Alejado’s journey a lesson in balancing life as an adult learner
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It was late at night and Theresa Alejado’s sons — one in college and one in high school — had finally gone to bed after a marathon session studying at the dining room table. At that same time, Alejado, then a graduate nursing student at University of Phoenix, had been trying to finish a paper that wasn’t coming together. Her brain felt fried. So, the adult learner did what one of her teachers and mentors had suggested years before: She baked cookies and shared them with her sons.
It’s a story she tells her nursing and healthcare administration students at University of Phoenix’s Hawaii Campus, where she has taught for 12 years. The point is not the cookies. The point is that every student must remember to feed his or her soul and nourish the most important relationships. There will be hard times, she tells her students, but they are a part of the journey.
She understands this because she has been in their shoes. She has been an adult learner balancing life and pursuing an education in a field that can be physically demanding and emotionally draining. On top of that, she endured personal struggles, including cancer. But her advice remains the same.
“When things get rough, you go back to what makes your heart sing,” she said.
This perspective is one of the reasons Alejado was honored last year with a Faculty of the Year award. She was one of 18 chosen from among 1,200 nominated faculty members. It recognizes her dedication to teaching the next generation of nurses, but even more so it honors the authentic care she has for her students, said Nancy Tahara, Alejado’s supervisor and academic director for undergraduate and MSN non-FNP programs in the College of Nursing.
“She is so warm and caring, and it is a real, genuine warmth that she exudes,” said Tahara, who has known Alejado for 15 years, back to the time Alejado was an adult learner and in the program herself.
Alejado always knew she wanted to care for others through a career in a medical profession. She started as a pre-med major at a University in Hawaii but recognized through conversations with a professor that her real passion was in nursing. Alejado made the switch, earned an associate degree and became a registered nurse.
She immediately felt satisfaction in her job, first working in a medical-surgical unit of a hospital, then for an endocrinologist and diabetes educator. Alejado felt she had found her calling.
In her 40s, Alejado went through a difficult stretch. She cared for and lost her sick father, divorced her husband and became a single mother. During that time she decided she needed a bachelor’s degree to provide economic stability for her and her sons. So, she applied to the UOPX RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program, going to school at night after work. She was diagnosed with thyroid cancer toward the end of the program. Looking back now, she sees how rising to meet the challenges made her a stronger person.
“Trying to juggle all that was hard, but I did it,” Alejado said. “It taught me what I can do in the hardest of times.”
Faculty mentors encouraged her to go for her Master of Science in Nursing degree, and she did. At one point, she had what she describes as a light bulb moment. She realized that getting a degree is not an endpoint or the main point of getting an education. She realized that what she was showing her boys was just as important.
“To continue to get better, to stretch yourself, challenge yourself in ways you never thought you could endure — I realized ‘My boys are watching.’”
Both sons are now college graduates.
Alejado was invited to take a faculty training course after graduating with her master’s degree. Later, she was teaching nursing courses for UOPX — and loving it. The work was difficult but fun. Alejado had to stay on top of her game. She found it a challenge to deliver the information in tangible, meaningful ways students could apply. However, it is a challenge she enjoys meeting.
“If you don’t get it as a student, I’m going to figure out a way to help you get it,” she said. Today, she works as a nurse consultant and teaches healthcare administration courses.
In the end, Alejado listens to her mentors’ advice: When things seem overwhelming, go back to what makes you happy.
“In that moment, you have to stop and bake cookies.”