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Anyone pursing higher education knows it’s a big commitment. But they take on the challenge in order to open the door to new opportunities. Malaya Deemer and Isabel Walker know exactly what it means to reap the rewards of this kind of hard work. The two students entered Baker University School of Nursing’s Bachelor of Science in Nursing program after spending time in the military and recently graduated with honors. Walker was named the Outstanding Student of Nursing and Deemer earned the Clinical Excellence Award in addition to recognition from Who’s Who Among American Universities and Colleges. Both were inducted into the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing.

For Deemer, who was stationed in Germany with the Army for three years before moving to Junction City, Kansas, completing the program marked not only a new career, but also a personal reunion.

“My husband deployed while I was in the program,” Deemer said. “Him being gone made me focus more and it gave me a goal, like, ‘I know when he’s back, I’ll be done.’”

And she was. After Deemer’s husband was stationed in Iraq and Kuwait, he arrived home the week before her pinning ceremony and watched her cross the stage to receive her diploma on commencement day.

Walker’s path to graduation also started when she and her husband moved to Junction City, where she met Deemer as they took prerequisite classes.

“That was the first duty station where we knew we’d be here long enough to finish school since I got out of the Army,” Walker said.

New to the area, Walker was searching for a school where she could complete her nursing course work and had not heard of Baker until someone else mentioned it in conversation.

“Someone made a comment about how hard it is to get into, so it was more of a pride thing for me,” Walker said. “I was determined that I could get into it, so I applied.”

While Walker aced the application process, struggles mounted as her husband spent long stretches away from home to fulfill his military responsibilities and Walker was tasked with balancing school and home life with their two young children.

“Luckily, in the Army, you develop something we call ‘Army family,’ where you get a close relationship with your friends and neighbors,” Walker said. “I was blessed to have plenty of people helping me out while [my husband] was gone.”

Deemer and Walker became part of one another’s ‘Army family’ and shared a carpool with other students in the program, adding levity and a built-in study group to the daily commute from Junction City to the School of Nursing’s Topeka campus.

“I love our carpool,” Walker said. “I feel like that helped me get through a lot of the exam days and stress.”

It didn’t take long for Walker and Deemer to realize that their support wasn’t limited to their carpool and their neighbors.

“I just love the whole [Baker] staff,” Deemer said. “I could talk to staff that I had for first level and second level and go give them a hug or tell them about my day. It’s an amazing experience here.”

Walker agreed, saying the program’s close-knit community and small class sizes allowed students to develop individual relationships with instructors and classmates that she won’t soon forget.

“We want to let the staff know that they are appreciated and we’re very proud to be Baker grads because of them,” Walker said. “They’ve made it an awesome program.”

Deemer and Walker also agree that, of all the nursing faculty members at Baker, Assistant Professor Cindy Light has the market cornered on catchphrases.

“Cindy is known for saying, ‘It’s not about you; it’s about me,’” Walker said with a grin.

“It’s about us now, Cindy,” chimed in Deemer before breaking into a laughing fit with Walker.

According to the pair, Light admitted that after pinning and graduation—and the two years of studying and immersive clinical experience that came before—it would be time for the newly announced nurses to take the spotlight as they celebrated passing the National Council Licensure Examination and getting their first official jobs as nurses.

Since graduation, Walker and her family have moved to Texas and she has accepted a position in the academically and clinically rigorous graduate nurse residency program at Scott and White Memorial Hospital, a level I trauma center that is in the process of applying for Magnet designation where Walker will work in the emergency department. Deemer is working in the surgical department at Geary Community Hospital as she prepares to move to Oklahoma. Both of their paths are indicative of the employment and advancement possibilities in the nursing industry.

“I think there are so many opportunities in nursing,” Deemer said. “You have to find out what fits you. Do you like working with elders or do you like working with children? You have to find out where you want to be and go from there because the opportunities are endless.”

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