Kaylan Hawkins Catches Her Dream

Kaylan Hawkins
Kaylan Hawkins in the simulation lab at UIS

A Family’s Hopes

Her mother’s happy tears accompanied Kaylan Hawkins when she walked across the stage at the University of Illinois Chicago to accept her bachelor’s degree in nursing on Thursday, May 9.

Here at UIS, we are celebrating Kaylan’s success. She earned her degree here in Springfield through a combined UIS/UIC nursing program. Since 2014, UIS has partnered with the University of Illinois Chicago College of Nursing and Memorial Health System to offer students an opportunity to earn a UIC Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree on the UIS campus.

During their first two years, students in the program take pre-nursing classes through UIS. Once admitted to UIC’s nursing program (one of the best in the country and very competitive), students take their upper level classes taught by UIC nursing professors here at UIS.

So both UIS and UIC can take pride in Kaylan’s story of achievement and triumph.

Kaylan comes from a health care family. Her mother is a billing encoder, and her grandmother, who died suddenly when Kaylan was in high school, was a nurse’s aide. “My grandma was actually one of the main reasons I decided to become a nurse,” Kaylan says.

UIS, A Place to Chase Dreams

Kaylan came to UIS as a sophomore because she wanted the best possible path to her nursing degree.

“As soon as I walked through the door at UIS, I knew this is where I could chase my dream and actually catch it.”

Even so, she almost immediately encountered challenges. Her Chemistry 141 class, for example, which had 93 students. She felt completely lost among so many strangers and in such a difficult class—”my most challenging,” she says.

But her chemistry professor, Dr. Harsh Bapat, stood by her.

“I think Dr. Bapat got an email from me every Sunday that said, ‘I can’t possibly do this.’ He would say, ‘Just breathe. You can do this. I’ll help you.’ He was very welcoming from the beginning.”

Kaylan Hawkins and nursing cohort
Kaylan and other students in her cohort

The other science classes Kaylan took at UIS were nursing specific, which she loved.

Kaylan also appreciated the tireless support of Lori Benedict, Undergraduate Academic Advisor—“She’s absolutely incredible. I just love her,” and later Monique Williams, Program Advisor and Admissions Counselor for Nursing.

Her Transition to UIC

When it came time for Kaylan to apply for UIC, both Lori and Monique walked Kaylan through her application to UIC. “It was the only school I applied to,” Kaylan admits, laughing a little. “It was a scary few weeks, but I had worked extremely hard to get in, and I had a lot of support, too, and that really helped.”

Kaylan Hawkins
Kaylan being “examined” by another student.

For the next two years, nursing took over her life, with classes at UIS, taught now by UIC professors, and seeing patients at Memorial Hospital.

She knew through these years that the dream she was chasing might not happen. She came into the program a year late, as a sophomore. With the help of caring professors, she faced down the challenge of difficult classes at UIS, and then she had to be accepted into UIC. And now she was facing the hardest part of her degree—nursing school.

“It’s not for nothing that nursing is called the hardest undergraduate degree,” she says, smiling now. “The UIC instructors—they are tough on us. Sometimes you break down, but they are tough on you for a reason. They break you down but then they rebuild you and they support you and they just make it to where you feel so confident. They want us to be the most confident and competent that we can be as a nurse before we leave school.”

Kaylan with UIC Nursing faculty
Kaylan with UIC Nursing Faculty: Dr. Sara McPherson, Sonja Koontz, Rachel Woods

In the beginning, clinicals in the hospital also scared her. She remembers staring at the door of her first patient’s room for at least five minutes: “Then I thought, I can at least go in and introduce myself and then go from there.”

But Kaylan persisted, buoyed with the encouragement of her parents and grandparents, the support of the other students in her cohort, the nurses at Memorial (“All their nurses are great”), and the genuine confidence of her UIC professors.

“I’ve got this!”

A day came this past January when she realized for the first time that she was really going to catch her dream. She was walking down the hallway of the neurology floor, on her way to hearing report form the nurses going off shift. This day, she and the other student nurses on her team would be managing patients with very little oversight, but instead of feeling nervous, Kaylan thought, I know what I’m doing. I’ve got this.

Kaylan Hawkins and family
At Kaylan’s pinning ceremony: David, father; Nancy, grandmother; Kaylan; Jim, grandfather; Stacey, mother

So Kaylan has caught her dream. She has her degree, and she already has a job lined up at Memorial, on the cardiac surgical floor. She hopes eventually to get a master’s degree in nursing.

“My degree gives my family so much peace,” she says. “I can make a good living on my own now, one that allows me to support my parents and grandparents they way they have me.”