Kelly Bullard was not your typical college student. When she enrolled at Florence-Darlington Technical College (FDTC), she was in her 40s with four kids, two of whom were in college themselves.
Kelly already had a four-year degree and a graduate degree. Originally from Greenwood, South Carolina, she moved to the Pee Dee after finishing graduate school. She left the workforce after she had children and was a stay-at-home mom for 15 years.
After going through a divorce, Kelly needed to get back in the workforce. She became a massage therapist in order to stay home and earn money to support her family. After several years working from home and trying to support four teenagers, Kelly decided it was time to reinvent herself. She needed a higher-paying job and wanted a new challenge. Her mind drifted to nursing.
“I’ve always enjoyed helping people, nurturing and taking care of people,” she said. “I’d always entertained the idea of being a nurse, but at the time maybe didn’t have the confidence to follow through with it.”
Kelly said she has always enjoyed science. With a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise Science and a Master’s degree in Exercise Physiology, she was already familiar with health and wellness. Nursing seemed like a natural fit.
“I wanted a different challenge intellectually, and also financially, it seemed a better fit to become a nurse,” she said.
So, Kelly took a chance and enrolled at Florence-Darlington Technical College. She had many reasons for choosing FDTC.
“One reason I chose Tech was convenience, because of its proximity to where I live in Hartsville and work in Florence,” said Kelly. “Also, I talked with many nurses who just recently graduated—as well as seasoned nurses—to get their perception of recent graduates from different institutions. What I gathered was that students from Tech were highly qualified as far as skill level and knowledge levels. That really impressed upon me that the clinical skills you get here at Tech are just phenomenal. That hands-on experience you get from the first semester is invaluable.”
Kelly may have been slightly intimidated being one of the older students in the nursing program, but she didn’t let that stop her. She soon found a sense of community amongst her classmates and instructors.
“It’s been a joy being with the younger students, they’re all very disciplined…it’s fun to share this journey with a diverse group of people,” Kelly said. “All the instructors are very caring and go the extra mile to make sure that you feel confident doing what you’re doing.”
Time and affordability were other key reasons Kelly chose to pursue her nursing degree at Tech. The two-year program, while intense, allowed her to finish sooner at a much lower cost than a four-year institution. For a working mother of four, saving time and money were crucial details.
Even so, paying for tuition and books was a challenge for Kelly. One of her instructors told her about the FDTC Educational Foundation and encouraged her to apply for a private scholarship. Kelly was surprised to receive an award from the Bruce and Lee Allied Health Fund at the FDTC Educational Foundation, which provides aid to qualifying students in allied health majors.
“I was shocked,” she said. “I was very excited that I was going to have these funds to help me. I’m able to relax a little more knowing I have this boost behind me to help fund my books and the remainder of my tuition. It makes life easier knowing I have some financial help.”
Knowing she had scholarship aid gave Kelly more confidence to work hard and complete her classes. She said that her main motivation is to show compassion for others and educate people about wellness and healthy living. Her family, too, provided a big source of inspiration.
“My children are so excited [for me]. I can tell that they’re really proud of me for going ahead and doing this. It’s emotional for me,” Kelly said, wiping away tears.
Kelly believes it is important that the community supports scholarships for nursing students, especially as the profession becomes increasingly in-demand.
“Tech offers an excellent education for nursing students…and we need well-educated nurses out there,” she said. “Scholarship funds are a way to see that students who are serious about becoming a nurse are given the opportunity.”
Before graduating in July of 2018, Kelly said she was looking forward to entering the workforce.
“I love taking care of people,” she said. “I can’t wait to finish and be a part of the community here in the Pee Dee.”
At the pinning ceremony that marks students’ graduation from FDTC’s nursing program, Kelly and her classmates donned their white uniforms and carried ceremonial lamps down the aisle—symbols that harken back to the long nights Florence Nightingale spent sitting up with her patients. Kelly recited the Nursing Pledge and received the traditional Nursing Pin, and walked off stage ready to face the new challenges ahead.