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Minnesota State College Southeast
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Mathew Chesang: Support of family, classmates, college, and CareerForce Winona paved the way to nursing degree

Winona Daily News, May 13, 2021

Mathew ChesangLast December, Mathew Chesang graduated from Minnesota State College Southeast's Practical Nursing program with honors. But that was hardly the end of his education. While other students went to school during Spring Semester, he was studying for his nursing board exams.

"The board exams were tough. After passing the nursing program, you must study a lot for your boards," Matthew said. "Preparing for the boards is like taking another class -- you have to take a lot of practice exams to get ready."

His determination paid off, and he passed the NCLEX-PN(r) exam this spring. He is ready to enter the workforce and move forward with his hard-won professional skills.

Mathew's journey to college in Minnesota began more than 8,000 miles away. He was born in Kenya and came to the United States at the age of 21.

"When I got here, I was really in shock because it was a different place, different culture, different people, people from different parts of the world who spoke different languages," he shared at a seminar on diversity issues MSC Southeast held last September. "The main language was English, and that's something I wasn't used to speaking, because back home you speak your local language."

He served in the U.S. Army from 2012 to 2018, including one tour to Afghanistan. After leaving the military, he and his family moved to a small town in Wisconsin. He found employment in Winona, but eventually was laid off and sent to CareerForce Winona (then called the Workforce Center) for assistance with re-training.

"I was in a health care field at one time before, a certified nursing assistant, so I was interested in a medical career. The workforce center helped me with applying for college and coming to Southeast," he said.

He appreciated the welcoming environment at the college. "Everyone was very friendly to me, very helpful, the students, the staff, and the teachers. I also liked it that there were small classes."

He was also impressed by the diversity at MSC Southeast. "Very quickly, I was able to meet some students from different parts of the of the state, and some others even from different parts of the world."

After completing his general education requirements, he was accepted into the Practical Nursing major. The coursework was challenging but he did very well.

When the college had to pivot to remote learning in Spring 2020, Mathew had to admit he wasn't happy about it. "I hated it because I was used to going to school, being with my classmates, having that interaction. When you go home, you're stuck in front of a computer and you're alone."

He also had to manage the needs of his three children -- one who was in high school, a 7-year-old, and a 3-year-old. "My kids were in school, and I had to work through their computer systems and help teach them online. When you go back to college as a parent with kids, you never have enough time."

The Practical Nursing diploma is a two-semester program. In his second semester, Mathew was dismayed to see his grades going in the wrong direction.

"My grades were dropping, they weren't what I expected them to be. I talked with my teachers, and they told me not to give up," he said. "They told me to do a lot of practice quizzes and review my notes before class. If I didn't understand something, I would write it down and then they would explain it to me again."

With their encouragement and the support of his nursing study group, he finished strong. "My classmates helped me too. Without them I couldn't have done it! I had a good study group, and it made a difference. I am still friends with them. "

As he celebrates college graduation, Mathew is grateful for the support of his wife, his kids, his classmates, the nursing department faculty, and the CareerForce Winona staff.

"I am proud that I was able to become a licensed practical nurse as a parent, taking care of my kids, during a pandemic. And I am proud that I didn't let the workforce center down," Mathew said. "They put a lot of effort into helping me, and I didn't fail them."

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