The good news came to Stefanie Pettigrew while on a trip with her friend.

“I got accepted to the ASN program on the first draw, and I knew this was my calling. I was so excited I cried like a little baby.”

After years of working her way up in the medical field, Stefanie took the leap and applied for the nursing program at Ivy Tech Fort Wayne.

“It has been the hardest thing that I’ve done in my entire life, and I’ve done some crazy work. This challenged me so much, and I’m grateful.”

Stefanie has worked her way through the CNA, QMA, and now ASN programs and even earned the nomination for the Outstanding Student award from the nursing program at the 2024 Commencement Ceremony. Ivy Tech has guided her through classes, clinicals, and even the Dominican Republic—but her passion began just next door.

Like a good neighbor

Rewind to 2009.

It only took one year of marketing and business classes for Stefanie to realize that’s not what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. So, she hit pause, got married, and settled down in a home.

“My neighbor’s mom is in her 80’s and needs help with her activities of daily living and grocery shopping and yard work. I started helping her, and I realized if I could do that every single day, I would love it.”

With the support of her husband and two dogs, she made the decision to go back to school and get her CNA license through Ivy Tech. In the beginning, it was challenging because she’d been homeschooled her entire life, so getting used to the pace of classes was tough. But she didn’t want to stop there.

“I ended up going to back for my QMA license, and I worked at a nursing home for a year and a half. And then assisted living for a year. And then I just kept wanting to go up higher and higher.”

The decision to go into nursing wasn’t an easy one. She knew there would be sacrifices to make since the program is so competitive.

“The biggest challenge in nursing was having to basically shut my life out because I had to study and work hard to get good grades.”

Experience working in a nursing home, plus finishing two degrees previously helped push her to success.

It has been the hardest thing that I’ve done in my entire life, and I’ve done some crazy work. This challenged me so much, and I’m grateful.

– Stefanie Pettigrew | 2024 Nursing Grad

Braving nursing school

“It’s scary to go to school. It’s scary to sign up and show up the first day or to the next clinical. It was scary because you never knew what was going to happen, but I told myself to be brave and go for it.”

One day in the beginning of joining the nursing program, Stefanie was stopped in the hallway by Professor Monique Washington. Washington asked her how things were going.

“I told her I was so overwhelmed, and she just like spoke to me. She gave me all these good tips and tricks, and I was so grateful to have instructors so passionate for their students.”

The nursing program is notorious for being challenging and rigorous, but something that sticks out are the relationships built along the way. Through all the stress of classes and clinicals, Stefanie has had her classmates to lean on.

“I’m proud of the school that I’ve went to all of these years because Ivy Tech has always treated me well, but there’s a sadness because everybody is parting ways.”

In January, Stefanie partnered with her fellow nursing student, Marlie Reed, to take everyone through their day on Ivy Tech Fort Wayne's Instagram page. For the School of Nursing Spotlight, they answered burning questions and shared a little bit more about their stories. It's just one example of how the students work together.

She’s spent the last 2 ½ years making friends and getting valuable experience in the field by being accepted into the preceptor program. She’s gotten to work in the Lutheran downtown ER and the Lutheran CVIC. Stefanie says that out of the whole program, this part was the most beneficial.

“I feel like I learned so much from this past semester being hands on in the hospital side-by-side with a nurse, doing everything she does.”

Clinicals and the preceptor program are both ways to trial run which areas of nursing students enjoy the most. They learn the basics like proper etiquette and how to handle working with patients. But most of all, they get a taste for what their career will look like.

“I ended up working in the ER. I was excited every time to be there and wanted to go above and beyond. So, if I could find a home base there, I think I’d be happy.”

 Stefanie’s passion lies in home healthcare, but she’s interested in working in the ER to gain experience with trauma patients.

“It’s terrifying but exciting. I want something that challenges me.”

Dominican Republic

Nothing quite says challenging like providing healthcare in a country where you don’t speak the native language.

Every year, Ivy Tech Fort Wayne’s nursing program goes on a week-long trip to the Dominican Republic to help a medical organization visit rural villages and conduct checkups.

“I felt like going to the Dominican taught me so much more about how I didn’t understand different cultures.”

Working in healthcare, even in Indiana, you’ll be introduced to people from different cultures, speaking different languages, and coming from different economical situations. This trip really put these things into perspective for Stefanie who has run into communication barriers before while working in a hospital. This was just on a different scale.

“Going into nursing, if I see somebody that doesn’t speak my language, I want to do everything in my power to make sure they understand that they’re still getting the best healthcare that I can give them."

The trip goes like this: breakfast is served at the crack of dawn, then students pack into a vehicle that will take them into the mountains. Once at their destination, students are given one of three tasks, helping in the pharmacy, with triage, or treatment. After several hours working, they’ll head back to the volunteer center for the night then start all over.

“I hope that I can attend as an alumnus someday. I’d love to show the students what I learned from the experience and help them find something to take away.”

What’s Next

In a few short weeks, Stefanie will be taking her boards to officially be named a Registered Nurse. With all her study materials ready and a brain full fresh with notes, she feels confident about what’s next.

“Ivy Tech prepped us good and gave us the tools we need to succeed.”

But wait—did you think she’s stopping there?

Hoping to get a few years in nursing under her belt, Stefanie wants to keep climbing. Her goal is to eventually head back to the classroom and become a nurse practitioner.

“I’m most excited to help people. I now have the ability to help save a life or help change a life. If I can just show up and have a smile for them or offer any kind of comfort and make them feel valued and safe, that would be good enough for me.”

I’m most excited to help people. I now have the ability to help save a life or help change a life. If I can just show up and have a smile for them or offer any kind of comfort and make them feel valued and safe, that would be good enough for me.

– Stefanie Pettigrew | 2024 Nursing Grad

About Ivy Tech Community College

Ivy Tech Community College is Indiana's largest public postsecondary institution and the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college system, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Ivy Tech has campuses throughout Indiana and also serves thousands of students annually online. It serves as the state's engine of workforce development, offering associate degrees, long- and short-term certificate programs, industry certifications, and training that aligns with the needs of the community. The College provides a seamless transfer to other colleges and universities in Indiana, as well as out of state, for a more affordable route to a bachelor's degree.