HANCEVILLE, Ala. – For the first time since the UAB/WSCC Joint Enrollment program began, a student has graduated with a 4.0 grade point average (GPA) from both Wallace State Community College and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Recent graduate Judith “Judy” Jackson accomplished this notable feat. A resident of Bon Air, Ala., a small town located near Childersburg with a population of around 170, she earned both her associate degree and bachelor’s degree in nursing from WSCC and UAB through the joint enrollment program that allows students to concurrently earn both.
Jackson’s accomplishment was noted during the Wallace State Nursing pinning ceremony on Aug. 3, where she was also recognized as one of three Nightingale Award winners, as well as the Nursing Program Award winner, which is given out to only one student each year.
“We’re very excited that Judy has earned such a high achievement,” said Deborah “Pepper” Hoover, chair of the Wallace State Department of Nursing Education. “She has been a great asset to our program, even serving as her class secretary and treasurer. She has earned every accolade she’s received, and we are proud to call her a Wallace State alum.”
Wallace State Nursing was the first to partner with UAB to offer the joint enrollment option to students, providing an accelerated pathway to earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing and delivering to the workforce much needed nursing staff at a swifter pace. Another area community college followed Wallace State into the joint enrollment program, but this is the first time any student from any of the colleges has achieved a 4.0 GPA in the program.
“Judy Jackson is the first of 56 graduating Joint Enrollment students to complete the program with a 4.0 GPA,” said Dr. Nancy Claus, an assistant professor and RN-BSN Pathway Director/UABNCCP Coordinator at UAB.
“She is an exceptional student who excelled in her course work and was willing to come and speak with incoming Joint Enrollment students,” Claus continued. “She served as a mentor for her classmates as well as incoming cohorts. She was truly a joy to have as a student and I look forward to seeing what her future holds.”
Jackson said she didn’t set out to achieve a 4.0 GPA. She was salutatorian of her high school, graduating with a 3.9 GPA, but she’d always heard that nursing school is hard and that she shouldn’t expect to maintain that high average.
“I think finally after the third semester I figured maybe I should stop listening to people because the way somebody else learns is not the way that I learn,” Jackson said. That doesn’t mean it was easy and that she didn’t struggle, she added.
“I would definitely put in hours, probably eight to nine or even sometimes 10 hours a day, studying to make sure I understood the material,” Jackson said. “There were times I would email my instructors if I ever had questions. I remember Mrs. Heather Ashley; I went to her office after our first exam in fourth semester and asked her if there was a way to study for fourth semester. She sat down with me and reassured me and said, ‘You’re going to be fine, take a deep breath, it’s going to be ok, and just keep doing what you’re doing.’ So, she helped a lot.”
Wallace State Nursing graduate Judith Jackson poses with her family after the pinning ceremony at Wallace State Community College on Aug. 3. Pictured from left is her father Starlen Jackson, her younger brother Simeon, her mother Hobokela Jackson, Jackson, and her older brother Starlen. (Wallce State)
During the Aug. 3 pinning ceremony, Jackson celebrated with her family, which includes her mother and father and two brothers. Her mother, she said, was her “biggest cheerleader.”
“Before each and every exam she always would text me or, when I lived at home, she would handwrite me notes. She would write, ‘I believe in you and I’m your number one supporter,’” Jackson said. The notes often included a Bible verse and other reminders that she loves her. Jackson said she thinks she still has every note her mother gave her.
Jackson’s mother immigrated to America from Tanzania when she was 30, and she would share stories with her children about the obstacles she had to overcome. Putting education first was always encouraged in her parents’ household, Jackson said, as was their faith.
“Growing up I remember the thing my mother stressed the most was, ‘Make sure you put God first, and work hard in school because education is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted,’” Jackson said.
Jackson is working in the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU) at Princeton Baptist Medical Center, where she’s been working since taking required academic courses before entering the joint enrollment program. In the next three to four years, she plans to continue her education to earn a masters and a doctorate in nursing practice and hopes to work in either cardiology or acute care as a nurse practitioner.
For future students, Jackson has this advice: “Be prepared because it is a hard program, but for one, don’t listen to other people about different semesters like I did, and like I told our incoming students for the spring, believe in yourself, because if you don’t, that really takes a toll on your performance. And don’t be afraid to go to the professors, because they’re all super sweet and open to any questions, and I wouldn’t have made it without any of them.”
The UAB/WSCC Joint Enrollment program is a nine-semester program, with the first four semesters consisting of academic coursework before applying to both Wallace State and UAB Nursing programs to complete the final five semesters. Nursing classes are taken concurrently at Wallace State’s Hanceville campus and online through UAB.
“We just admitted our eighth cohort at WSCC,” said Dr. Claus. “We are very excited how our partnership has grown over the last three years and anticipate that it will continue to grow. Our united goal of increasing the RN workforce in the state of Alabama has a strong beginning.”
Applications for Spring 2024 are being accepted through Oct. 1. A mobility option is also available, with applications accepted March 15-May 15 for fall admission.