BGSU provides ‘full circle’ for RN to BSN coordinator
Lara Wilken recalls her amazing journey from dropout to earning her doctorate
By Bob Cunningham ’18
It’s a phrase Dr. Lara Wilken returned to over and over again as she recounted her journey from high school dropout to becoming the RN to BSN coordinator at Bowling Green State University.
The journey started at BGSU Firelands.
After her daughter was born, Wilken walked on to the Huron campus and found out how she could become a nurse. She credits the late John Clark, who was the coordinator of career services, for setting her on the path to success.
“He really was a wonderful man,” she said. “I didn't know anything about going to school. I met him and I basically said to him, ‘I have an eighth-grade education and I'd like to be a nurse. Can you help me?’ He talked with me at great length and helped to give me the confidence and the encouragement that I needed to take that first step in signing up for classes.”
Wilken earned her Associate of Science from BGSU Firelands in 2013 and then got her RN from the Firelands Regional Medical Center School of Nursing in Sandusky.
“After earning my diploma through Firelands School of Nursing, I secured a job working at 3 Tower, medical surgical, oncology at Firelands Regional Medical Center (FRMC). I chose FRMC upon graduation because all throughout school I was also working there full time as a nurse's aide. I was a nontraditional student, working 36 hours a week while taking microbiology and nursing foundations and raising a family. I would not have made it through that time in my life if it weren’t for the extra support and tutoring provided to me by Bowling Green.”
Now that she was on her path to success, Wilken wasn’t about to stop.
“It had been ingrained in me when I was in school that I need to get my bachelor's degree,” she said. “Because the experience at Bowling Green had been so wonderful, I went back for my Bachelor of Science in nursing a year later through the University’s consortium with the University of Toledo.”
It was her experience of earning her BSN and being a nurse that led her to teaching — and, full circle, back to Firelands Regional Medical Center School of Nursing.
Bonding with her mentor
Wilken met Dr. Shelly Bussard, now the director of BGSU’s School of Nursing, at nursing school.
“After earning my BSN, I began working as a teaching assistant at Firelands Regional Medical Center School of Nursing, where Dr. Bussard had been my teacher,” Wilken said. “Upon my hiring, she became my mentor and my colleague, and, full circle, she is now the director of the nursing program at Bowling Green — and my boss.”
“I was Lara's nursing instructor when she began her nursing education,” Bussard said. “I have seen her graduate with a diploma in nursing, begin her nursing career at Firelands Regional Medical Center, progress on for a BSN, then an MSN and recently a DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice). When Lara became a faculty member at FRMC School of Nursing, I was her mentor and saw the tremendous growth she had not only as a nurse but as an educator.
“Now, Lara is a faculty member within the BGSU School of Nursing and coordinates the RN to BSN program. She unceasingly helps students to succeed by providing them with tips for success, meeting with them virtually, offering them motivation and ultimately genuinely caring for their success.”
Aligning with the University’s mission
“Everything that Bowling Green has done for me, both personally and professionally, it's almost surreal,” said Wilken, who earned her Bachelor of Science in nursing in 2015. “The mission of Bowling Green is precise; our mission is to make a commitment to public good. I really believe that my story is a testimonial of the public good that Bowling Green does.
“There are many times — even now — that I still feel like that eighth-grade kid in my mind, and I don't know that I would have ever gotten past that without the devotion, the commitment and the time that every teacher equally and personally invested in me. Without Bowling Green, someone like me probably wouldn't normally have the chance to earn a doctorate degree.”
Part of going back to school as a nontraditional student, Wilken said, is “not just your competence, but also your confidence. It was terrifying to walk into a university as a high school dropout not knowing how to study and then choosing a career where you're making a commitment to be a lifelong learner — because that's what nurses are, they're lifelong learners."
Wilken said she owes much of her success to BGSU and all of her teachers — so much so, that she decided to teach.
“It’s a great privilege and honor to be an alumna of BGSU, and now I have the privilege and honor to be a part of the team that inspired me,” she said. “I mean, it's absolutely phenomenal. To come full circle and to be able to give back to an organization that's given so much to me.
“What I found out is, I really love teaching. We have seen throughout this pandemic just how vital nursing is; it has been an honor and a privilege teaching nurses who are working on the front lines — mentoring and educating students and being the kind of teacher that Dr. Bussard was for me. That's the beautiful thing about nursing: There are so many opportunities to give back and in so many different ways, whether it's patient care or mentoring and guiding students."
Wilken, along with University colleague Nicole Lawrence, each earned their Doctor of Nursing Practice from Northern Kentucky University in December 2020.