Dropping out of high school to raise her daughter may have put Niesha Clark at an early disadvantage, but with hard work, determination, and the resources available to her at Laurel Ridge, she is building a secure future.
This spring, Clark will graduate with her associate of science degree in nursing. In addition, she is well on her way to earning her bachelor of science degree in nursing through a co-enrollment program at James Madison University. Ultimately, she hopes to become a nurse practitioner.
Despite “making really, really good grades,” Clark left Sherando High School her junior year. She started working and later earned her GED. Clark was working as a medical technician at a nursing home for not much money when a friend started attending Laurel Ridge and suggested she do the same.
Having long wanted to be a nurse, she enrolled.
“Nobody in my family really went to college,” said Clark, who lives in Middletown. “I was raising my child, so it was kind of a slow process, but here we are.”
She says her favorite professors were Ann Simpson, who she had for anatomy and physiology, and Louise Schwabenbauer, who was one of her nursing professors.
“Those were two people who really touched me,” Clark said, who in 2018 earned her practical nursing certificate at Laurel Ridge.
It was while studying for her LPN certificate that Clark joined Laurel Ridge’s TRIO program, which provides additional support and advising for students who are first-generation college students, low income or have a documented disability. Through TRIO she was able to print large amounts of course materials at no charge.
“When I didn’t have the money to get my uniform, I applied for a grant to help with that,” Clark said.
She was also provided with some gas cards and was able to use the college’s food pantry.
Because of her LPN background and her goal of becoming a nurse practitioner, Clark decided to start chipping away at her bachelor’s degree while also pursuing her associate degree. She is happy with all she has gained by attending Laurel Ridge.
“To be able to get a degree that’s definitely very much in demand right and being able to attain it at a community college is a great opportunity,” Clark said. “For people who have children and can’t travel to universities, this opportunity is amazing and affordable. I’m also able to take classes at Laurel Ridge towards my bachelor’s degree, making that more affordable, too.”
She is happy that her daughter, now 16, looks up to her.
“She wants to be a pediatric nurse practitioner, and she is working on becoming a CNA right now,” Clark said. “I just hope she gets to experience what I get to experience.”
Laurel Ridge Community College was known as Lord Fairfax Community College until June 2022. For consistency purposes, the college will be referenced as Laurel Ridge going forward.