That gave me the motivation to help people. My grandfather was my inspiration for going into the health care field.”

Pena has also seen the effects of COVID-19 while working in the nursing home.

“All the residents see on a daily basis is you. There is no visitation,” she said. “I like working there because you may not feel that what you are doing is important, but you are making a big difference to the residents.”

Pena said she is proud of her journey in becoming a licensed vocational nurse, but it may not end there.

“I do have plans to someday go back and study to become a registered nurse,” she said. “It takes a lot for people to go through bad situations, but you eventually bounce back. I want to show people they do not need to give up on their dreams.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Texas leads the country in the number of LVNs employed, with more than 70,000. Of that total, more than 1,600 are employed in the West Texas region.

For more information on TSTC, visit tstc.edu.

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