56-year-old mother of five starts ‘brand new adventure’ with Tennessee Tech nursing degree

Published 2:24 pm Monday, October 23, 2023

COOKEVILLE – Cindy Hollander is not your everyday Tennessee Tech University alumna.

The 56-year-old mother of five is among the newest graduates of Tech’s Whitson-Hester School of Nursing. Hollander enrolled in the accelerated second degree program, which allows students who already hold an undergraduate degree to earn their Bachelor of Science in nursing in just 15 months. By her estimation, she is one of the oldest students to come through the program.

It marks a second act for Hollander after a decades-long ministry career with her husband and a change of perspective brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“After we left the ministry, I sold furniture and did odd jobs. Then COVID hit and my husband and I packed up our life in Franklin, Tennessee and moved in with my parents in Lenoir City to care for them,” said Hollander. “I spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals with my mother before she passed away. I saw so many great nurses and a few not-so-great ones. It was during that time that I decided this was what I was going to do. I wanted a meaningful career, and I was ready to go back to school.”

Still, Hollander had some reservations about going back to school more than 30 years since earning her degree.

“It was intimidating at first,” said Hollander. “I absolutely could have been any of those students’ mothers.”

Hollander recounts an especially nerve-wracking first day of classes when students were asked to share a short PowerPoint presentation introducing themselves.

“I had never even made a PowerPoint presentation before!” Hollander recalled.

In time, however, Hollander found a caring community of faculty and classmates eager to help her achieve her goals.

“The culture at Tech was lovely. I found people to be so genuinely helpful. At the university I attended for my first degree, it was so massive that sometimes you felt more like a number than a person. At Tech, every person in the School of Nursing knew my name,” said Hollander.

Hollander would come to rely on the support of her fellow Golden Eagles even more when unexpected challenges arose.

“Life still goes on while you’re in nursing school. During my time in the program, I lost my father, my daughter battled a sudden illness and our family dog passed away,” said Hollander. “Through it all, I had instructors looking out for me. I had professors meet with me one-on-one. They cared about what was happening in my life and everyone on the staff did whatever needed to be done to help me get through.”

Hollander cited Tech faculty such as Mary Lou Fornehed, Sue Piras, Stacey Browning, Matthew Langford and Brittany Allison among those who most impacted her nursing school experience. For them, the admiration was mutual.

“I know Cindy feels I have impacted her life in a positive way, but she impacted my life in a way I likely could not repay,” said Fornehed. “Cindy is and will continue to be a wonderful nurse and she will make a difference in many lives along the way. I know she made a beautiful difference in my life for sure!”

According to Hollander, the option of an accelerated program with a 15-month timeline made a difference as well.

“It was so helpful because, at my age, the thought of a three- or four-year program is overwhelming. It enabled me to get in, get out and get working quickly which is what I wanted to do,” said Hollander.

Having earned her degree and passed her licensure exam with flying colors – a feat that was hardly in doubt since Tech has one of the top nursing licensure exam pass rates in the state – Hollander was able to immediately begin work as a mental health psychiatric nurse near her home in Thompson’s Station.

“I love mental health nursing,” said Hollander. “There’s such a huge need and the kids that I work with just need people who truly, truly care.”

Now, Hollander is passionate about encouraging prospective non-traditional students to give it a shot and reminding others there is no age limit on who can be a college student.

“I would say to others: you can do this. Yes, it will be hard, but it is doable,” said Hollander. “With my nursing degree, I know that I will never want for a job – and not just that, but also a job where I feel like I am making a difference.”

As Hollander explains, there are often fewer opportunities to start something new at her age, yet her degree from Tech has given her exactly that.

“When you’re 56, you are looking at the second half, possibly even the final quarter, of your life. For me to have this opportunity now, it feels like a whole new life is opening up for me,” said Hollander. “A lot of my peers are thinking about retirement and grandkids and those things are great, but I love the fact that I have this brand-new adventure to begin at my age.”

Learn more about Tech’s Whitson-Hester School of Nursing at www.tntech.edu/nursing.