Jenetta Thomas rises above unexpected challenges

Head and shoulders photograph of Jeanette Thomas, a UIS online student

“Life has a way of taking you in a different direction than you ever intended to go,” says Jenetta Thomas.

When Jenetta enrolled in the UIS Public Health Master’s program in 2014, she knew exactly what she wanted to do and her path was clear.

Already a nurse, she wanted to become a Public Health Educator for expectant mothers and families so she could help decrease infant mortality rates in her hometown. A master’s at UIS would take her there.

Then last September, just hours after she gave birth, Jenetta learned that her daughter has Down Syndrome. In the midst of specialists, scans and various types of monitoring, Jenetta managed to finish her semester strong, with winter break giving her time to rejuvenate.

One week after Jenetta returned to work, however, her daughter picked up a life-threatening virus and ended up on a ventilator in the Intensive Care Unit for two months.

“Leaving her side was not an option,” Jenetta says, “because I had to be close enough to hear the alarms and I didn’t want to miss updates from the doctors. she was sensitive to light and sound  so spring semester meant completing assignments using only the bathroom light of my daughter’s hospital room at night.”

Jenetta’s daughter is home now and doing great. Looking back at the experience, Jenetta says it has given her a renewed passion to complete her public health degree. Keeping focus on working to reduce infant mortality rates, she would also like to work on advocacy issues for people with special needs.

Receiving the Evelyn Zimmerman Scholarship in Public Health came as another surprise—this time a welcomed one.

“I had actually submitted paperwork with my advisor to put my degree on hold because of the stress of school and not knowing if I could afford it,” Jenetta says. “One week later, I received an email stating I had received the scholarship.

“I can honestly say I would not have been able to continue without it.”