By: Catie Middleton
Growing up in Appleton, Wisc., Elizabeth Pempek dreamt of the bustle of a big city and a career in nursing that would ultimately set her on a path to a better life. Now a junior at UW-Milwaukee, Pempek is a step closer each day to fulfilling that dream.
“Keeping that big dream and picture in your head, that’s ultimately what it’s all about,” said Pempek.
Nursing, it seems, has always been in the cards for Pempek. She spent the first three months of her life in the NICU, where she was referred to as the “miracle baby.”
“My mom and dad said it was always the nurses that sat with me. So the more I thought about it the more I realized how cool would it be for someone like me, whose life was saved in a NICU, to pay that back and save other people’s babies,” said Pempek.
Pempek would also like to use her nursing education to advocate for minority populations and populations who don’t have access to healthcare. This comes from growing up watching her mother struggle with medical problems and healthcare.
“I wanted to be the nurse that could help my mom as she’s aging, but it also helps knowing that when I am a nurse working in a hospital, that hospital will provide me with insurance so I can help my mom,” said Pempek.
Pempek knew from a young age what she had to do to get to the point where she could provide for her mother, advocate for others, and ultimately, live her dream. Being a part of the Nursing Endeavor Program (NEP) at UWM College of Nursing has helped to guide her toward those goals.
NEP supports students who meet two out of three requirements; first generation college students, an underrepresented group, or economically disadvantaged. It is for those students who are working through the Bachelor of Science in Nursing program and is meant to be a presence throughout their entire degree, according to Carrie Von Bohlen, Academic Enrichment Center Coordinator.
Students in NEP must meet academic and participation requirements, and will then be admitted into the professional nursing major. NEP gives students the means to succeed academically as well.
“I feel like I’m being successful now because of what NEP has taught me and what NEP has shaped me to be,” said Pempek.
Pempek says NEP has been tremendous, and the staff involved have encouraged her in more than just her academic life. For Von Bohlen, supporting Pempek and other NEP students is something she enjoys.
“All I’m trying to do is open the door for them,” said Von Bohlen.
Von Bohlen first met Pempek during the application and selection process for NEP during Pempek’s senior year in high school.
“She comes with a lot on her shoulders,” said Von Bohlen of Pempek.
Despite all of that, Von Bohlen believes Pempek is amazing and incredibly humble in her academic success.
“She’s the last person to view herself as a success story,” said Von Bohlen.
Pempek was awarded the Barbara Franke Greater Milwaukee Foundation Scholarship, as well as the Lawton Scholar Grant. She is also a Peer Mentor at the Student Success Center at UWM.
Currently, she is a part of a research project, Maternal and Childhood Health Pipeline Training Program. And would like to study maternal-child healthcare abroad in Thailand this coming Winterim. In addition to nursing, she is also pursuing a certificate in Childhood and Adolescent studies.
For all her academic success, Pempek still sometimes needs encouragement and help avoiding pressures outside of academia. She’s found that putting herself first, for the first time in her life, is key.
“It definitely gets easier every year to focus on me and do what I want to do, and push away what the voices in the back of my head are telling me,” said Pempek.
Through NEP and the nursing program at UWM, Pempek is hoping to work in a NICU and eventually complete the BS to DNP program that UWM offers.
Until then Pempek, will continue to do what she’s always done.
“Always look ahead. That has always been my biggest encouragement.”