CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Alicia De Los Santos and Rolando Lira, both dedicated registered nurses and nurse educators, will graduate Saturday, Dec. 12, from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi with a Master’s of Science in Nursing – Nurse Educator, degrees they earned as online students.
De Los Santos and Lira are two of about 780 students who will walk the stage of the American Bank Center during A&M-Corpus Christi’s fall commencement ceremony. The ceremony, which begins at 10 a.m., includes graduates from all five of A&M-Corpus Christi’s colleges.
Lira and De Los Santos met in 2003 when De Los Santos was a student in Lira’s vocational nursing class at South West Texas Junior College (SWTJC) in Del Rio, Texas, and the two are now co-workers at that institution.
“We have proofed each other’s papers, reminded each other of deadlines and covered responsibilities for each other to give one another time to work on papers and projects,” said De Los Santos. “I have been blessed to have him as a teacher, preceptor, mentor, classmate and co-worker.”
Both Lira and De Los Santos chose to enroll at A&M-Corpus Christi for graduate school because of its highly-regarded online nursing programs.
“If the programs were not online, I would have not attended,” said Lira. “TAMU-CC has a challenging program, but I was still able to work, live in my community and attend to my numerous other obligations.”
Nursing wasn’t always the plan for De Los Santos. After high school graduation, De Los Santos dreamed of becoming a veterinarian and was accepted into an Ivy League university, but says her pull to start a family was stronger than her desire to continue school.
“Five years later, I had no job, no higher education, two children and a marriage on the brink of divorce,” said De Los Santos. “I went to Southwest Texas Junior College to see if I could still reach my goal of becoming a veterinarian.”
Her counselor at SWTJC told her that the school didn’t have a veterinary program but suggested she consider becoming a nurse instead. After reevaluating her career choice, De Los Santos joined the Licensed Vocational Nursing (LVN) program at SWTJC. It was there that she met her nursing instructor, Rolando Lira.
“Patient care has always been my passion,” said Lira. “As a nursing professor, I care for my community by preparing nurses to be the best caretakers they can be.”
Lira grew up as a migrant worker in a Spanish-speaking family. Growing up, he says his family experienced disparities in health care.
“Both my parents did not and still do not speak English,” he said. “They did not have the capability of helping me with my school work, and in fact, I helped them with their healthcare.”
Lira says he had difficult teenage years, but his Christian faith and his teaching mentors helped him find a better path. Lira also holds a Master of Arts in Christian Education from Dallas Theological Seminary.
“A long time ago, several teachers devoted time to me, and they were able to help me change my life and my future,” he said.
Lira has been employed at SWTJC as a nurse educator for 15 years. De Los Santos has worked at SWTJC for eight years.
“A nursing program in rural Del Rio is extremely vital,” said De Los Santos. “We are disadvantaged when it comes to health care because of the limited amount of medical facilities available to meet the needs of our county. Major improvements have come into place in recent years, and we feel like we are part of that movement.”
Through persistence, commitment, passion and family support, this dynamic duo has been able to excel in the workplace and obtain their master’s degrees. They both agree that this degree will make them better teachers and give their students better learning outcomes.
“I believe nursing is the most challenging, yet most rewarding profession,” said De Los Santos. “But if you love helping others, and taking care of people, it doesn’t get any better than this. Plus, you make a few friends along the way.”