It has taken seven years of coursework at two different colleges for Mayra Baldenegro Pulido to receive her associate degree in pre-health careers, but this time frame has not dissuaded her from continuing her education.
Baldenegro will graduate from Coconino Community College this week as the first member in her family with a college degree. She has been accepted into the college’s nursing program, where she will start courses in the fall.
Baldenegro was born in Flagstaff and lived here until she was 16, when she moved to Douglas and became a certified nursing assistant (CNA).
“I swore I would never go back to school, so I started working at a nursing home. I loved my residents, but it was such a hard job. My first day there, I got off and went straight to college to register because I thought, ‘I cannot be a CNA my whole life. I can do more. I have to go back to school,’” she said.
When she started demonstrating the symptoms of anxiety and depression during her first semester back in school, though, her educational goal became more challenging and she knew she needed to approach her coursework differently than before.
To cope with this change, she registered with her schools’ disability resources programs, which assisted her with extended exam periods and quiet rooms, and developed coping strategies that she now uses every day.
“I have a helpful quote in the back of my head at all times: ‘One step at a time.’ Some people say ‘One day at a time,’ but that’s too much. Whenever I’m overwhelmed, I ask myself, ‘What’s the first step? Where are you right now? What do you need to do now?’ You can’t think about what you’re going to do later, because you’re not there yet. You can do it one step at a time,” Baldenegro said.
Baldenegro was only two courses away from her degree when she moved back to Flagstaff a few years after leaving. Her completed credits did not transfer to CCC directly, leaving her with seven classes to finish to secure her degree.
“I was so bummed out, I wanted to change my major. But I couldn’t change it because there wasn’t anything else I wanted to do. I love caring for my patients and I’ll keep going until I don’t have any more obstacles,” Baldenegro said.
Her relocation brought other challenges, too, when she left behind a job at a local hospital she loved. She feared she would not find an equally fulfilling position in Flagstaff.
To her surprise, though, Baldenegro discovered her niche in home health care. Through Nurses Network, Inc., a home health care agency serving residents of northern Arizona, she now gets to work with individual members of the community in the comfort of their own homes.
“They say, ‘Find a job that you would do for free.’ That’s my job now,” she said. “I think I’ve always wanted that one-on-one connection. It’s not even a job to me. I’m hoping that, when I do become an RN, there’s something I can do like that. I would love it.”
She said she is looking forward to applying the health information she has learned so far to practical uses, like treatment, in the nursing program.
While attending CCC, Baldenegro has taken advantage of the college’s TRiO program, which provides resources for low-income and first-generation college students, as well as individuals with disabilities.
The program provided her with textbooks, tutors and an adviser.
Baldenegro said one of her favorite memories from CCC was when she was awarded her first TRiO scholarship, a $600 “I will succeed” award.
“When they called me up there, I was bawling my eyes out. So many people probably thought I was being ridiculous, but it meant so much to me. Even though it was not a lot of money, it was the first thing given to me because they thought I was a good student. I felt so special,” she said.
Baldenegro’s experiences at CCC have inspired her younger sister to attend college, as well, where she is now studying criminology.
Eleven family members will be in the audience to watch Baldenegro receive her degree on Friday, including her biggest supporter, her father, who found opportunities for growth in Flagstaff after moving from Mexico to the United States decades ago.
“My dad has always helped me out financially and I always wonder how I can pay him back, but I know that when I become an RN, I’ll pay him back that way because he’ll be so proud,” Baldenegro said. “People always say, ‘Once you’re out [of school], you’ll never go back.’ That’s not true. I had to take many breaks and a lot of them were unwanted. I used to beat myself up about my anxiety and depression, but now I know that each person is different and if breaks or quiet rooms are what you need to succeed, then do it. Place yourself where you will succeed.”