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Jeni Gradwell, right, went back to school to get her registered nurse license, nearly 20 years after she became an LPN. She graduated from CVTC on Tuesday. Her daughter, Abbie, took a microbiology class with her. Abbie still has a year left to become a registered nurse.

EAU CLAIRE — Jeni Greenwell has worked as a licensed practical nurse for 18 years. Her family urged her for years to go back to school to become a registered nurse. After a health scare in her family, Greenwell took the plunge forward and enrolled in 2017 in classes at Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire.

Greenwell, 44, of rural Ridgeland, earned her degree and graduated from the program Tuesday.

“What was I so afraid of?” Greenwell said, reflecting on waiting to go back to school. “I can do this. And my family was so supportive. It was full, family decision.”

Greenwell had a familiar face in one of her classes, as her 23-year-old daughter, Abbie, also enrolled in the program to become a nurse. Abbie Greenwell said it was a wonderful experience to take a microbiology class with her mom.

“Honestly, I was so proud,” Abbie Greenwell said. “We’ve been telling her for years to go back to school. When I found out we’d be taking a class together, I was so jazzed, I was super-excited. I loved every minute of it.”

Microbiology teacher Mary Bauer said she has one or two non-traditional students like Jeni Greenwell every semester out of 80 to 100 in her classes.

“Having a mom and daughter in a class is a little unusual,” Bauer said. “And they had wonderful personalities. They were just so fun, and involved in the class.”

Family first

Jeni Greenwell earned her LPN degree in 2002 from CVTC and worked at Mayo Clinic Health System in Barron from 2002 through 2018, then switched to Dove Healthcare in Bloomer, where she has been since. She and her husband, Craig, raised three children in their home five miles south of Ridgeland. Even though Greenwell mulled going back to school, she didn’t move forward with it until a health scare.

“In 2014, my middle daughter, Aryn, had an AVM in her brain and needed brain surgery,” she explained. An AVM is a malformation of blood vessels that connect arteries and veins in the brain.

Aryn fought hard to overcome her health crisis and is now a healthy 21-year-old woman, Jeni Greenwell said.

“It made me realize I shouldn’t be afraid of going back to school and pursuing my degree,” she said. “To decide to go back was a lot of soul-searching.”

Her husband, Craig, was on board.

“He was very happy for me,” she said. “For years, he’d say I needed to go back to school. He said I’d make a great RN.”

Back to school

So, Greenwell started taking classes, going to school full time while also working full time, moving around her schedule to make it work.

“I picked up a lot of weekends,” she said. “Things got trickier when I had to attend classes in person, before the pandemic.”

Greenwell explained that being an LPN wasn’t allowing her to use her full set of skills.

“We’re basically just gathering the data to give to the RN, who makes the final assessment,” she said.

Jeni admits it was a bit nerve-wracking to be back in school, but she had several other classmates who were returning, non-traditional students, also completing their RN programs. She wasn’t sure how it would go having her daughter in her class.

“Microbiology was good. Abbie is more competitive than I am,” Jeni Gradwell said. “I was concerned because I hadn’t been in school for a long time.”

Now that Jeni Gradwell has finished the program, she will take a state board test, hopefully in January.

Abbie Greenwell said she is close with her mom, and it helped to study alongside her. She praised her mom for moving forward with getting her RN degree.

“She went to school when I was a baby,” Abbie said. “I admire her so much for that. It’s so cool to see her succeed.”

Bauer echoed those comments, praising Jeni Greenwell for being a good student.

“I just think that’s awesome,” she said of Jeni completing the program. “She’s going to be phenomenal when she’s out in the field.”

According to the Chippewa Valley Technical College communications office, 330 people were honored in the virtual graduation ceremony on Tuesday, including 104 in the nursing-associate degree program. Additionally, 13 students earned their high school equivalency diploma.